Imagine how you are driving now as a skilled driver and years ago when you just got your driving license. There are a lot of specific skills that must be mastered before a driver reaches the level of unconscious competence, e.g., what certain signs and symbols mean, who has the right of way, how to parallel park, and how to master European roundabouts. While all of these skills are important, some are more vital than others because they are critical to success. For sales managers, coaching is such a skill, regardless if they lead a field or an inside sales team.
For most people in sales, coaching is perceived as opportunity coaching even though there are many more aspects of the sales role that must be coached. Furthermore, many salespeople, not only in inside sales, don’t feel “coached,” even if their managers call it that. Let’s start by defining what sales coaching means:
Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise, along with social, communication, and questioning skills to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities to break through to new levels of success.
As importantly, sales coaching is not asking things like, “What’s your forecast this month?” or telling a salesperson, “You need to build more pipeline.” Instead, effective sales coaches consider the salesperson’s personal goals, their style, current strengths and weaknesses before engaging in a dialogue. Then, the focus of such a structured conversation is to discover areas for improvement regarding behaviors and activities that should lead to the desired results.
Coaching areas have to be defined: lead and opportunity coaching, pipeline coaching, coaching skills and behaviors, account and territory coaching
If coaching is reduced to opportunity coaching only, the organization misses out on much of the performance benefits of coaching. At CSO Insights, we separate coaching into five different areas that can be implemented step by step, according to your context:
- Lead and opportunity coaching
- Pipeline coaching
- Coaching skills and behaviors,
- Account coaching
- Territory coaching
However, in most organizations, sales coaching is currently focused on lead and opportunity coaching only. It’s remarkable that the majority of sales managers in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study said they spent less than an hour a week coaching leads and opportunities. Lead and opportunity coaching is a great starting point. But it should soon be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors as a foundational coaching layer. Especially for inside salespeople who are working most of their time on the phone, lead and opportunity coaching should always be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors.
Coaching needs to be formal to be effective
Now as you have defined your various coaching areas, it’s about developing a coaching process that follows the customer’s journey. Ideally, your customer’s journey should be mapped to your internal process landscape. If that’s the case, your coaching framework sits directly between the customer’s journey and your internal process landscape, bridging between both sides.
There are four levels of sales coaching maturity:
- Random: There is no coaching process defined. Coaching is left up to each manager.
- Informal: Coaching guidelines are available, but there is no formal coaching process. Managers are told that they should coach, but there is no monitoring or measurement.
- Formal: Coaching areas and the coaching process are defined and implemented. Sales managers are expected to coach accordingly, and there is a formal effort to develop their skills. Periodic reviews help optimize processes and guidelines.
- Dynamic: The coaching process is connected to the sales force enablement framework to ensure reinforcement of sales enablement efforts. Sales managers are required to coach; they are measured and compensated accordingly. Ongoing reviews help to not only optimize the process but also to adapt it to market dynamics and the changing selling environment.
In our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, almost 50% of our study participants reported operating based on a random coaching mode. A quarter is working on an informal basis, but only 21.7% have implemented a formal approach, and only 5.3% have made further efforts to align their coaching process with their enablement framework. Our study shows that the coaching approach matters a lot.
Almost 75% of sales organizations waste resources due to random and informal coaching approaches, and only about one-quarter leverage the huge performance potential of formal and dynamic coaching.
If coaching is left up to each manager, sales organizations have a hard time achieving even average performance. Let’s look at win rates for forecast deals as an example. Organizations that use an informal approach end up 4.5 percentage points below the average win rate of 46.2%. That is an actual decrease of 9.8%! Informal approaches start to move things in the right direction, but they lack formal implementation and reinforcement, which leads to a result that’s around average. However, when the approach gets formalized, the win rate improves a significant 5.3 percentage points above average for an actual improvement of 11.5%. The results are even more impressive for a dynamic approach that is based on a holistic sales force enablement program that connects the enablement and the coaching frameworks. In this case, the win rate climbed by 12.9 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 27.9%.
How could a sales leader ignore a 27.9% better win rate? Investing in sales force enablement to build coaching frameworks and develop sales managers accordingly, especially their coaching capabilities, is the key to achieving the kinds of performance improvements sought by sales leaders everywhere.
This article has been initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 2017 issue.
Image source: Unsplash Images
Did you watch the ski world cup in Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago? Try to put yourself in a world-class skier’s shoes and imagine being on the racing track and performing the downhill race. Knowing the racing track is one thing. Knowing that the weather and snow conditions will change while you wait for your turn is another thing. But being able to quickly adjust your decisions, strategies, tactics, actions, and behaviors to the new and changed conditions, and all of that without losing speed – that makes the difference. This is an excellent example of adaptive competencies in action. Now, what has skiing to do with professional selling? A lot.
Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time.
Customer situations, like skiing conditions, are never the same. Customers may be confronted with the same environmental context, but what counts is what it means to them. And that’s always specific. Every customer stakeholder group is different, especially the stakeholders’ different viewpoints on how to approach the situation. The customer’s desired results and wins are also different, every time. That does not mean that there are no clusters and patterns to work with. Of course, there are efficiency and growth challenges, transformational and effectiveness challenges, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are different, but formalized, buying processes. But the characteristics of each specific challenge and the related buying culture are different in each customer situation. And this uniqueness requires adaptive competencies to win business in a scalable way.
Selling approaches have to be relevant, valuable and differentiating – and that requires adaptive competencies
Whatever the methodology is you trained your sales force on, the difference between average and world-class goes beyond execution – it’s about salespeople’s adaptive competencies based on a learning culture. Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations. For sales professionals, that means being fluent in all relevant selling skills and competencies, and being fluent in various knowledge areas (customer and capability knowledge) and their specific area of expertise. Only on such a solid foundation can adaptive competencies be developed and then applied effectively. Only world-class ski athletes can win completely different races such as the Beaver Creek race and then the Kandahar race the following week. And that’s the same in sales with your A-Players.
Building adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching
Every sales force has different and specific challenges, a unique enablement and training history and, therefore, a different point of departure. Whatever your specific situation might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed. This foundation is mandatory. You don’t train a ski athlete on the Beaver Creek racing track before the athlete is a highly skilled and experienced skier.
Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement.
Key learning objectives should include situational awareness (the twin to adaptive competencies), applying principles instead of rules, and creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking.
Adaptive competencies, well applied on a solid foundation in a learning organization, reinforced by coaching, are a key differentiator in today’s complex, constantly changing B2B environment.
It rarely happens that I’m impressed by motivational speakers. Too often, they cannot build a bridge that enables people to tap into their wisdom right after the conference. Steve Backley, English javelin athlete and three-time Olympic medalist, offered a very different experience at our Miller Heiman Sales Performance Summit, based on his book, The Champion in All of Us.
“Clever people, like you, value relationships and develop a team of people around you whom you trust. You will understand the power of perspective and, therefore, will be keen to understand the ideas of others.”
Relationships do matter – in sports, and across the sales team and the customer organization. The team you prepare yourself for the Olympics with and the sales team you work with – it’s a similar situation. Even if you are opponents during a competition or when it comes to promotions, you work together to get better every day, led by a coach. This is how we all can learn from each other’s viewpoints, approaches, thoughts and most important – from each other’s mental attitude and professionalism. Relationships are based on being valuable for each other. That’s the same principle in sports and sales. No buyer makes time for a coffee meeting anymore, if there is nothing valuable added to the coffee. Developing existing relationships and building new relationships with prospects and new buyer roles is a key competency of any top sales performer.
Why is that so important? Look at our engagement principle “Providing Perspective.” To understand the customer’s specific context, every different viewpoint and any relevant information a salesperson can gather adds value to the big picture and enables the salesperson to provide an even better perspective. Furthermore, understanding each buyer role’s different approaches and ideas, especially if they come from different functions and have different organizational roles, is essential to co-create a shared vision of future success together with these groups of buyers. Understanding and learning from others’ ideas and taking that to the next level is a key differentiator. Therefore, analyzing, understanding, interpreting and synthesizing across the network – that’s what top sales performers do before they provide a tailored solution to help the customers to achieve their desired outcomes.
“Champions do this by seeking to consult and understand others and by networking well. You will not only learn from the relevant people around you, but will be able to reapply their skills in an even better way. The point here is not the ability to store or regurgitate facts that you have learned from others, it is the application of the understanding of the key principles that matters. Sustained performance is not about learning something parrot fashion, it is about understanding others, interpreting and then applying knowledge.”
Learning new techniques in sports or new methodologies in sales, the process is very similar. Learning and practicing to become a top performer has to be guided by regular coaching. Coaching, done well, improves the athlete’s technique and performance step by step, leveraging his/her potential. That’s always an individual journey with common milestones. The first milestone is that the athlete/salesperson can repeat and perform the new method or technique pretty well in familiar situations. The second milestone, though, is to coach the athlete/salesperson in a way that he/she can adapt the newly learned techniques in any new, changed or complex situation. That’s much more than practicing new stuff in a repeatable way. To achieve this level, athletes and sales professionals have to develop their adaptive competencies. That’s their ability to quickly adjust their behavior and their activities to different situations. Developing adaptive competencies – in sports and sales – can be done in different ways, in simulations within the same professional area or completely different areas. That means working with people, often out of the business context, so that they learn how to better connect the dots between their left and their right brains. Adaptive learning experiences in other fields may be beneficially transferred back to a business context.
A prerequisite to applying adaptive competencies successfully is situational awareness. Situational awareness means understanding a given situation and quickly noticing what’s happening in this situation. Then, adaptive competencies enable us not only to know but to understand the situation with all the involved people and elements. Even more, adaptive competencies enable us to synthesize all findings into a bigger picture and to draw the right conclusions. In sales, that means providing a tailored, differentiating and highly valuable perspective for a customer to help them to achieve their desired results.
Adaptive competencies are based on identifying the underlying principles and adopting these principles to different situations. Champions learn, practice and adopt what they learned and take it to the next level, based on those embedded core principles. That’s the main difference between the top performers and the ordinary performers on the team, in sports and sales.
“Champions also consult opinion across industries. It is never about who is right or wrong; it is about what is best.”
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, January 5th 2015.
How do you learn a new sport? You attend regular training sessions to learn techniques and methods, you practice regularly and you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
You get coaching sessions to adjust your practice based on specific lessons learned and your individual progress, and you get coaching to focus on specific skills that are complemen-ting the practice to leverage your potential. And all these elements of practice, training and coaching are well connected to each other.
In sales, people are sent to training sessions that are perceived as events rather than elements of an ongoing development journey. Often coaching doesn’t happen. If coaching happens, it is often disconnected from salespeople’s daily practice and the training sessions they attended. Furthermore, the trained sales methodologies are not reflected in the enablement content salespeople should work with. The problem is that all these elements are isolated; not based on one integrated approach to drive sales execution. The big picture is missing. A general design point is missing. What happens is that salespeople cannot get the expected value from all these different elements that should help them to sell, and guess what – they don’t use it. They just switch off the noise.
Enablement and coaching frameworks have to be based on one design point – the customers
A customer core approach is one of the non-negotiables to evolve sales enablement to the next level, to sales force enablement. That means, to focus on the entire customer’s journey and all relevant buyer roles at each stage and at all levels. Given this customer’s journey as a core design point, enablement services have to be tailored to the specific phases and the relevant buyer roles. That’s true for client-facing content and pure enablement content. Additionally, sales training (sales process, sales methodology, product training, and competencies) has to map all their services the same way, to be clear about what is only relevant at a specific phase of the customer’s journey and which services are relevant for all phases.
When it comes to frontline sales managers’ regular coaching practice, we focus on tactical coaching that’s based on leads, opportunities and accounts. If we want a frontline sales manager to coach their salespeople along the entire customer’s journey, it’s obvious that the coaching framework has to follow the same design point – the customer’s journey. If we look at the enablement services as the specific services for salespeople, the frontline sales managers’ coaching guidelines work as an embedded reinforcement element of implemented enablement services. Coaching guidelines are a natural mirror that helps to reinforce and to sharpen the impact of the implemented and provided enablement services. Designed this way, both services – enablement and coaching – reinforce each other and make sure that the investments create sustainable business impact.
Connecting enablement and coaching – mapping the customer’s journey
Connecting both services requires mapping the customer’s journey to the internal process landscape that covers processes from marketing to sales and to service/delivery. The relevance for enablement and coaching is to get a clear understanding of the gates between the different phases of the customer’s journey. What is it we need to see fulfilled; when is this phase fulfilled? How do we know that this specific gate has been passed? An example could be that we look at the end of the awareness phase for signals that the customer community (not only an individual) has confirmed organizational pain. Additionally, we want to see a decision to change the current state and to enter the actual buying phase. Additional criteria can be defined. Defining the gates that mark the passage from one phase to the next one simplifies the mapping to the internal processes. Adjustments, if necessary, should be done internally, as customers won’t change how they want to buy.
Having defined these gates opens the way for another level of clarity for enablement services (gate descriptions are definitions of purpose for enablement services) and for coaching guidelines. Questions can be designed to lead coaching conversations towards this clarity – where are we really along the customer’s journey. What has to be adjusted, what needs to be improved and what’s just fine.
Customer journey mapping is often a challenging step. Performed correctly, it is the foundation for connected enablement and coaching services. I t is the foundation for simplicity, clarity and highly valuable services that reinforce each other. Connecting enablement and coaching this way is a steppingstone to World-Class Sales Performance.
Frontline Sales Managers – Key Role, But Poorly developed And Enabled
What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers
Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Look at any world-class sports team. Is there any public debate if the chief financial officer has been replaced? Not so much.
But there are big public discussions if there are any decisions around the team’s coach to be made. In business, it’s different.
Frontline sales managers are a sales team’s coaches and salespeople’s most important ally to leverage their own potential. FSMs are the key role to build world-class sales teams. When do we take time to discuss their role and their impact and – most important – how do we evolve this role to world-class performance?
Frontline sales managers – the key role to develop world-class sales teams
FSMs have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity and sales transformation than any other role. What makes the FSM role so demanding is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas – customer, business and people, represented as the FSM triangle. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals. World-Class Sales Organizations understand that it’s not about adding costs to the bottom line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much bigger.
Reality looks different – what we learned
At the MHI Research Institute, we run Executive Forums for sales leaders two times a year in different cities around the world. These forums are focused on the latest research and on one topic that has been prioritized by our customers. “Frontline sales managers” (FSMs) was the most prioritized topic for our forums in October and November.
FSM’s role and scope:
While people agree with the huge relevance and the big leverage effect of FSMs, there is not much clarity on the role itself, its scope and the challenges associated with it. This was clear from our Forum discussions on the FSM’s triangle and the most important FSM activities, ranked by our clients. Mapping the FSM activities our clients had prioritized to the three elements of the FSM triangle (customer, business and people) was an eye-opening experience. This visualization helped people to understand how broad and how complex the FSM’s scope actually is. Imagine “managing customer escalation during buying phase” – this activity will impact all three elements, customer (how to get the customer relationship back on track), business (what does the escalation mean in terms of business impact) and people (how to better coach salespeople).
Rear view mirror versus wind screen perspective:
The “FSM mantra “manage activities, coach behaviors” initiated a discussion on what is it really a FSM can control in his/her role. It turned out, that there is still way too much focus on asking for and measuring sales results, instead of coaching the quality of activities and behaviors to make sure that the results will be achieved. Our clients’ feedback showed that this situation is always combined with poor coaching, and too less focus on how to get to these results – managing the right activities and coaching the behaviors. One of the root causes we learned is a focus on the wrong performance indicators to look at, too many lagging indicators, and not enough leading indicators that help to adjust activities and coaching early along the way. This issue is closely connected to the previous issue, the lack of clarity on role and scope.
Current state on FSM development programs:
The discussion created a lot of clarity around the current state of FSM development programs. Those who indicated they have a FSM development in place also indicated that these existing programs were either HR driven general management programs, or specific programs that focus on one element of the FSM triangle only – on business management aspects or on coaching. If those programs are isolated from the sales system (e.g., a general business management program) or from the sales enablement approach (general coaching programs), they are costly investments with little to no outcome. The challenge here is to design integrated FSM development programs that connect the dots across these elements and that are based on the FSM triangle.
We will continue and focus our FSM research on the here addressed challenges.
Related blog posts:
What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers
Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Valuable sales conversations that provide perspectives for prospects and clients have never been more important. Today’s complex challenges require new and innovative ways to engage buyers across all stages of their journey. Join a panel of sales enablement experts to learn how to develop a systematic program that enables your sales professionals to have valuable conversations that set them apart from competitors.
Register today for a top expert panel discussion at BrightTalk:
“Sales Enablement – Game Changing Conversations that Drive Revenue”
March 19, 2014: 4pm GMT, 5pm GMT+1, 9am PT, 12pm ET
I’m very happy to be part of this excellent panel with top sales enablement experts and professionals. Every panelist is looking at these challenges from a different perspective with a different background, bringing a foundation that should provide significant value for the audience.
Jim Moliski, Senior Vice President, Strategic Services, Launch International
Presenters and Panelists:
- Pat McAnally, Research Director, Portfolio Marketing Strategies, Sirius Decisions
- Craig Nelson, Founder and Principal, Sales Enablement Group
- Tamara Schenk, Research Director, Miller Heiman Research Institute
We will discuss different approaches and best practices around these topics:
- How to deliver knowledge and insights needed to have valuable conversations
- How to create a systematic approach and roadmap to sales enablement success
- How to equip frontline sales managers to become excellent coaches
Additionally, we will answer your questions!
To join us on March 19, register here!