Tag Archives: management

Sales Managers! Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re not perfect.

21 Nov

Do you consider yourself to be an excellent sales manager?  I imagine you do, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager would continue to perform any task in a way that wasn’t working well.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a formal upward feedback process fasten your seatbelt because you’re going to get some shocking results.

In my first sales manager roll I was ready to become that perfect manager.  I tried my hardest to be fair, treat everyone similarly, give clear direction and begin to build a high performance culture.  When I got my first feedback I got a lot of compliments, great scores compared to my peers…but I also read some shocking comments and saw that I had a lot of room for improvement! 

Let me share some of the shock.  “Greg plays favorites”, “he doesn’t make it clear what is expected of me” and “he doesn’t give me the freedom to do my job.”

How is this possible?  Me?  But my overall scores were some of the best in a very large company!  How could I still get these kinds of comments?  Since my upward feedback came from direct reports and from another level down I began to investigate.  But first a little secret.  If you want to know more about what you are doing that will drive people’s impression of your leadership you’re going to have to share some of the information about your feedback.  In other words, you’re going to have to admit that you’re not perfect, but you care enough to want to change.  Once I decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to become a better leader the rest became a little easier.

So I began to call a few of my direct reports.  I shared with them where I was doing well but also shared my lowest scores.  And even though those lowest scores were not a disaster they were still my lowest scores and they needed improvement.  I shared a few of the comments made and asked them what I was doing that was damaging my credibility as a leader.  Once you’ve opened that door get ready for some very interesting information.  I remember asking one of my direct reports, (still a close friend today) what I was doing that would cause people to believe I played favorites.  Bob told me that when he held meetings that people would comment “Greg called me about that subject last week and he said…”  Well after several weeks of hearing this one sales rep nearly broke down and blurted out “Greg never calls me about anything”.  That was really interesting!  I thought it was a very good trait to always be reaching out and getting information about what was going on in the field, but was totally unaware that the way I did it was making some people feel left out.  You can say they’re too sensitive, but what I learned was that my intentions are irrelevant!  People will form opinions about your actions, not your intentions.  Bob gave me another example; he told me that some people commented that I always sat by the same people at meetings or team meals and this may be leading people to believe I had favorites.  From my perspective I was flying around the country nearly every week, sometimes visiting four cities…that’s four meetings, four half days of joint calls and four team dinners.  I was sometimes exhausted and probably did look for a seat near people I knew.  But if you put yourself in a sales reps shoes and think that Greg has come to town four or five times and always sits by the same people you’re probably feeling very left out.  Both of these were pretty easy to fix.  I continued to make calls to reps to get their input, but I kept a roster by the phone and put checks by people I called so that I wasn’t calling the same people all the time.  And I continued to fly around the country attending meetings, making joint sales calls and going to team dinners.  I just made one little change, I looked for a seat next to someone I didn’t know very well.  You know what?  Very small changes, very big changes in my leadership credibility.

So what’s the learning?  For me it was that I do not own my leadership credibility.  My credibility as a leader is owned by the members of my team and they will give me credibility when I earn it, not just because I want it.

So I think that you probably are a good manager…at least in your mind anyway.  Are you brave enough to find out if you’re as good as you think you are?  If you have the courage to open yourself up, then you have the potential to move from a good manager to a great leader.

When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out

10 Sep

So often you hear of sales people failing to make the grade after being promoted.  Why is this?  Are sales people simply not cut out for more senior positions?  Are the skills that make a sales rep. shine no longer valid as the promotions come?

Over the years I have witnessed sales people struggle mightily after promotions.  Usually they don’t fail, but they are not able to make the same outstanding contributions as a manager as they did as a sole contributor.  To understand this you should first think through how the roles change from sales rep. to field sales manager, to regional Director/VP.

Sales Representatives – The core them of any sales position is making the sale.  While each industry commands different responsibilities and practices, the primary focus is common to all – to successfully complete the sales.  This includes;

  • Making initial contact with prospects, qualifying prospects.
  • Meeting with prospects to identify, understand and seek concurrence of prospect needs AND the implications of not addressing those needs.
  • Maintaining continuous communication with prospects throughout their buying process, while building a coaching network.
  • Continuing to pursue the sale in the face of rigorous resistance.
  • Identifying & communicating the benefits of addressing the prospect’s needs to decision makers and key influencers.
  • Closing the sale.

So along comes the first promotion…field sales manager.  So the refined skills that made the sales rep. a stand out are a good basis to work from but look how the job changes.

Field Sales Manager – The theme of this position is driving the team to sell.  The sales manager cannot personally ensure goal attainment, they must reach goals through the efforts of others.  The first level sales manager is a player coach.  The best usually invest about 30% of their time helping close the most valuable prospects, and then invest 70% of their efforts ensuring that the team results are maximized.  This job is very complex.  It is most natural for a newly promoted sales person to mismanage their time.  They may very well spend 70% of their time helping close business and only 30% of their time developing the team.  This will most often result in a sales plateau.  So in addition to the skills listed for sales rep the sales manager has additional skills required,

  • Concern for Order – Like Stephen Covey documents in his 7 Habits book it is very easy for the manager to run from task to task trying to meet all due dates while investing what little time is left helping close business.  An effective manager will arrange their calendar to ensure they are spending time with all team members.  Maybe not equally the team results will drive more success than the manager’s personal sales contribution.
  • Coaching and developing others – This is more difficult than it sounds.  Many of the skills that made them successful as a sales rep have moved from conscious efforts to subconscious habits.  It is a difficult transition to move from doing to helping others do.
  • Creating & maintaining effective work teams.  This includes internal team members as well as collaborating with other symbiotic departments.

Okay, let’s say our candidate is an incredibly entrepreneurial and is able to make the transition from rep to sales manager.  What’s next?  Regional Director/VP.

Regional Director/VP – The core theme changes from driving a team to sell, to managing a larger organization.  The job has taken a turn towards analytical thinking, matching resources to potential, creating efficient infrastructures of materials and organizational resources to support the regional sales efforts.  The RVP does not create the sales strategy, but uses their skills to ensure execution of the plan.  The RVP must communicate upwards to clearly and honestly keep senior management appraised on forecasts, product and customer input.  Additionally the entire region looks to this person as the Company’s idea of how they define leadership.

  • Analytical Thinking – The RVP must be able to rise above the level of any one particular customer or prospect.  They must look at the sales pipeline as an aggregate indication of the effectiveness of all teams.  They must be able to translate pipeline analytics into action plans including training, product/service redefinition and as a tool to coach & develop their sales managers.
  • Using Business Expertise – By now the successful incumbent has accumulated enough industry, product and customer experience to understand not only what the sales pipeline looks like…but is able to anticipate what it should look like and is able to formulate tactical plans to guide the regional to sales plan attainment.
  • Enabling the team – The incumbent is accountable to communicate to senior management exactly what is needed in order to make plan.  When sales teams face obstacles they rely on the RVP to identify & acquire resources to help them overcome these roadblocks.
  • Training and developing people – The RVP must make themselves accountable not just to their direct report’s development, but for every member of the regional sales team.  Keeping up routine inspection of individual, team and regional pipelines can help the RVP see trends.

So why do people struggle as they move along this track?  Well, I’ve worked within some very large sales organizations and made it to top sales officer.  From my perspective the failure of people falls on the shoulders of their employer.  Field sales is one of the only departments where you sit miles away from your boss.  You do not get the daily coaching sessions.  The accidental conversations that take place in the hallways simply never occur in field sales.  To make matters worse I have not seen leadership training offered to newly promoted sales managers.  There are not training courses on how to interpret the sales pipeline.  How to create developmental action plans around the analytics of the pipeline.  We do a disservice to the organizations most valuable commodity…people.  Not only do we leave the newly promoted manager swinging in the wind…but we withhold excellent leadership from the sales people who depend upon their manager to help them succeed.

I know this is ending up in a rant…but if you want different results perhaps you need to do things differently.

Managing Sales Reps with “Attitude Problems”

21 Apr

Sometimes they simply have an opposing point of view.  Sometimes they are disrespectful of other team members.  Other times they simply refuse to do tasks commonly associated with what it takes to optimize sales results.  What’s their problem?  What’s your problem with them?

As a field sales manager you are accountable for delivering the optimal results possible with the assets assigned to you.  You are going to have a set number of sales resources.  Forget about the discomfort that you may feel from a rep with an attitude.  Stay focused on your job…optimal results!  First things first.  Are they making the goals? 

If not then you must take direct action by coaching and counseling.  You have to look at the territory as a resource and if the sales rep is not delivering that you’re not operating at full capacity.  You can afford an under-performing territory if you’re confident the numbers will improve.  You cannot afford to support an under-performing rep forever.  The next step is the most difficult one a sales manager has to perform…an autopsy of the sales pipeline.  Put on your stethoscope and begin to assess where in the sales cycle the problem resides.  Once you see where prospects, or lack of prospects, are clogging the pipeline you can next figure out what sales skills are lacking.  Most likely culprits?  Prospecting, presenting, probing or proposing are the most common ailments.  In this case the poor attitude is a symptom of a SKILL problem.  This is the most commonly overlooked solution because when we see a attitude problem we automatically begin inspecting the symptom instead of the illness.

If the rep consistently meets the goals but gives you or your team attitude problems then the plan of action is much more complex, but if left unaddressed it’s going to get worse.  High sales will is driven first by high sales skill.  But some people regress.  So I would recommend that you divorce yourself from the notion of “motivation”.  Motivation is what happens when there is a belief, held in expectation that something personally important will happend when a task is performed.  You need to go a little deeper.  Will is defined as the combination of desire, incentive, security and confidence.  When someone that used to have high sales will regresses, then one of those four drivers has reversed.  You need to figure out which driver has reversed then address the problem:

Desire – this is the closest to motivation.  It’s possible for people to lose the desire to perform tasks.  They simply feel that they have outgrown the need to perform the task, or that the they have already captured what was important to them and are now unwilling to perform certain tasks.  The most common example is prospecting.  Say the rep has a goal to make $100k per year.  Once they get to that level they stop performing a task they hate, like making old fashioned calls to set appointments. 

Incentive – there is a very strong link to incentive and desire, though incentive is a little more subtle.  Incentive can be a self imposed limit, such as a low income goal.  Incentive, as a driver of will, can regress quickly.  You see this all the time.  Outbound telephone calls disappear when the pipeline is full.  Then when the pipeline of prospects thins out people forget what got them there.  It becomes your job to remind them that the task of outbound calls is how they filled up their pipeline.  In other words, make sure they see the linkage between the task and their success.

Security – This is a tricky driver of sales will.  If you grew up in sales like I did then you know that security is fleeting.  You can feel a loss of security because of your own perceptions, or because of things going on around you that are outside of your control.  The most obvious are mergers or downsizings.  The less obvious are management changes or a change in the sales process.

Confidence – A change in confidence can come from within or from the outside world.  You can imagine what more senior sales reps felt when their company went from emailed weekly sales reports to an online CRM.  Confident people will speak out and ask for help.  Those that lose confidence will be afraid to ask for help, they don’t want to be discovered.  People are subject to a regression in confidence more today than ever before because the span of control for sales managers continue to get wider and wider.  The less communication there is, the more likely that a reps perceptions will cause damage to their confidence.

So, in the end, I hope that your view of attitude problems has been altered.  Your job as sales manager is to dig a little deeper and find out how you can help.  However, if the rep is the “bad apple” sooner or later they will ruin the rest of the team.  You may have to take action quickly.  Your team depends upon you to show composure and care for people.  Be the best coach and leader that your team ever had.  You’ll enjoy your job and over time you’ll create a team of winning professionals.

Hiring The Right Chief Sales Officer – C.S.O.

10 Apr

Have an opening for your head of sales?  This role is tricky!  Why?  Because very few functional heads need analytical thinking skills balanced with lateral thinking skills.  Because very few leadership positions will have such a rapid, and long lasting impact on your company’s revenue.  Because your company’s credibility with your existing customer base will be dramatically affected, based on the impact that this person has with your account managers.  Because your peak performers will judge the culture of your company based on their impression of your hiring decision.  Because your struggling reps will either improve or hide out, based upon their perception of this person’s leadership style.  Because the other members of your senior leadership team will either focus on their own functional role or pay too much attention to sales effectiveness based on this person’s credibility.  If you’re still with me read on because I’m going to share some competency information with you and suggest some guidelines for your consideration.

But first let’s agree that this year and 2010 are going to be a challenge.  What is obvious is the changes in the economy.  What is less obvious is the changes that will take place with buyer preferences, attitudes and buying processes.  Your sales organization will have to adapt to these changes rapidly.  Here are a few of the changes that will need to be addressed:

  • Lead generation programs will have to be addressed
  • Sales rep access to information and collateral will need to improve
  • Sales and Marketing will have to better aligned, this must be non-negotiable
  • Sales processes must be revised
  • Sales team communication must be improved
  • Buying process analysis must be rapid yet thorough
  • Field sales structures must be revisited
  • Channel strategies reviewed
  • Sales tools must be reviewed, reworked and sales reps retrained
  • Sales compensation plans will need to be revised

Okay, I admit you’re not going to get to all of these…but if you do none of them you may be up the creek.  So which ones are critically important?  Your new CSO will need to rapidly assess the organization and differentiate between important and critical.  How can you ensure that your candidate will be effective in moving the organization in the right direction?  Getting nervous?  Good, that’s what I wanted.  But let’s simplify the process.  I propose a list of 8 competencies where you can focus your selection process.  Four are technical skills and four are leadership skills.

The core theme of the sales leader role is to create an environment where the needs of customers and clients permeate all endeavors.  The head of sales understands how the effectiveness of their organization drives shareholder, employee and client satisfaction.  They are able to spontaneously and fluently communicate strategies, while continuously using gap analysis to change course.  They apply limited resources where those investments will yield the greatest return for all constituencies. 

Technical Competencies

  • Analytical Thinking – This skill is not solely used to decipher the sales pipeline.  Analytical thinking is also used to understand a situation by breaking it down into smaller pieces, or tracing the implications of a situation in a step by step way.  When the CRM pipeline is ineffective in producing reliable forecasts this person must be able to find the root cause and move to fix it.  Just yelling louder will not help.  They must be able to break down a complex task into manageable parts in a systematic way.
  • Lateral Thinking – Frequently there are more than one cause of a problem and more than one solution to that problem.  Lateral thinking allows a person to juggle more than one root cause and several potential solutions and come up with a strategy that will employ more than one tactical plan.  If the lead generation program is not working there are probably several issues that need to be addressed.  Lateral thinking skills will help you avoid investing all your resources in a one path solution.
  • Ensuring Implementation – Admit it…things don’t always go right.  Someone needs to monitor to ensure that strategies get implemented, that the work is actually getting done and done well.  They need to act decisively to fix problems when they occur.  One of the most overlooked practices is to communicate well with all relevant parties to ensure they understand their role in implementation.
  • Collaboration with Others – If your sales head is truly a CSO then chances are they will serve on your senior management committee.  They will need to work with others in shaping their plans and understand how their decisions will impact other functions.  They need to communicate directly, interact effectively, honestly and persuasively.

Leadership Competencies

  • Using Business Expertise – Not all aspects of managing sales output and velocity are tactical or short term.  The possession and use of professional expertise is critically important for anticipating what the sales results will look like in the future.  The incumbent will be most valuable if they can understand the economic and market conditions as a basis for action in a variety of organizational contexts.  This is where the arguments arise about the importance of company tenure, industry knowledge vs. functional knowledge.  In some cases breadth of knowledge is more important than depth of knowledge.
  • Identifying with the Needs of Customers – There are several sources for customer need information.  Market research, upward feedback from the field and direct interaction are all critically important.  The organization cannot rely on one source for customer intelligence.  The CSO must continuously analyze situations from the customers perspective.  Without this talent the organizational view will become myopic.
  • Coaching & Developing Others – The only way for the top sales officer to effectively lead to organization is for them to continuously gain credibility with their direct reports.  Having ultimate authority will have a short shelf life.  The leader should be adept at recognizing each team members unique strengths and development needs, address and resolve performance issuess directly and rapidly and help identify alternatives to overcome obstacles. 
  • Leadership Credibility – The entire organization is customers of the CSO’s leadership.  Customers have been known to revolt.  The CSO must have a conscious knowledge of the skill and will of their direct reports, and have a purposeful use of various leadership styles they are willing to employ in order to get things done without harm to the company and organizational culture.  This is a difficult and hard to find skill set.  Knowing when to use directing, guiding, supporting or delegating leadership styles is as much an art as a science. 

First, my apologies for the length of this article.  Second this competency model is designed for most business to business sales organizations.  Your company/industry may need a slightly different set of competencies.  But do yourself a favor, for each competency you add, please take one of these off.  Trying to recruit around a competency model with more than 8 desired skills makes the process nearly impossible.

For larger companies – Hiring a top sales officer is a challenge that will have a dramatic impact on the health of your company for years, maybe even decades.  If this article has built up your confidence then I have done my job.  If it has lowered your confidence then don’t get discouraged, there is plenty of help available.  There are plenty of consultants and coaches that can help you through this process.  Once you open that door however you need to ferret through a lot of helpers to find someone who will be of help.  I would highly suggest finding someone who has actually had CSO experience. 

For medium sized companies – You may not be able to find or afford someone with a complete skill set.  Your current stable of talent may be strong but do you have the time for on the job learning?  If you cannot attract or afford a true CSO then I would suggest promoting from within and contracting with a past CSO war horse to help coach your candidate.  This approach should help your high potential candidate accelerate their learning dramtically.

For smaller companies – You will probably not need a true CSO.  I would recommend finding a great sales manager and have them report to the CEO or COO.  But don’t delegate leadership completely to the sales manager.  If you do not have adequate time to manage them perhaps you can find a coach to help them.  If your company is not large enough to warrant a sales manager I would recommend finding a sales management coach to help you run the sales group yourself.  Frequently the skills that made you successful as an entrepreneur will not be the best skills to employ running a group of sales people.

If you made it all the way through this article then you’ll probably make a great hire.  Precisely defining what you are looking for is half the battle in making the right selection.

Hiring The Right Sales Manager

3 Apr

The core theme of a sales manager’s role is to drive the team to sell.  Though they may be the best sales person on the team, if they spend 100% of their time helping close business then sales results will plateau when their selling capacity is reached, and you will find that other team members have not developed.  This “halter” is a problem that many companies face as they try to migrate to the next level of growth.  As usual the best approach to solving a problem is to anticipate it, and solve it before it emerges.  So this article will focus on finding a sales manager who can grow beyond your needs today.

Driving the team to sell is a three legged stool.  Being effective at all three is important and requires a different set of competencies.  You may not get all the competencies you’re hoping for, but you must have confidence that given support, the candidate you select has the will to learn the skills.  The components are :

1.  Selling to large Accounts – When larger prospects are identified it is crucial that the sales manager become actively involved in selling process.  Whether or not they take the lead role depends upon the skill and will of the sales representative.  Regardless, the sales manager must feel accountable for ensuring that this enterprise opportunity succesfully navigates through their buying process.  The manager must, at all costs, ensure that there is a complete understanding and consideration of customer requirements before making decisions and taking action.

  • Identifying the Needs of Prospects – The sales representative must gather timely, direct information about customer requirements.  If the sales person identifies the opportunity early enough in their buying process they can influence and shape those requirements.  If they enter the sales cycle later in the prospect’s buying process they will be forced to conform to whatever requirements are already defined.
  • Entrepreneurial Drive – Tenacity is the most important ingredient in any complex sale.  If the sales rep’s will begins to fade over time, the manager must insert themselves into the process.  To be of high value to the sales representatives your manger should demonstrate that they compete against a self defined standard of excellence.  They tirelessly purse a goal until it is successfully attained.
  • Meeting & Exceeding Customer Expectations – Retaining clients is equally important as acquiring clients.  The first step in client retention is to make realistic short & long term commitments, maintain contact and then to exceed expectations by ensuring delivery of promised service.  Your sales manager must understand that brand equity is built one transaction at a time.

2.  Managing the Team – No matter the tenure of your sales representatives, their skill and will to do sales tasks will change over time.  Your manager must create an atmosphere in which sales people are completely comfortable asking for help.  At the same time they must be able to rapidly determine developmental gaps that are becoming unrecognized sales obstacles.

  • Coaching & Developing Others – It is unfortunately true that 45% of managers hire sales reps that are not likely to succeed.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that 56% of managers do not conduct routine win/loss reviews and 36% of managers do not effectively identify which sales reps need coaching.*  If you are not equipped to help the manager succeed then get them the help they need.
  • Creating & Maintaining Effective Work Teams – The manager must create an atmoshphere where individuals can work together as a team in pursuit of a common mission.  The behaviors you’re looking for are; encouraging multiple points of views, harnessing the necessary resources to help team members succeed, establishing a positive climate (see article on “Why Leaders Get Followers”) and nuturing a commitment to the mission.
  • Directing the Team – Your manager must ensure that the team completes tasks and delivers targets.  There are times when coaching & good relationships are not enough.  The manager must be more direct and take action if necessary, without inflicting damage to the team environment.  Behaviors to look for are; aligning people behind a strategy even when decisions are unpopular, using authority productively to achieve results and setting expectations clearly while communicating the boundaries that exist.  In short, the manager must be adept at managing performance.

3.  Managing the Territory – whether the assigned territory is national or market specific, you will depend upon the sales manager to optimize results.  In order to effectively manage the situation the manager must be motivated to reduce uncertainty and stay focused on those intiatives that will yield the greatest return.

  • Concern for Order – Reducing uncertainty requires an insistence on timely, accurate information.    You would see this drive expressed in such ways as; monitoring & checking information (CRM), insisting on clarity of commitments (conducting win/loss reviews), setting up and maintaining systems of information.
  • Analytical Thinking – This may be an optional skill for your consideration.  If the sales manager will be your “Top Sales Officer” (CSO) then I would strongly recommend you look for this competency.  If the sales manager will report to an RVP, who reports to your CSO then this is a nice-to-have skill.  I freely admit that it is difficult to find analytical thinking skills in a pool of sales management candidates.  You are more likely to see good lateral thinking skills.  But in this rapidly changing economy, where buyer preferences are changing at incredible velocities then this analytical thinking skill is very important!

The sales manager role requires broad and deep knowledge of selling, account relationship management and leadership.  One would expect that the candidate would have accumulated the knowledge they need for selling & account relationship management.  The company has a responsibility to provide the new manager with orientation & training around leadership.  Unfortunately most companies do not provide a shred of training on sales leadership.

 

 

* Statistics from CSO Insights “Sales Performance Optimization” 2009 Survey Results and Analytics

The Single Biggest Impact On Sales This Year!

7 Mar

As a CEO or top sales officer you may be the cause of sub-optimal sales results.  How?

Field Sales Leaders generally have multiple accountabilities, each one competing for their time;

  • Revenue – overall production, margins, pipeline and making joint sales calls.
  • Predictability – forecast, CRM adoption and usage.
  • Cost of Sales – time utilization, resource application, pursuit costs.
  • Sales Development – quota attainment, turnover ratio, ramp up time, coaching, training and general development of team members.

Unfortunately the Time Management Matrix in Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” comes back to haunt us again.  In case your misplaced your copy, the third habit is putting first things first.  My overall take was that we are always reponding to those items that have a due date (urgency, but little importance). and in doing so we steal time from more important tasks simply because there is no due date associated with them.  Guess which of the tasks above does not have a time frame urgency attached to it?  Give up? 

If you guessed coaching, training and general development of team members you would be right.  So if the top sales officer of any company want’s to know the one thing that will have the single biggest impact on sales THIS YEAR it would be to free up time, and demand that time to be invested in assessing, coaching and developing all team members.  Okay, so you’ll get around to it next quarter, right?

In the movie “12 O’Clock High” (1940) General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is assigned to a poorly performing bomber squadron.  The group was demotivated, and their current leader mired himself in administrative duties when he wasn’t busy commiserating with his group.  The first thing Savage did was to get out of the office and fly lead in the missions.  He didn’t do this to become a member of the team, or to show what a good pilot he was.  He did this to find out where the team’s gaps were and then lead them back into high performance.

General Frank Savage (in his first address to the squardron)  : “There will be a briefing for a practice mission at 1100 this morning. That’s right, practice. I’ve been sent here to take over what has come to be known as a hard luck group. Well, I don’t believe in hard luck. So we’re going to find out what the trouble is”.

So, Chief Sales Officers, if you want what ever the optimal results are for this year think about this option.  Clear out the in-baskets of your field managers and insist they invest no less than 50% of their time assessing, coaching and training their sales people.  It is more important this year than ever before.  Do it this week.  No!  Do it today!

Effective One-On-One Sales Coaching Sessions

4 Mar

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Follow Up – These are frequent mini-sessions to check up, and exchange feedback.
  4. 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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.