What Do Driving Instruction and Sales Coaching Have in Common?
My middle daughter just got her learners permit, so I’ve been spending a lot of terrifying time in the passenger seat of our car coaching her on the do’s and don’ts of safe driving. You know - little things like understanding which pedal is the brake and which is the accelerator! I’m exaggerating (a little) but it’s truly scary how many little adjustments and corrections need our constant attention as we drive down the road. If you’ve been driving for more than a few years you probably don’t even think about it, you just do it.
The same can be said about your sales managers. A typical sales manager that has been in the business for more than a few years, has realized a level of success selling your product or service and may not realize all the little adjustments, subtle nuances, and minor course corrections they make on a typical sales call to keep a sales conversation on track. Do your sales managers remember what was like when they first started? Is it possible they are making assumptions or taking things for granted? Working with my daughter as she gains confidence in her driving ability has reminded me of the importance of slowing down, reviewing the basics, explaining what may seem obvious to me (e.g. “Dad, how do you know where you are relative to the center line? I feel like I’m about to cross it but you say I’m nearly hitting the parked cars on the right!”), and giving positive feedback when she does something well.
So what can you do (or ask your sales leaders to do)? In our sales consulting practice we put a great deal of emphasis on sales leaders establishing a regular, consistent coaching rhythm with everyone on their team. Ideally this is a scheduled weekly meeting (face-to-face or a phone call) for at least 30 minutes. Every other week is ok, but weekly is better. This is in addition to what we call “ad hoc coaching” that naturally takes place throughout the week (ride along sales calls, pop-in “got a minute” meetings, conversations in the hallway, etc.). What we recommend is a structured weekly call to cover:
Weekly outcomes – is the sales person focused on the right outcomes, have they set their weekly goals appropriately, are their weekly goals aligned with their quarterly goals, etc.
Best Call/Worst Call – pick one, but ask about either the best call of the past week (what went well, what did you learn, what can you repeat on future calls?) - or the worst call of the past week (what went wrong, what would you do differently, what did you learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes?).
Biggest Lesson Learned – if your sales people are not learning every week they’re not having the right level of conversation. Busy, productive sales people should have enough conversations that they’re learning something every week – something about the competition, the market, their prospective clients, your product/service, what they need to do differently, a skill gap they need to address, an objection they need to work on, etc. If they’re not, chances are they’re having weak/safe conversations instead of the type of conversations that move sales forward.
Focus on a specific opportunity – drill down, look at an important upcoming call or appointment, talk about a strategic account situation, review a new product or offering, or explore any topic that warrants a deeper discussion (15-20 minutes). Ask open-ended questions to spark conversation. Ask follow up questions to drill down and keep exploring the topic. If appropriate, engage in situational role play to demonstrate the right behavior or show how to navigate a sales situation.
Regular, consistent sales coaching can help reinforce the right behaviors, correct the wrong behaviors (before they become habits), and help keep everyone on the sales team on a path toward continual improvement. And while I hope your sales people have more skill and confidence in sales than my daughter has in driving (at least for now), we ALL can and should get better. As soon as we think we know it all and stop learning is when we grow complacent and stop earning. When can you have a conversation with your sales leaders to discuss their coaching habits and review some of the ideas outlined in this post?