Elite Sales Management: Coaching Your People Where They Are

As sales managers, we’ve all been told we need to coach our teams. And for some people, it’s easy to see why! They fall short of plans and consistently get off track.

But really, what value are you adding if you’re consistently coaching someone who’s not showing improvement?

And what about our top performers? Is there any value to add through coaching?

To be an elite sales manager, you need to learn how to coach people where they are – whether it’s your top performer who’s never seen a quarterly goal she can’t exceed or your mediocre rep who occasionally hits the goal but more often hovers right below it.

The first step in learning to coach people where they are is to understand that a salesperson’s state is independent of results and entirely based on behaviors. Last year’s top performer resting on her laurels and ignoring her quickly shrinking pipeline needs the same kind of coaching as someone who never had a pipeline to begin with.

Here are 5 places you might find your salespeople and tips for coaching them at each level.

1. State of Emergency

We’ve all been there – a major prospect said no and our pipeline suddenly disappeared. Our biggest client switched vendors. We came back from vacation to see an empty calendar and end of quarter is quickly approaching. Red alert!

Unfortunately, by the time someone has fallen into a state of emergency, they’re likely overwhelmed. They may be making poor and short-sighted decisions or just standing still.

Your goal with salespeople in this state is to shine a light on the situation and help them acknowledge the state they’re in. They need to accept the fact that they’re in a state of emergency and commit to getting out of it.

You may discover that some people are in denial about the emergency they are experiencing. They may have even gotten used to operating in that state, and it seems perfectly normal. All the coaching in the world won’t help until you can help them see the problem and commit to solving it.

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” – Bob Nelson Tweet: You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within. – Bob Nelson

2. Planning Mode

Once someone is aware of an emergency and decides to address it, they immediately move into planning mode. This should be a short-lived stage where you as a manager can add a great deal of coaching and support.

Whatever might have caused the emergency, develop a plan to address it. Pipeline blown out? Build a prospecting action plan for the next month to fill it, and make sure you establish better prospecting habits moving forward so it doesn’t happen again. Best customer left? Volunteer to work together to see if the client is recoverable and develop account plans for the next biggest customers to grow business and deepen the relationships.

One thing to remember about each of these levels is that it’s easy to fall down. If you notice one of your sales reps slipping, try to catch them in planning mode before letting them fall all the way into a state of emergency.

For example, proactive planning before someone leaves on a long vacation can help to ensure they have a full calendar of meetings with prospects when they return. And a consistent monthly prospecting plan will maintain a flow of leads into the pipeline regardless of individual wins and losses.

3. Action

Once a salesperson has a plan, you’ll want to continue to monitor them closely as they work to execute the plan. Daily or every-other-day check-ins can be a great tool in this stage!

You’ll want to ask the following questions in your coaching sessions.

  1. Are you executing the plan?
  2. What’s been working so far?
  3. What’s not working?
  4. Are you seeing the results you expected?

You may need to help your salesperson retool the plan if they’re not getting the expected results. Don’t let them give up too quickly, but don’t let them stick with something for too long if it’s not working. Your outside perspective is invaluable in making these decisions.

You might feel like you’re micromanaging at this state – and that’s exactly what you should be doing! Many salespeople give up when their plans don’t work immediately, or they never fully act on the plans they’ve developed. Your role as a coach is to keep them focused on the plan and monitor the plan to make sure it’s working. This isn’t the most fun part of sales management, but it’s one of the most important.

“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” – Earl Nightingale Tweet: People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. – Earl Nightingale

4. Making Progress

If your salesperson is executing the plan, eventually you should start to see some progress. This is your signal to begin to gradually wind down to your normal level of management. As long as they’re continuing to make progress, you don’t need to micromanage anymore.

Keep up regular coaching sessions (ideally weekly), and continue to check in on the execution of the plan.

At this stage, you should have enough information to see what’s working in the plan and what isn’t. On a regular basis (perhaps monthly), work with your salesperson to revise the plan. Help them determine where they should be spending their time.

Your best way to know where you are in this stage is to set clear KPIs that include leading indicators. Is your salesperson scheduling more meetings with decision-makers? Has she sent more proposals? Is he booking more demos? Identify the best KPIs for your business, then track them at least weekly.

5. Life Is Good!

Life at the top of the J-curve is fun! Salespeople are consistently prospecting, qualifying and nurturing leads, and closing deals. The pipeline is always full and is gradually growing. Selling skills are improving, and salespeople come to you to develop plans when they see a potential threat.

So what can you do as a coach to help a salesperson who’s racing along at top speed? Check in with them and help clear things out of the way!

The same disciplines that you used for the other four stages will happen at the speed of light for your top performers. They’ll develop plans, execute, and quickly evaluate progress. Some people at this level will seek an outside perspective, but others may not. Make sure you’re checking in regardless so you can spot any problems before they turn into emergencies. Even the best pro athletes still have coaches!

At the same time, look at the rest of the organization and see what you can do to help top performers be successful. Can you improve communication with marketing so they get better resources to share? Can you solicit information from their prospects and customers to provide to the product team? Make sure you’re doing what you can to empower your top performers to peak performance.

“What makes a good coach? Complete dedication.” – George Halas Tweet: What makes a good coach? Complete dedication. – George Halas

If you found this post helpful, check out our ebook on Coaching Your Sales Team to Success! It shares a simple model for providing feedback and coaching.


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image courtesy David Kindler via Flickr - no edits

By | 2016-12-05T11:31:04+00:00 October 27th, 2015|Sales Leaders|0 Comments

About the Author:

Elizabeth is CFS's Operations Officer and Senior Advisor and is the Product Manager for the Criteria for Success Sales PlayBook. She writes about sales leadership, management, teamwork, motivation, and process based on her work with CFS's clients.

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