How to Be a Championship Sales Coach

One of our favorite daily emails (that we actually read) is The Harvard Business Review Management Tip of The Day. At least 60% of them are very relevant to what we have experienced as sales managers or see our clients experiencing in their realm of sales leadership. In fact, one of their most recent tips struck a chord with us and we felt it so compelling we thought it deserved additional attention.

We know as sales leaders it is a lot about the numbers. However, in the 21st century it’s no longer just about the numbers. “Dials! Talk-time! Dials! Talk-time!” are no longer the only things that motivate people. Yes, metrics matter. “Show me the money.” Yes, money motivates people, but in the end that still is not enough.

Often time’s people will claim we have gotten too soft. Or perhaps it’s because the millennial generation doesn’t know the value of hard work. In our opinion at The Harris Consulting Group, those are merely myths. The truth lies within all of us. It lies within our human spirit.

One of our favorite sales interview questions is, “What type of leader brings out the best in you?” Typically, we get the “not a micro-manager” response. Which we follow up with, “Everyone says micro-manager, what does micro-management mean to you?” And this is where you get a real answer, “Someone who teaches and helps me but does not feel the need to breathe over my shoulder about every project 2-3x a day.”

What the sales candidate is saying is that they want someone who knows how to lead, train, coach, and then get out of the way. Most sales leaders we know in the SaaS world did not go through any formal management training. There was no manual about how to deal with bad behavior, bad attitudes, and bad performance.

So this leads us to the HBR Management Tip of The Day: “Look for Emotional Cues During Tough Conversations”

“Many managers take a rational approach to handling tough conversations at work. This means we often fail to pay enough attention to the emotions involved. But when emotions are ignored, they can derail everything. Suppose you have an underperforming rep that needs coaching. Before explaining where he’s falling short and setting goals for improvement, pause to think about how you both feel. Acknowledge how disappointed you are, and consider how scared and threatened he might be. This will help you notice, once you sit down, that his arms are crossed or that he looks worried. This suggests he’s already on the defensive. Try to establish a connection or more upbeat tone before addressing the issue. Launching right into his performance likely won’t lead to a productive coaching conversation. Recognizing small emotional cues like these will help you respond proactively and adaptively.”

What this means is that the sales manager who can coach their inside sales rep or field sales rep with compassion will earn the most respect. When you earn their respect, your sales team will do anything for you. They will go into any battle against any enemy or any competitor and give you 110%. Have their back and they will have yours.

So let’s take a look at a real example. Let’s even use the one mentioned by HBR, an underperforming sales rep.

Manager To Dos (Before)

  1. It affects your ability to make money, so acknowledge your disappointment.
  2. It affects your upstream and downstream credibility, brand, and career path.
    • Upstream – How will managers and executives view your abilities based on the outcome of this situation?
    • Downstream – How will the other sales reps or other people who have managers in the organization see you based on how you handle this situation?
  3. It affects the sales rep as much as it affects you.
    • Same financial pressures, same disappointment.
    • Same upstream and downstream credibility, brand, and career path.

Manager To Do’s (During)

  • Acknowledge the above from both sides.
  • Then acknowledge that you are in it together with equalized pressure.

Now you can have a real and honest dialogue about performance. By opening yourself up to vulnerability you also allow your employee to do the same.

This is the critical moment. Now you can talk about ways to improve performance. Or if the case calls for it, separation. Either way, you’ve done right by yourself and your employee.

Manager To Do (After)

  • Immediately following the conversation, send an email to your sales rep thanking them for their time. Mentioning the high-level discussion topics and the steps both parties will take moving forward.
  • Based on discussion, be sure you hit your deliverables to the rep. If you fail to meet your own deadlines everything you have done until this point will have been a waste.

I will leave you with two parting thoughts:

  1. This is not meant to be a long exercise. If you are new to management, Step 1 is really meant to be a quick checklist. Do not over-engineer things. The first few times you do this, give yourself about ten minutes to collect your thoughts. More experienced managers probably do this in about two minutes, tops. Step 3 should take no more than ten minutes. Limit yourself to no more than seven sentences.
  2. In our experience, we see tons of managers and executives who were never taught this from the beginning. Some are still new and learning, that is fair. For those who are experienced in management and leadership roles, we encourage you to take a moment and give it a shot. Remember early on in your career when you made fun of management for their “bad management skills”? Well, now might be good time to look in the mirror. (Yes, I am talk to you, my fellow Gen-Xers)
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    • Great article, Richard, thanks! Good point bringing more of the soft skills into the coaching sessions. I’ve found that the best coaching sessions are when both parties trust and respect each other. It’s has to be all about together, making the direct report more successful. Also, give the direct report a voice and make them feel valued.

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