What Do You Coach? 14 Areas to Focus on When Coaching Salespeople

What do you coach?

The opportunities for coaching people are vast. Here is a detailed list of the top 14 significant and common areas to be mindful of when coaching people that will make an immediate impact on their performance.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith RosenIn a prior blog, I discussed The Gap, which is where the real magic happens and true coaching moment is uncovered. The Gap is the space that exists between where someone is today and where they want or need to be. That Gap or Coaching Moment can be anything from an assumption, limiting belief, skill, strategy, process, activity or even a relationship that needs upgrading or repairing, just to name a few. What I have found is that the gap represents several key areas of opportunity that you can coach someone around. Here are 14 areas to be mindful of when coaching your direct reports.

1. Their Communication or The Message:

That is, the language, dialogue, message or communication regarding style, delivery, presence and disposition. Coaching the message, the ‘language’ or the way your salespeople communicate, engage with prospects and customers, deliver their presentation, facilitate a conversation, even how they deliver their compelling case or handle objections is one of the most important, yet overlooked coaching opportunity managers continue to step over. It’s one thing to provide your people with a sales process, templates and collateral materials. But do you really know what they say and how they communicate with each customer they interact with? Do you know the precise qualifying questions they ask, and the ones they’re afraid to ask?

Think about your sales team. Think about your top performer and your underperformer. Aside from their disposition, drive, skill, experience, confidence and attitude, the greatest difference between your A players and C players is how they communicate and come across. The best salespeople are simply the best communicators. They are willing to engage in the tougher conversations and ask the more challenging questions. They communicate in a way that’s precise and makes an immediate impact in every conversation.

After all, selling is a language. So, coach the language. Remember however, when coaching around the message, it’s not enough to tell your salespeople, “The next time you’re in a situation like that, you need to qualify better and ask more questions.” That’s sharing an observation, not developing their communication skills. Instead,  begin by asking, “What information do you need to know about every prospect and customer you speak with?” Then, follow up with, “Okay, so what questions do you always need to ask your customers and prospects that would provide you with this critical information you need?” Now, you shifted from sharing and observation to truly developing their communication skills, as well as the positive attitude that surrounds it.

2. The Who:

This is all about coaching to each person’s individuality. Their values, passions, standards, boundaries, integrity, strengths, goals, fears, internal motivators, opportunities for improvement, and so on.

3. Their Attitude:

Yes, you can coach around someone’s belief, mindset, philosophy, outlook or assumptions. This is the most powerful of all coaching moments. After all, beliefs precede experience.

For example, if you have a salesperson who suffers from call reluctance, all the scripts, templates and tools you provide them does not change their core outlook towards cold calling. The root cause here isn’t what they do or even how they do it. The root cause and the real coaching moment is how they think or their limiting beliefs around cold calling.  So, if you can get someone to re-think something, uncover a faulty assumption, breakthrough a limiting belief or change their attitude around their job, the company, the team, their role, your customers, their responsibilities, themselves, or even you; their coach or manager, the byproduct is a change in behavior which is then likely to continue for the long term. You can find a great article here about how you can overcome selling and cold calling reluctance permanently.

4. The Lesson:

What have they learned? Why are the same lessons repeating themselves? Are they getting it? How does this lesson affect them? What new possibilities are now open to them which they didn’t see before?

5. Ideal Characteristics:

The ideal qualities you have defined that encompass, for example, a sales leader or manager. The WHO. (Extroverted, actionable, honest, strong communicator, accountable, curious, organized, strong integrity and presence, disposition, smart, responsive, consistent, fearless and so on.)

6. The Skill:

What are the core competencies and best practices that have been defined for that person’s role? The WHAT. Is there a missing discipline or skill that needs further development or refinement in order for that person to become the champion they can be to live their fullest potential? And if you haven’t mapped out what those best practices and essential sales competencies are to be successful in that role, then what are you coaching to?

7. The Strategy:

How do they plan on achieving the desired result? What is the plan or approach they will take to achieve their goal or end result? Example: Customer service/account management strategy, new business development strategy, recruiting strategy, sales strategy, talent development strategy, turnaround strategy for underperformers and so on.

8. The Process:

If the strategy is the overarching approach that’s focused on achieving an objective or goal, then the process is the breakdown or steps of each strategy you’ve identified that’s needed to succeed. For example, if there’s a new initiative to generate more new business opportunities and not rely solely on your existing client base, one strategy might be to focus on cold calling or warm calling. The process that drives the successful execution of any strategy includes a series of steps to take. That may include doing things such as being more proactive around prospecting and cold calling, attending trade shows, following up on prior and existing customers to uncover up-selling or cross selling opportunities, asking for referrals, writing articles for publication, sponsoring events that you would invite customers and prospects to, or even identifying the resources and people needed to support each process.

9. The Activity:

Building off Number 7, each of these processes need to be broken down to identify the activity and best practices around each, including what to do, how to do it and what to say. This ensures not only the proper steps (the activities) in the process are taken, but through observation, the manager can assess the quality of every activity their direct reports are engaging in, including the quality of the message that is delivered in each step. For example, while you may have a strategy to win more sales, and in order to do so, your salespeople need to follow your defined sales process, is your sales team following the established sales strategy and effectively engaging in each step in a way that emulates best practices? Are they consistently engaging in the right activities that support their goals? This needs to be aligned with number 5 above to ensure the activity is not managed by a check box but observed to assess the quality of the activity. Measuring activity doesn’t assess their effectiveness around that activity unless observed firsthand. Often, the Gap between an A player and a C player is not recognized by measuring activity but in assessing how effective and skilled they are around engaging in that activity; including the quality of their approach, message, confidence, disposition, questions asked, presentation, communication and so on.

10. Their Commitment:

Are you noticing their energy level, enthusiasm or motivation waning or is it maintained consistently?

11. Their Relationships:

The relationships they have with people, as well as intangible concepts and feelings such as their stories and S.C.A.M.M.s., (I cover this in great detail in Chapter Four of, Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions.) You can even coach someone around their relationship with fear, confidence, time and self management, self worth, rejection, call reluctance, their drama, their diversionary tactics and so on.

12. The Solution:

This may not come as a chock to most managers. That is, to coach someone around self generating a solution to a challenge or issue they’re facing. Rather than be the Chief Problem Solver who’s always handing out answers, ask powerful, precision based questions to help the person create an answer on their own to foster greater ownership and accountability.

13. The Consequence:

While most people are motivated by pleasure; that is, what they want to create for themselves or a vision they want to manifest in the future, many people still don’t possess the level of self-awareness needed that would motivate them to change what has been deemed as a detrimental or costly, negative behavior. And most of the time, it’s not enough to just tell the person, “You need to stop doing that. It’s affecting your sales.” Instead here’s an opportunity to coach them around self awareness and negative behavior so that they can come to the needed level of awareness on their own. Remember, people believe what they say but resist what you say. Here are some questions that would help facilitate this process. “If you continue on this path, where do you think you’ll be in (two, three, six) months from now?” “How does your performance impact you, your team and your customers?” “What’s the consequence of spending more time doing research in front of your computer rather than being in front of your customers?” “How could this behavior impact your goals and future career plans?” If you don’t change how you (communicate with customers, relate with your peers, manage your time, etc.), what will this cost you as it relates to your performance?” “How will this affect your reputation and relationship with your team/customers?” “How do you want to be known?” “What can this potentially cost you in the long run?” “If no changes are made, how is this going to affect your quota this quarter?” “If our roles were reversed and you were the manager, what would you advise me to do?” “What are some of the implications that affect both you and your customers when………”?

14. Their Wins:

Interestingly, this is the second area other than #1 above that managers seem to step over most or fail to recognize as great coaching moments. Since the majority of managers are focused on what’s not working or what’s wrong, managers are wired to search out things that need fixing. They like to fix things. Consequently, managers miss so many opportunities to coach people around a win rather than seeking out what they need that person to improve upon or do.

For example, one of your direct reports just closed a big deal. Many managers respond with, “Great job! Now let’s focus on the deals your struggling to close this quarter.” Right there, you just missed a coaching opportunity to coach the person around best practices and strategies that you can then put in front of their line of vision in order to reinforce the positive behaviors that you want them to continually practice and refine. A question that would assist in uncovering this could sound like, “Congratulations on that new sale. I’d love to hear more about it. Can you walk me though what happened when you met with that prospect? What did you noticed you did differently this time? What did you do really well? How did you respond when the customer initially said they were happy with their current vender? What best practices can we identify so that you can consistently engage in them during every customer interaction to achieve the results you want?”

To build a world class sales team and reinforce the behaviors you want them to engage in, turn your binoculars around and start magnifying and focusing on what they’re doing right more often than the time you spend focusing on what they’re doing wrong. Otherwise, how would they know what best practices and behaviors you want them to continually engage in?