Guide Your Sales Reps to the Best Sales Practices

November 25, 2015


Based on the book Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach by Linda Richardson, this is the second post in a series that summarizes the key themes of the books and highlights best practices. In the previous post we explored the differences between merely being a boss and being a coach. In this post, we outline a coaching methodology designed to help sales reps successfully overcome obstacles to success.

Sales managers committed to coaching their reps to success are wise to employ a well-developed and repeatable methodology. The book Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach outlines such an approach known as “Sales Development coaching,” which is essentially the exercise of coaching by asking. Using this methodology, sales managers can help their teams identify and remove obstacles standing in the way of success.

This methodology is built on three main pillars:

  1. Employs a “coach by asking” strategy. The goal is to empower sales reps to analyze their own performance, spearhead their own development, and solve their own problems as they guide prospects to purchase.
  2. Focuses on a single priority at a time. This focus makes it possible to truly address key issues and make change happen more quickly.
  3. Separates evaluation from development. This approach embraces the idea that the two should be kept separate for maximum effectiveness.

The overarching theme of this coaching methodology is to encourage sales reps to assume responsibility for their own assessment, performance, and improvement. And it’s a belief structure that ties in neatly with the Chinese proverb mentioned in the first post in this series: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”

While this methodology is purposeful, it still accounts for being both proactive and reactive. On the proactive end, managers should plan and schedule regular coaching sessions. On the proactive end, they should respond to immediate problems or opportunities as warranted.

With that foundation laid, here are the five steps in the Developmental Sales Coaching model:

  1. Connect and clarify.

The first goal is to establish rapport with sales reps so they feel your goal is to help them rather than evaluate them. Then define a single objective for each purpose – this helps keep things clear and makes it possible more quickly achieve results. As the book says, “Your goal should be to be easy on people but hard on issues and measurement.” Examples of clear and neutral statements in this vein are: “I want to follow up on our talk about your goals for new business and where you are” or “I would like to discuss the RFP we just learned about from your client.” The goal is to keep these statements devoid of giving your view in any way. For example, stay away from statements such “That was a good call” or “Overall, you handled that client’s complaint well.”

  1. Compare perceptions.

According to the book, about 65% of sales managers begin their coaching by asking a question but immediately tell the salesperson the answers. The book states that, “the key to effective sales coaching can be captured in three words: they talk first.” As a coach, you want the salesperson to analyze the situation before you provide your perspective. It can be as simple as asking how the rep priced a contract. If necessary, you can ask questions based on the response to dig deeper – but as much as possible, keep asking the rep questions so they can analyze the situation rather than giving your take on the situation. Only after the rep has shared his or her perception of the situation should you share yours and give honest, clear feedback about how the rep handled the situation. Focus first on strengths and then suggest areas for improvement. And ask the rep for feedback on your perspective as the ultimate goal is alignment on next steps.

  1. Consider obstacles.

 The book advises that managers spend 40% of their coaching time on this step. Simply ask the rep, “What do you think the obstacle to your__________ is?” Actively listen and continue probing to get the sales rep to think through and identify the obstacle as much as possible. This exercise usually requires asking questions more than once in different ways to get the rep to start identifying some potential roadblocks. It’s important to acknowledge the salesperson's analysis of the obstacle and then offer your perspective to “reinforce, reshape or add value” to the rep’s perception.

  1. Construct to remove obstacles.

The book indicates this is where coaches should spend another 40% of their time. Once you and the rep agree on the key obstacle, encourage the salesperson to find ways to remove it by asking questions. “What do you think you can do to….(remove the obstacle)?” Again, acknowledge the salesperson's analysis and then offer your perspective to “add value” to the rep’s perception. Always check with the rep to see if she or he feels the two of you are in agreement on the issue and course of action. Finally, walk through the options and ideas and confirm the rep feels confident about putting a plan into action to overcome the obstacle.

  1. Commit to action.

The overarching approach with developmental sales coaching is to make incremental changes by getting reps to commit to a manageable number of specific actions they will complete in a certain time frame. The sales manager’s role is to support by coaching, encouraging, following up and noticing progress or setbacks. As the book says, “The goal is to help salespeople believe that they are in control of their results.” At the end of each coaching meeting, ask the sales rep to summarize what was decided and the time frame for taking action to address it.

Check in soon for the next post in this series, in which we will explore the skills required for effective coaching. In the meantime, sign up for our blog to stay in the know on this and other sales-related topics.