What does it really mean for an organization to have a “culture” of sales coaching? While the specifics of coaching depend on various factors, there are basic elements that should be involved in the process. However, many companies believe they have an effective coaching culture in place, but in fact are missing some of the necessities to be successful.
The following are common mistakes that you should be sure to avoid if you plan to bring coaching into your sales team:
Not Getting Company-Wide Alignment
A sales coaching culture involves every employee, not just sales reps, in one way or another, so they should all be aligned and understand what the change means for them. Start with your C-level executives, who likely have the final say in what can or cannot happen within their business. Without their support, you won’t have the resources you need to carry out your plan in full. If they are on board, it legitimizes the process for everyone else, and they will in turn take it more seriously. From there, processes, expectations and measurements for success should be clearly communicated to VPs, directors, managers and all other employees to avoid confusion and guarantee consistency across departments.
Of course, there are costs you must consider to putting your coaching strategy in place as well as maintaining it that may create hesitation amongst executives.
Not Investing the Necessary Resources
As we just mentioned, the C-suite of your company holds the reins on your budget, so they should approve the estimated costs in addition to the general concept of coaching. You should provide a relatively accurate projection of the time and money that will go into putting your coaching strategy in place as well as maintaining it through the upcoming years. They don’t want any surprises when they see your spend at the end of the year, so informing them from the beginning will save everyone from future frustration. While the costs may seem steep upfront, they will be well worth it in the long run as long as you proceed properly.
Not Training Managers to Coach
Managers already work with sales reps to improve performance and meet goals and should be monitoring daily activities and intervening when necessary. Therefore, it makes the most sense that they also take on the role of sales coaching. But you can’t just throw them in the ring without some proper preparation and training. Sales managers typically spend less than 20 percent of their time coaching reps, according to The Business Journals; however, coaching should take managing to a deeper level to build trusted relationships with their teams in order to effectively mentor them to be better salespeople. Without training, coaches will be largely unaware of what exactly they should be doing on a daily basis. Be sure this training covers both the knowledge and skills you want in your managers, and what you want them to translate to the reps they lead.
Not all sales managers are cut out to be sales coaches. Providing coaching training to all managers will not only equip them with the right tools to develop their reps, but it will give you a look into who may not be as strong of a leader as others, allowing you to reorganize as necessary.
Not Including Sales Reps in the Sales Coaching Process
Often times while planning out a sales coaching culture, reps become passive participants in the process. They are the ones being coached, so why should they have a say in how the coaching is done? Looking at it in this way is the wrong approach; coaching is for the betterment of each individual who in turn improve the organization as a whole. Only they know what works best for them, and only they know how they feel and think, so coaching methods must take that into account. In a Harvard Business Review survey, 58 percent of participants said they would trust a stranger more than their own boss. This stems from feeling under-appreciated and under-valued by superiors. By bringing reps into the development of your coaching culture, they feel a sense of acknowledgement and recognition and are therefore more likely to stay longer.
Include reps as early in the planning process as possible. Ask members of your sales team questions about what they feel are their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they think would be most helpful from their coach. If speaking with each rep one-by-one is too big of an undertaking, select a small sample of reps to provide input. Managers should consider the feedback to personalize their coaching, and have regular meetings with every rep on their team to make sure coaching is still on the right track as they move forward.
Not Practicing What You Preach
You can teach your reps what they should be doing all day long, but they won’t take it seriously if you aren’t doing the same things. According to Laura DeCarlo of Career Directors International, “To cultivate a coaching culture you need to create a workspace that walks the walk.” If sellers see their coaches slacking off, taking shortcuts in their work or not using programs in the way they should be used, why should they be expected to do anything different? All the time and effort put into training and coaching is meaningless if you aren’t performing at the same caliber you demand from your sales team.
You and all sales leaders should hold yourselves to the same standards you are setting for the rest of the team. To keep everyone on a level playing field, everyone throughout the sales hierarchy should be learning the same training content and materials to enforce consistency.
Not Reinforcing Material Learned with Ongoing Sales Coaching and Training
Speaking of training, while managers should have coaching training, reps on their team should be provided with learning materials that they can review and practice on a regular basis on their own time. Sales coaching involves teaching reps on new information, such as product updates and analyses on competitors; as well as sales materials like pitch decks, demos and call scripts. You can’t expect sellers to remember all this from learning it once. Coaching should be supported with short educational content, videos, mobile quizzes and any other items that will help sellers retain the information they’ve learned.
Not Putting Metrics in Place
There are various methods you can leverage for coaching, and the method you choose should be built with the end in mind. In other words, you should first consider what the desired outcome is of your coaching culture, and work backwards to flesh out the details of your strategy.
You won’t know if your strategy is working without regular analyses of manager, rep and team performance. Hopefully you have already established specific benchmarks to measure against that play into your desired results, such as number of calls, number of meetings scheduled, average length of sales cycle, total closed opportunities, revenue generated, and more. Knowing where you are having success and where you are having trouble tells you what performance areas to shift and focus your sales coaching efforts.
A quantitative look is beneficial, but you also want to get an idea of how your reps feel about not only their performance but their overall satisfaction of the coaching strategy. An easy way is to distribute anonymous surveys or pulling in each seller individually for a one-on-one discussion. Make it a safe space where they can be transparent with their thoughts surrounding their own activities and behavior, their manager and/or coach and the entire coaching process.
This list of what not to do should help you determine what to do while implementing coaching into your sales culture. Your entire organization, both inside and outside of the sales department, is a team, and every member of that team should be considered throughout the coaching process. A coaching culture is also a learning process, so don’t get discouraged if you have to make changes as time goes on.