March 20th, 2012

Train Sales Reps to Coach Themselves

By David DiStefano, President and CEO of Richardson

Effective sales coaching has been shown to significantly improve sales performance, but there are limitations to even the world’s greatest coaching practices.  You can’t be with every rep all the time, so what happens when something goes either unexpectedly wrong or remarkably right when you’re not there?  Is that coaching moment lost forever?

The answer is YES; you have missed the opportunity to provide the most powerful form of coaching — in the moment or in context.  This lost opportunity to coach in-the-action happens every day with every salesperson on your team.  Do the math yourself:  if you have 15 salespeople reporting to you, and each of them engages in a customer dialogue ten times per day, there are ultimately 39,000 customer interactions that you haven’t had the chance to observe or coach.  Do I need to say more about the importance of teaching your salespeople to self-coach?

Begin teaching your salespeople to self-coach by letting your reps see your coaching skills in action.  Through your own behavior and actions, demonstrate what you want them to do in your daily conversations, in role play scenarios, and during live sales calls.  When you are with your reps, allow them to see you go through the self-coaching process.  As humans, we rise to the level of the company that we keep.  Dario Priolo of Profiles International provides guidance on how to give constructive feedback in a coaching interaction in six easy steps.  This is where the sales rep begins to understand how best to coach themselves

Perhaps the most critical component of effective sales coaching is that it happens every time you engage with your sales reps — coaching should be woven into the fabric of your dialogue.  Getting face-to-face with each team member will always be a challenge, so find the opportunities to engage in a structured coaching conversation around strengths and weaknesses at least once a month.  Leverage your previous coaching sessions and build out the roadmap for improvement together.

Each 1:1 meeting should involve these six tools and techniques:

1) Use “high-impact” questions.  Get your reps to begin asking themselves the very same questions you will ask about each deal to determine the level of customer engagement that varies by the sales stage in which their opportunity currently resides.  Examples include:

  • What are the business issues and compelling needs/pain points the customer is trying to address? 
  • Is the need compelling enough to make this opportunity worth pursuing?
  • What is our unique value proposition, and does the customer agree with it?
  • What outstanding objections do we know or anticipate?
  • What is the approval process to get the needed closure?

2) Use a scoreboard.  Be consistent on the use of a few metrics.  Provide visibility, preferably in one dashboard.  When reps see where they stand, it will help them identify where they want to go.  Use “Verifiable Outcomes” in your sales process as the milestones to gauge customer feedback.  Matt Smith offers some good suggestions on what to include here:  “Sales Metrics You Can’t Manage Without.”

3) Do one thing at a time.  Almost nobody is good at multitasking.  You can’t correct everything at once, so focus on one issue or metric at a time.  As they say, “quota wasn’t reached in a day.”

4) Teach the art of effective self-assessment.  Start by asking the right questions.  This is a fundamental component of effective self-coaching.  Help your reps know what to ask themselves after a call.  Richardson’s CEO, Linda Richardson, says the three basic questions are:

  • What did I do well?
  • What could I do differently?
  • Where do I go to learn more?

For more, check out Linda’s article:  “The Art of Self-Coaching”

5) Compare to best practices.  Most of us struggle to conduct honest self-assessments. Sidestep the problem by instructing your reps to benchmark their progress and performance against industry standards.  Benchmarking against best practices depersonalizes criticism, which removes some of the roadblocks to performance improvement.

6) Assess your progress.  What’s changed in the last month?  Was there success and where?  What areas require the most improvement?  How can your reps coach themselves more effectively moving forward?

Zip it:  A note of caution

The number one complaint I hear about sales managers is that they talk too much during coaching sessions.  The rep should do most of the talking — and most of the work.

Your job is to ask effective questions that will lead your reps to analyze themselves.  Reflection is a powerful coaching tool, especially when it involves active learning such as reading an article, watching a YouTube clip, or attending a sales call with one of your top performers.

Need one more reason to make teaching self-coaching a priority?  Consider the quote from Michael Crichton:  “We think we know what we are doing.  We have always thought so.”

It is human nature to want to avoid responsibility.  When you tell your reps to do something and it doesn’t work, they can say, “It’s not my fault.”  When they tell themselves, they own the results.

How’s that for effective sales coaching?

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To learn more about Richardson’s sales training, coaching, talent management, and performance improvement solutions, please visit our web site at http://www.richardson.com.

About The Author: David J. DiStefano

David DiStefano is a seasoned executive with nearly three decades of successful senior management experience with both early-stage and global organizations. Over his career David has managed finance, operations, sales, and demand generation functions. For the last 17 years, David has been instrumental in leading Richardson to its place as a premier global sales performance organization.

David J. DiStefano

2 Responses to “Train Sales Reps to Coach Themselves”

  1. April 05, 2012 at 2:51 pm, tim hagen said:

    Great info – reps also learn best from each other as they share the “trenches” so to speak! Thanks, great info

    [REPLY]

  2. February 18, 2016 at 3:16 am, Orlando said:

    Charlatanism applied to buessnis. That what it is.0:20 So, is the question What is coaching or is it Where did the model come from ?1:14 Coaching is 5 words: development (training?), relationships(they come to me), direction(lead them),accountability (beat them up and make them believe they deserve it), results???Could that be more vague?So you want to train them to confide in you, do as told, accept beating occasionally and deliver results and learn more tricks(develop them further)?

    [REPLY]

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