The business world is constantly churning, which puts pressure on organizations to keep up. Most operate in an environment of globalization, more competition from more places, mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, and technology disruptions. Still, the end goal never changes: to grow the business and optimize resources.
For sales managers, this means not only staying nimble and being able to switch paths quickly but rallying their troops through effective sales coaching so that everyone understands their role and is equipped to contribute. Coaching is no small task, especially as management layers become flattened and those who remain have more responsibility. Today’s managers have to act fast, shift tactics to address priorities of the moment, anticipate changes, and set a vision for his/her people to follow.
Coaching has become a key component of a manager’s responsibilities, but coaching conversations take time. And, finding time for these conversations, one on one, with every member of the team can seem like an impossible task, especially when virtual teams are involved.
There are, however, several ways to create coaching moments that, over time, can work for both sales managers and their sales professionals.
One sales management tip from my own experience as a sales manager involves what I call “fan moments.” The office environment was a tough one, with a lot of pressure to get things done and no excuses. When tensions ran high, people would come into my office so that we could talk through the current issue. I had a large oscillating fan in the corner of my office with a chair beside it. They would sit by the fan, let the cool air blow over them, and cool off both figuratively and literally. The room dynamics helped people open up. These moments allowed us to redirect energy, address the situation, and create a plan. We joked about having fan time — and these brief one-on-one sessions became impromptu coaching moments.
Fan moments, or any moment that makes such interactions possible, are good, but they’re not the total solution. It helps to prioritize coaching, as part of the workday. Block out time to either schedule coaching sessions, make coaching phone calls, or just being available for drop-in coaching. Start with a half-hour per day and build from there until coaching becomes a daily routine.
Coaching can address immediate issues — what’s happening right now — or focus on long-term development. Both types of coaching work better when addressed within a formalized coaching framework, such as the development-coaching model used at Richardson. Following a structure like the one below helps sales managers make the best use of coaching time while working toward the desired objectives:
- Preparation: Set objectives for the coaching session; prepare feedback on the sales professional’s performance; and anticipate obstacles and objections.
- Connect and Open: Set the tone and purpose of the session, connecting with the sales professional on a personal level.
- Compare Perceptions: Let the sales professional talk first to encourage self-assessment, ask about their thoughts instead of telling them the solution, compare perceptions, and address skills and best practices.
- Consider and Remove Obstacles: Define the desired outcome, identify obstacles, discuss options to remove obstacles, and agree on next steps.
- Close/Next Steps: Have the sales professional summarize the session and outline action steps.
- Follow-up/Results: Follow up with the agreed action steps and timing, and review results.
There are three basic reasons why sales managers need to coach their teams: to accelerate learning, change behaviors, and improve results. Most often, sales managers coach to the last one, focusing on results, if they coach at all. But, results are an outcome of all three. Sales professionals who have the knowledge and behaviors to be more effective can raise their level of performance and achieve greater results.
That makes the time invested in creating coaching moments all the more necessary and valuable.