Great Sales Coaches Know How to Listen

1 May 2018


Coaching is the most important job a manager has, yet so many sales managers fail to properly execute coaching conversations.

Why are so many sales managers lacking this critical skill? It is a common practice to promote sales professionals to the role of sales manager based on the individual’s success in the field, but without training, many sales managers fail to impart their secret to success to their team members.

The good news is that most sales managers can become great sales coaches, and this improvement often leads to big wins for the company.

To start on the journey toward improved sales coaching, we look at the most common bad habits of sales coaches and how to correct them.

Lack of a Long-term Focus

Most sales managers are primarily focused on numbers and often fall back to tactics and behaviors that might save the month but will prevent long-term, sustained growth.

Many managers think that they are effectively coaching when, in fact, they are not – they are directing, telling, and often doing the work themselves.

The manager gets stuck in a vicious cycle of doing the problem solving and fixing for the team member in order to achieve the numbers, rather than focusing on accelerating learning and affecting behavior change. Without a change in team member behavior, there typically is little to no lift in results for the whole team.

Telling vs Teaching

Sales managers are used to telling, and the propensity to tell is very strong for a number or reasons.

  • They think that they need to have all the answers to build credibility and trust within their team.
  • Their team members lack confidence in their ability to address challenges independently.
  • The team members want to transfer accountability from themselves to the sales manager.
  • It can seem quicker and easier to tell someone what to do rather than to collaboratively assess the issues and promote self-discovery.

Regardless of the reason, telling does nothing to improve the performance of their sales professionals.

Succumbing to Natural Defensiveness

Most people don’t look forward to receiving negative feedback, and many people feel awkward giving it. Part of the challenge is the lack of skill in providing effective feedback and a lack of positive experiences in receiving feedback.

The other part of the challenge can be found in brain science. Because our brains see criticism as a threat to our safety and survival, receiving feedback has both a physical and mental effect on us. Our heart begins pounding faster, and our throat becomes dry. Emotionally, we may begin to feel nervous, fearful, and defensive.

It’s no wonder we struggle to give and receive feedback. But, feedback is an integral part of growth and the learning process. We all have blind spots and can benefit from an outside perspective to make adjustments and remove obstacles.

Misguided Modeling

It is tough to do something when you have never seen it done well. It’s even harder to do something well when we don’t understand it or when we have a false understanding of what good looks like. Most managers have never seen coaching done well; to them, fixing issues, answering questions, and giving advice is coaching.

Giving Generic Feedback

Like any good diagnosis and prescription, the more specificity, the better. Yet, many managers are too vague or generic in their feedback. Providing feedback that lacks clarity and specificity of exactly what the receiver should do differently the next time is not likely to move the needle.

Struggling for Authenticity

Many managers say that they struggle to feel authentic when entering coaching conversations. Yet, it is authenticity and trust that preserve a relationship when there is conflict. In the long term, when we see our manager as someone who is direct, honest, fair, balanced, and specific while maintaining a collaborative tone, we begin to trust. And, when we trust, we become more open and more willing to not only try new things, but also become more independent.

A Different Approach

The goal of sales coaching is to create an environment in which team members feel self-motivated to grow, excel, and take greater responsibility for what they do.

The manager is in a great spot to initiate the shift to true coaching by changing the dynamic of how they work with their team members.

Knowing the real barriers, helping managers make the needed shift in mindset and approach, and arming them with a proven process and skill set will release the power of coaching in your organization.

The key to being a great sales coach is to be developmental rather than directive. Following these guidelines will help improve a sales manager’s coaching effectiveness.

  • Ensure that the seller talks first, last and most. Developmental sales coaching helps sellers move toward more self-motivated behavior because it meets our inherent psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Ask more than tell. The heart of the coaching conversation lies in the manager’s ability to engage in a collaborative process to help sellers self-assess and self-discover ways to leverage strengths and improve performance through effective problem solving. The benefits of coaching by asking are that it demonstrates respect, opens conversations to reveal more information about the challenge, gives the manager a chance to identify gaps in their thinking before providing feedback, shortens coaching conversations by reducing defensiveness, increases the sales professionals ownership of the solution, helps sellers become stronger and independent problem solvers, gives the manager insight into the seller’s skill level, and builds the relationship between the manager and the team member.
  • Ensure that the right issue gets solved. Diagnose before prescribing. Behind every performance gap lies an underlying root issue that is the true blocker to improved performance. Identifying and agreeing on the performance gap or opportunity is only the starting point. A manager must take the next step to identify the root issue that is preventing the desired behavior before identifying a solution. There is little value in taking action against the wrong problem.

To learn more about building developmental sales coaching skills, download the White Paper: Great Coaching is Counter-intuitive from the Richardson Sales Training website.

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