When your company is hurting for revenue, or looking to grow fast, what kind of sales coach do you need? As a sales coach in Vancouver, I hear (and answer) this question a fair bit.
If you ever played sports of any kind in school, you might have a certain perception of what a sales coach could be: a confident expert who’s been there, who draws on experience and specialized knowledge to lay out a game plan for you. They’ll take you through drills until the right steps become second nature. If despite your best efforts things start going south, they recognize the moment where they need to change up the roster, double-down on a certain play or pull an unexpectedly effective play out of their bag of tricks.
The analogy between sports coach and sales coach can be apt, up to and including the boardroom equivalent of a locker-room firebrand speech. That said, there are other kinds of sales coaching approaches out there. A great sales coach can try a range of approaches and techniques, depending on their audience:
The Life Coach. A sales coach who takes a cue from life coaching is looking deeper at what motivates or impedes the professional from doing what is needed to succeed. The sales strategy and process is already well understood and now it just takes someone who can execute well. If the sales team isn’t performing, it may be because other parts of their life or work are out of balance. Maybe they need help rediscovering their passion. Perhaps they’ve lost a sense for how what they’re doing matches up with their goals.
For instance, I once coached a professional who had switched over from the tech side of things to sales. Their goal in doing so was essentially a financial one – they figured that sales people got paid better thanks to performance bonuses. As a longstanding employee, he’d managed to get the boss to agree to the move. The problem was that he hadn’t really thought through what it took to be a sales person, or even what goals he had in his career (beyond earning bonuses). Through a life coaching style of sales coaching, we were able to nail down goals he could follow given his previous training (helping the customer understand the benefit of the technology they were selling) and instill in him a passion for process and measuring success. Once he had that in place, the rest of his job fell into place nicely.
The Financial Coach. Getting beyond helping people follow their passion and goals and feelings, the sales coach can also take some cues from financial coaches. What’s the bottom line – and how do we get there? Understanding the numbers is a critical part of the sales process, giving both the rep and the customer options to create customized deals. The customer doesn’t need the premium service option? What menu of services can they afford that will offer them the most value when you crunch their financials? Are there ways to help spread out payments over time to make them more manageable for the customer? What is the ideal price point for the customer – and how do we go one better when the competition offers similar numbers? A sales coach using financial coaching techniques can help the sales rep to look to hard numbers as a regular part of their process, presenting opportunities and closing deals quicker and easier.
Sales Coaching for a Team vs. Coaching one-on-one
With large and decentralized teams in need of sales coaching help, it may not be possible to coach effectively one-on-one. Formal group coaching sessions, webinars and lunch-and-learn types of events may be a better way to deliver what’s needed.
That said, if you’ve got 80 percent of the team performing well already, it may not be appropriate or advisable to bring in the whole group for a coaching session.
Early on in my consulting career, I was once asked to provide coaching for a single member of the team who was consistently falling short of their targets, despite having the same resources as everyone else. We provided them with extra coaching on ways to approach a longer-term sales cycle, steps for qualifying leads, the process for closing deals in a way to achieve higher billings, etc. The rest of the group was already well-schooled on all of these aspects and it frankly would have been a waste of their time to go through what they already knew.
In this case, the sales coaching didn’t work – for a reason that goes to the heart of all coaching methods. The sales rep stubbornly resisted change, feeling that they were a victim. They refused to implement what they were shown how to do, essentially out of spite. Naturally, their sales numbers didn’t improve. In the end, we had to transfer them to a different department. The lesson? No matter the type of sales coaching, the rep must be willing to accept the help. Someone who doesn’t want to be coached, for whatever reason, will never internalize what they need to do to succeed. That’s a lesson some people have to learn the hard way. Fortunately, most people are amenable, even enthusiastic about getting coaching – and those that do, tend to succeed.