Mar 14, 2016
We all know that coaching is an important part of a Sales Manager’s role, and as a sales enablement leader, you enable them to do it more effectively. However, traditionally sales coaching more often than not ends up being a one-size-fits-all pep talk focusing on what formula worked for the manager when they were a sales rep. But to help a new sales hire the focus of coaching actually needs to be on their needs.
Using a data-driven approach to coaching, rather than relying solely on intuition, can provide your sales managers with direction on what skill gaps each individual rep need to be coached on. You can even leverage technology to make the coaching process more efficient – through video recordings and online feedback forms for example.
This can have the additional benefit of making coaching a regular and planned activity that is in the calendar without the need to sync schedules or travel in the case of distributed teams. By implementing a structured approach, your sales manager can be more effective at coaching and spend less time doing it, leaving them with more time driving sales.
When creating an effective coaching plan for your new sales reps, you need to look at it in the context of the entire onboarding process. I recommend introducing coaching after you have trained and tested the knowledge of your new hire. Sequencing it in this order has several advantages. Firstly, the new hire will get more out of your coaching sessions as they come in prepared with all their baseline knowledge, and you will spend less time explaining the basics of “what to sell” and “how to sell”. Secondly, and more importantly, sales managers can build on the data collected from the first two steps in the process to put together a customized coaching plan that will help address the specific areas that require development and reinforcement.
To coach or to give feedback
Before I get into the details of creating a structured coaching plan, it’s important to clarify exactly what coaching is. Many managers confuse coaching with giving feedback, but in reality, they are two very different things. Feedback is where a manager tells a rep what they think about their performance and what they could do differently. It’s not really about the rep at all, but rather about the sales manager’s perspective on their performance. On the other hand, coaching is all about the sales rep; what would address their gaps, how they can perform better, and strengthen their skills. Coaching is a structured and intentional process to guide your new sales rep to be sales ready so they can achieve their maximum potential. Coaching a new sales rep is a critical step in onboarding them, and when provided in a structured manner, it can accelerate the onboarding ramp significantly. Tactical feedback can then be given once they’re out in the field. For this reason, it’s important that sales managers are able to set aside time for coaching, as Jeff Hoffman correctly states:
Identifying skill gaps
Typically, after the training and certification stages of onboarding have been completed, the sales reps should understand “What to Sell” by this stage, but may be struggling with aspects of the “How to Sell”. Perhaps they need more work articulating the value proposition of the company’s offering or they may be struggling with objection handling or even competitive positioning. But each new hire may have a different Achilles heel and this is where technology can really help you. If you could record and file away voice-over presentations or videos of the reps practising their pitches, this would be a goldmine of insights for the sales manager, helping them identify where the exact skill gaps are – for each individual.
Creating a structured coaching plan
Once you know what needs to be coached, you can then help the sales manager create a structured plan, with tasks and activities that have been designed to reinforce their training. This stage of the onboarding process can be completed over 4 to 6 weeks; 3 to 4 weeks of intense coaching, followed by 1 to 2 weeks of on the job coaching. An integral part of the process is to complement the coaching by having the newbie shadow one of your A players. Where possible, the new hire can shadow someone when they are demonstrating the specific skill sets that are being coached. This will give them the opportunity to see how it’s done in practice as
No two coaching plans will be the same. Even if two reps have passed their sales certification process they may still have different areas of weakness so their coaching plan will be different, customized to address their individual skills and needs. However, there are four main areas where coaching is likely to be required when onboarding a sales rep:
- Articulating the product value proposition;
- Objection handling;
- Creating the customer pitch deck; and
- Following the sales process.
These areas cannot be taught solely through an online training platform, they require coaching and face to face time to make sure they are perfected. But before the sales manager does that, you can assign the rep different tasks or activities to complete that meet these objectives and can then be used as part of the coaching process.
For example, if they need to improve how they articulate the value proposition, then they can do some more simulation missions that include practicing the value proposition, videoing themselves, and then watching this back with their sales manager. The coaching can occur as they play it back together and identify areas where they can improve their articulation of the value proposition. If following the sales process is an issue, then practicing with dummy leads will help identify where behavior needs to be corrected.
To make this job easier for you, I suggest putting together some pre-designed exercises that cover each of these areas. You can then select and assign the ones that are to be included in the coaching plan for each individual rep.
Once each of the assigned tasks has been completed the sales rep should be ready for face to face coaching. The sales manager can use these recorded tasks and data from the assignments to give the rep structured coaching where they need it the most.
Combine this coaching with a shadowing program, where the newbies can watch your A players in action and see a realistic view of how the coached techniques are applied out in the field. This integrated approach to coaching can be very powerful and will have your newbies ready to get out there and sell quicker.