I was in South Africa this week, giving a keynote at a Forrester Sales Enablement event in Johannesburg. As I wrapped up the discussion of overcoming complexity and creating more of an adaptive sales enablement approach in sales organization, someone asked, "How important is the role of the sales manager in supporting the behavior change needed within the sales team?" A great question! As a sales leader, he recognized that communicating value to today’s buyers requires a behavior change by today’s sellers, and that behavior change needs to be supported by an involved manager. My answer to his question was, “Before I answer that question, who owns your sales coaching strategy, and does that strategy provide sales coaches what they need to be successful?" Sales coaching is playing an increasingly important role in helping sellers adapt to change while handing the complexity around them.
With an effective sales coaching strategy, salespeople can expand skills and advance the sales process. Perhaps this is why so many sales trainers and sales enablement professionals are asked to focus on developing sales coaching programs in support of driving more valuable sales conversations with buyers.
While most sales leaders have implemented sales coaching in the past, many are rethinking their approach. These savvy sales leaders see a challenge in that many sales coaching programs just don’t realize a business benefit (for example, sales coaches and sellers lose interest over time and the program fizzles). As a result, sales enablement professionals responsible for sales coaching strategies are starting to develop strategies that move sales coaching from a tactical approach to a more valuable business service, purpose-built to drive results in the sales team.
If you have been asked to start a sales coaching program, or if you are rethinking your sales coaching strategy, let’s establish three very important definitions.
Definition 1: define the strategy for your sales coaching program
I have seen many sales coaching programs fail. Why? For starters, it seems that many programs are implemented because someone at a senior level in the sales organization thinks it’s a good idea. While it very well might be a good idea, without a top-down strategy to identifying the proper focus and intended results of the sales coaching program, you run the risk of implementing a sales coaching program with the design point of “checking off the box.”
Your sales coaching strategy should sit alongside your sales training strategy and your sales mentoring strategy. That means your sales coaching program should fit within the broader context of training and development programs available and be designed to help sellers perform better. When it comes to sales coaching, sales coaches must realize their purpose is to help salespeople change their behavior. This design point is important. So be specific. If you think about it, sellers are constantly asked to improve their skills, sell higher, sell differently, or sell to someone new. That means behavior change, and it certainly doesn’t come simply or easily. For example, without behavior change as the design point, you run the risk of sales coaches saying “this is how I would do it” or “this is how it needs to be done.” Sales coaches may help sellers in the short term, but are these conversations really supporting a behavior change in the rep? So design your sales coaching strategy to identify, and then communicate, the specific behaviors necessary to achieve business objectives. For example, a common behavior that sales coaches can help address is helping sellers navigate complex accounts in order to reach the CIO level and then gain access to that CIO in order to have a successful meeting. Implementing a behavior-as-a-design-point sales coaching strategy means you have to clearly define what you mean by sales coaching.
Definition 2: the definition of sales coaching
Simply put, sales coaching isn’t a book, webinar, training course, or methodology – it’s much more than that. Think about the value your sales coaching program provides. Let’s face it, the value of your sales coaching program lies in a tailored sales coaching conversation between sellers and coaches – and you have to measure it. When it comes to that sales coaching conversation, sellers can learn what they need to improve skills as well as move the sales process forward. Forrester defines sales coaching as the iterative and collaborative process of accelerating salesperson performance by creating lasting behavior change through one-on-one conversations that are relevant, developmental, and motivational. So your sales coaching strategy needs to use that sales coaching conversation as the design point in order to help sales coaches identify the right people to coach, tailor their sales coaching conversations, and then improve their sales coaching conversations over time. To help you implement your sales coaching strategy, you need to define the role of a sales coach.
Definition 3: the definition of sales coach
I have talked to more than 50 sales enablement professionals about their sales coaching programs. When I ask them who their sales coaches are, they inevitably state that sales managers coach. When I ask, “Is there anyone else responsible for talking to salespeople about improving their skills or advancing the sales process?” I’ll get a slight pause before answers like “sales trainers, sales leaders, product marketers, presales specialists, and sales engineers.” It’s important to realize that, in most organizations, sales coaching isn’t a job title; it’s a role. And defining that role clearly is extremely important. Think about it. When it comes to that role, sales coaches must process many different content inputs from multiple groups, like sales training, portfolio, and marketing groups. Then they must synthesize and distill those inputs down to the messages that really matter to each seller. Finally, the sales coach must deliver that content to one salesperson at a time through a tailored sales coaching conversation. So who does that in your organization? If it’s the sales manager, then that’s great. If there are others, then they are sales coaches as well.
As you begin rethinking your sales coaching strategy, make sure it includes a clear definition of who is responsible for facilitating sales coaching conversations. From there, make sure your sales coaching program helps delivers valuable services to sales leaders who need their coaches to have tailored sales coaching conversations. When that happens, salespeople learn faster, converse more confidently with their customers, and achieve well-defined sales outcomes.