Sales: Hands-on coaching essential to improve sales force

I’m taking my own company through a strategic planning process and I’d like to share with you one of the interesting outcomes. 

A key step in the planning process is looking at past client engagements and identifying patterns as they relate to success of the engagements. Not surprisingly, one pattern jumped out at me: “It’s the leadership team, stupid!”

What was surprising, or at least startling, was just how tight the relationship was between leadership commitment and success of the project. It was almost uncanny.

As we (I’ve hired people to help me) drilled down into what specifically client leaders did to make the projects succeed we saw two distinct trends: messaging and hands-on coaching.

We found that the message that leadership sent to the sales force about the sales training project with my company was as important as the follow-through reinforcement they provide. Seeing the importance of messaging, I decided to talk to several client executives to identify common elements among the messages they sent to their sales teams about our work together. Here they are:

Why are we undertaking this change in our sales force?

• We want to be best in class as a company. We want the sales force to be best in class too.

• The velocity of our business will continue to increase.

• We want everyone operating at the best of their ability – consistently.

• We want to eliminate the peaks and valleys of our selling experience.

• This change will be a cultural/mindset breakthrough for us.

What are the internal and external goals of the change? 

• Four internal goals include:

1. Helping customers see beyond price.

2. Improving our customer retention rate.

3. Creating demand from within our current account base.

4. Doing a better job of committing company resources according to the potential return of the opportunity.

• We want to enhance our ability to meet our financial goals.

• We want a shared selling mindset, approach and language.

What is leadership’s promise to the sales force?

• We’ve invested in the past in training and education that we failed to instill in the sales force. We will not let you down this time.

• We’re not just asking you to change, we’re asking ourselves to change too. We’re going through this with you and meeting as a leadership team throughout the process.

• We will integrate what we’re learning from this change into our review and compensation structure.

• We will do everything we can to make this change process fun!

What does leadership expect of the sales force?

The selling approach we’re learning in this change is proven. If applied correctly it WILL yield the results we’re seeking. You are not testing the approach to see if it works for you.

We (the leadership team) have made a long-term commitment to this change. We expect you to do the same. No excuses.

If you have an issue or concern, take it up with your manager, not your colleagues…and don’t let it fester.

Hands-on coaching

The second key leadership pattern was hands-on coaching. Leaders in successful projects didn’t just show up at the training meetings and explain how committed they were to the effort. They got involved.

While that involvement took on different forms for different leaders, there was one common thread: hands-on coaching. Great leaders aren’t just sideline coaches, they get in the game with their players. 

Leaders at successful client companies did three things:

1. They helped salespeople strategize opportunities: One thing that seems to separate leaders from the troops in the trenches is that most sales leaders tend to have a more developed strategic view of things. They can help salespeople develop their own strategic proficiencies only if they work hands-on with them to develop strategies on their own opportunities.

2. They helped salespeople develop the tactics that support the sales strategy: The need to identify tactics follows naturally from a well-developed strategy.  When learning a new approach to selling, tactics change. Trying to use old tactics with a new strategy is like putting old wine into new wine skins. Hands-on coaching means helping salespeople determine what to do next.

3. They helped salespeople develop and practice the language needed to execute the tactics: Words are to selling what numbers are to accounting. Hands-on coaching is incomplete unless the leader helps salespeople with what they actually say when interacting with customers.

Messaging and hands-on coaching. Take them to heart and you can’t fail in your own effort to improve the effectiveness of your sales force.


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