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As a sales manager, the ability to coach your reps is the most predictive element of your success. The type of environment surrounding these coaching sessions is the difference between their helpfulness and their uselessness.
The 3 most important qualities for a good sales coach are :
1. The ability to listen ;
2. The ability to keep from interfering ;
3. The ability to build positive relationships with their reps.
Pass the talking stick
Finely tuned listening skills are essential if managers are to perform well as coaches. When your reps are in a sales coaching environment, it’s important that they feel they can freely express themselves about issues they’re having or tricky situations they're experiencing.
Sales managers should ask their reps open-ended questions. These questions should be thought-provoking and help representatives identify solutions rather than providing them with all the answers. This is crucial.
Sales managers and VPs tend to immediately give what they believe to be the solution and call it coaching. This goes against the notion that we’re more likely to learn a lesson when the solution comes from our own thought process.
Let your reps learn from their own mistakes
One of the hardest things to do as a coach is to keep from interfering when one of your rep come up with the wrong solution for an issue they’re having. Once again, lessons learned from our individual failures will stick much more than the ones we see our colleagues go through.
The goal of coaching is to help your team grow, to help them achieve independence. To consciously allow them to be knocked down is very difficult for a sales manager, as it goes against the will to see them succeed.
Whether through formal or informal sessions, coaching is a way to debrief why things went south between your reps and their prospects. Salespeople should have the confidence, firstly, to admit their mistakes, and most importantly, they should feel that their sales manager has their back when they do make mistakes.
Of course, we’re talking here of mistakes which lead to minor setbacks ! The point isn’t to sit back and watch your rep walk off a cliff. If their mistake will only slow down the sales process, you should definitely hold back and let them realize by themselves what they’ve done wrong.
Why positive relationships are important
For a coaching session to be successful, the rep must feel that their sales manager won’t blame them for their errors. It must be agreed that there won’t be consequences to admissions of wrong behaviour. Reps should feel confident that what is said won’t be used against them, but instead bring them to a higher level of performance.
To create a safe coaching environment for your reps is to your advantage. When a rep feels backed by their sales manager, it allows for trust and honesty. If they feel they must lie to their manager in order to avoid repercussions, then they’re not being honest about how they’re dealing with their clients. They will tell you what they think you want to hear, and not what they actually plan to do.
Out of fear that you will judge them, they may hide wrong behaviour, like asking close-ended questions, or having trouble talking about money. If they feel they can’t openly discuss these issues with you, they won’t improve. It’s a double-edged sword : not only will they not inform you of their problems, but they won’t be able to address them properly.
How a rep feels during this precious time with you is the key to your success as a sales manager. Coaching is asking open-ended questions as well as giving your reps the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to develop their own solutions to their problems.
Listen. Let them make mistakes, and most importantly, let them know that you will be there to support them when they do.