Recently I have read posts on this subject on a several popular blogs. My most recent “snooping around” session revealed on one of those blogs that an “effective One-On-One coaching session should be planned six months ahead of time”. My curiousity ended, as did my snooping session. If you are holding your coaching session every six months you should be fired as a sales manager! You sales people are customers of your leadership, and they need service from you more often than every six months.
There are four types of coaching sessions:
- Behavioral – something has come to your attention that must/should be shared. Though we think of these sessions as addressing negative behaviors you should use them to recognize positive behaviors also.
- Discovery – As a manager you have uncovered a developmental issues that should be addressed. This is the first session of a field training program that should end with a bi-lateral contract between you and the sales person.
- Follow Up – These are frequent mini-sessions to check up, and exchange feedback.
- Bottoms Up – If you are a great leader this should happen often. Instead of you discovering a developmental issue one of your team members seeks out your help. Why? Because you are trustworthy and they know you are there to serve them.
First a note about tone. Attitude is everything. If this is a behavior coaching session do not send mixed messages. If a negative behavior issue is serious enough to warrant exploration and coaching, don’t mince in other topics. The outcome of behavioral coaching sessions are usually uni-lateral next step contracts. If you have discovered a specific sales skill that needs improvement you do want to recognize those other skill areas that are best in class. If this session is a follow up you should summarize previous discussions, recognize progress and discuss next steps. The key to follow up coaching sessions is that this is a bi-lateral agreement to next steps.
Coaching sessions should be orderly. You should control some parts of the discussion and you should let your team member control others. However, this is not a free flowing, never ending conversation. You may end up being friends with some of you sales people but remember, friendship is the outcome of effective leadership, leadership is never the outcome of friendship.
The coaching session outline;
- Warm Up – I guess you could just hit them over the head, but why? This is a team member. The only reason to minimize this part of the discussion is if you have uncovered a negative behavioral issue that if not addressed could result in the termination of this team member. Initiating a serious conversation with frivolous small talk is disingenuous.
- Orientation – If this is the first coaching session to reveal something you have discovered, particularly if the team members overall contributions are satisfactory, this part of the discussion is crucial. For instance, if you are concerned with this team members prospecting skills you should discuss what lead to this discovery. “Jim, thanks for your first quarter results. It helped show the others that the goals are achievable even with this difficult economy. But I was exploring our CRM system and think I discovered something. I noticed that you not only made your goals, but had the highest proposal to contract closing ratio! In fact, you also had one of the highest closing ratios in moving prospects from the needs analysis to the proposal, congratulations! But that led me to think, are you motivated to dramatically increase your earnings? Because if you are I think I discovered something that is holding you back…” Now the stage is nearly set for you to focus the conversation.
- Focus – This is the meat of the conversation and two-thirds of your time should be spent here. But step back a little. Dust off those sales skills from your past life. If you sold like I did, you’re best sales pitches were not about what you told a prospect right? First you need to sell the need. Continuing our conversation with Jim…”Since you have world class skills at the end of the sales cycle, I did a little arithmetic. You may already know this but if you were able to put 3 more prospects into your pipeline every quarter your earnings would increase by 10%!” My best sales presentations came about because of the questions I asked! You need to use your open ended probes, your directional probes and confirming probes. You need to find out if the lack of prospecting is a skill gap, or a will gap (see seperate articles on each subject on blog). If Jim agrees he has a need to increase the number of prospects in his pipeline, you’re halfway home! You now have to come to agreement on how to satisfy that need.
- Contract – Every coaching session should end with a contract. Simply put this is the agreement going forward, which defines each person’s action plan and roles. In my Sales Excellence Process there is a form which defines each person’s commitment. The contract (unilateral or bilateral) should be driven by what you determined to be the cause of the problem. If the issue is skill then you as the leader will have an obligation to the sales person to deliver the training. If the issue is one of will to do the task then the sales person will have more obligations to the contract while your role will be inspecting what you expect.
Coaching sessions are the most important duty of a sales manager. How you go about delivering a coaching session will define your leadership. Get your mind right! Are you there to help, or are you there to catch someone doing something wrong? Remember “Cool Hand Luke”?
Boss: Sorry, Luke. I’m just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that.
Luke: Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.