Sales leaders approach coaching in three different ways—asking for permission, getting leverage, or gaining agreement.
Sales coaches who ask for permission approach sessions with questions like “Hey, can I help you with this?” or “Do you have time to talk about a few things?” While asking for permission puts coaches in a submissive state with salespeople, getting leverage means the opposite. Managers may give ultimatums or be passive aggressive. They “lead” by command and control. Gaining agreement falls somewhere in the middle.
Both parties agree that the manager is going to coach the salesperson and that each will benefit from the relationship. As a sales leader, do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? How do you think your team would describe you?
The most beneficial coaching relationship occurs with a relationship where the sales coach has gained agreement with sales professionals. Where there is equality, the most productive coaching can occur. Don’t get me wrong: This doesn’t mean that coaches don’t have hard discussions or make difficult calls. It’s quite the opposite actually. They MUST do both. Athletes and students look back fondly on the coaches and teachers in their lives who didn't allow them to settle for less than their very best. By gaining agreement, a coach can have this kind of positive influence in team members’ lives. To gain agreement, sales coaches should establish themselves as a partner in each professional’s success. Coaches might say something like, "I'd like to talk through the best way for me to provide coaching support for you and find out what you most need from me." Coaches could continue the conversation by assuring salespeople that they are interested in providing more than administrative support and sincerely want to contribute to their success.
From there, coaches who let salespeople respond before they offer their own ideas and solutions will gain the most collaboration with sales pros. As with selling to a customer, sales coaches must understand the sales professionals' needs and expectations before presenting their own case. Sales coaches must use the information sales pros provide as a springboard for what comes next. This will likely be an unfamiliar exercise, and sales coaches may need to dig a little further by asking questions about the issues that are threatening salespeople's conversion rates. They can set up the conversation as a collaboration by saying, "This will allow us to put our heads together, pool our resources, and see what we can come up with." Some questions to facilitate the discussion and gain agreement include:
• What objections make the greatest difference in your conversion rate?
• How would you describe yourself as a sales professional today, and how would you ultimately like to be able to describe yourself?
• What are the three things about your sales approach or your career that you would most like to improve?
As the discussion progresses, sales coaches must be prepared to discuss their own perceptions candidly but respectfully. This can be a very important part of the sales professionals' perception of their identity. It can also be an extremely valuable conversation for them, especially when centered on ways they can improve. Hint: it's just as important for them to see the sales coach’s desire to improve as it is for the sales coach to see theirs, so sales coaches must be open to discussing the things they would like to improve if asked, or if they feel it would add credibility or move the conversation forward.
In the initial discussion, sales coaches need to just talk. They need to take note of their sales professionals' goals or record the session so that they can be fully engaged in the moment. Then, they conclude the conversation on a positive note by thanking the salesperson for their openness and reassuring them that they are committed to working with them and pooling resources in order to improve the situation. To demonstrate that they respect their time, sales coaches should tell them what they'll cover in the next meeting and ask them again for ideas of what to cover, too.
Some of the topics above can make fruitful group discussions as well, giving a variety of people a chance to express their own experiences. Sales coaches don't have to always bear the burden of being the expert with all the answers if there are colleagues with greater experience or personal success with a particular challenge or approach.
Sales coaches should consider the same questions they ask of their salespeople for themselves. They are continuing to grow, just as the sales professionals. This is another way of creating an environment of equality and contributes to a winning team—the kind everyone wants to be on.
How do you open your coaching sessions? How do you close out the conversation?