Research shows that within 60 days of a coaching exercise, 87% of the content is lost by your salespeople. Why?
It usually results from coaching that isn’t relevant or a lack of commitment from the sales manager. Unless the sales manager is truly committed and backs that commitment up with actions, coaching will usually fail. Salespeople will not put any effort into coaching sessions that are not seen as important by their sales managers.
Continuous training and coaching
Professional football players are paid millions of dollars per year. Yet the actual time they perform in a game is approximately three hours per week. The rest of their time is spent practicing and training in preparation for the game.
No coach would tolerate players who refuse to practice and just want to show up on the day of the game and play. But sales managers routinely tolerate such behavior from their salespeople.
Coaching is often viewed by salespeople as a detriment to “making the numbers,” because it takes the sales staff out of the field. And when faced with the choice of being coached or selling, coaching often gets postponed.
Relate to today’s market
Coaches should share the knowledge and behaviors required to be successful in today’s markets. Salespeople should be given an understanding of business principles, the industry, the customer base, customer applications and the customer’s buying process.
The format and delivery of the coaching must also change. Motivational speeches and generic PowerPoint presentations are ineffective. Workshops and role plays, based on actual account situations, are much more effective.
Professional salespeople must become business consultants. The knowledge they need to acquire in order to interact with their customers has grown well beyond product features and benefits, and traditional sales results. Effective coaching consists of in-person workshops followed by a combination of reinforcement and periodic in-person sessions.
Sales management is key
There’s no single person who has a greater impact on determining the success or failure of coaching sessions than a sales manager who has day-to-day contact with salespeople and customers. When their coaching is done properly and consistently, the training is reinforced, behavioral change is accelerated, and sales results improve.
Some sales managers try to do too much in coaching and end up having little to no impact. Self-discovery, self-awareness and self-improvement take time. The key in coaching your salespeople to success is developing each of them to be the best they can be.
A big challenge sales managers face is measuring what salespeople take out of the coaching exercise. It’s easier to execute a sales technique in class when there isn’t anything riding on the outcome. It’s in the field, when the lights are the brightest and the pressure is on, that sales capabilities must be demonstrated.
One of the best ways to measure the success of your coaching exercise is role playing. Role playing is not just practicing how to work with an imaginary customer out loud. Role playing allows your salespeople to act out work scenarios covering the coaching exercise you just concluded.
Choosing the role players
The sales manager should select the partners that will work together. You can match a new employee with a veteran to speed up the learning curve of the new person, or select two veterans. You should then set up the scenario, based on the coaching exercise, with one person acting as the salesperson, the other as the customer.
Document strengths and weaknesses
Role playing is a replicable, scalable sales tool. Understanding and managing your sales teams’ skill sets will help them hit their sales quota faster. If a salesperson crumbles under the pressure of role playing with their peers, how will they perform in front of prospects and customers? Tape record all role playing sessions, evaluate them and distribute your comments in written form to each salesperson.
Stay on subject
While you want to make role playing natural and informative, don’t let the conversation stray too far from your coaching exercise. For instance, if your exercise is about selling more to existing customers, don’t get too involved with issues like making cold calls or handling difficult customers.
Here’s an example of a role-play session you can conduct:
A software company learns that customers are unhappy with your customer support. So as the sales manager you bring together a group of 12 software developers and customer support representatives. You then introduce the problem and encourage an open discussion in order to put all the relevant issues on the table and get participants thinking about the problem in depth prior to the team role-play exercise.
Now divide the participants into two groups. Group A, playing the role of a customer support person, receives a card which states: “This customer is very influential. To lose it would be highly damaging to the company. You must do anything in reason to retain him.”
Meanwhile, Group B, playing the role of the customer, receives a card stating: “You have seriously overspent your software budget, and while you’re not unhappy with the product, you must convince the customer support person to take back the product and refund your money. Since you can’t admit the actual situation (as it would clearly not be a legitimate reason for a refund), you must find problems with the software sufficient to legitimize the refund.”
The groups meet separately to discuss strategy. Group A will then select a member to act as the customer support person, and Group B will select someone to play the role of the customer. Those two will then complete the exercise while team members offer advice.
Eventually the exercise will come to a conclusion. Then the teams will be brought together to discuss the exercise, their strategies, their solution and the relevance to real-life sales situations.