Okay, you ask, what do basketball stars have in common with my sales force? The answer is simple. Both need coaching. Yes, an important element in the performance of a basketball superstar is good coaching. Guess what, likewise an all-important element in the performance of a sales superstar is good coaching.
The reason for needing a coach is fundamental. When one is caught up in the heat of the game it is impossible to see all that is going on around. The coach has a different stake in winning and sees a larger picture. The coach can see things that are hidden from the view of the player as he moves up and down the court. The coach can tell when it is beneficial to pass the ball so that a score can be made. So, you get it, you see the analogy.
What are the obstacles that prevent a coach and a basketball superstar from benefiting from the relationship they have with each other? Well, one of the biggest obstacles is ego. Who’s you ask? The answer is both. The ego of the coach and the ego of the superstar stand in the way of making the relationship beneficial. In fact, there are many instances where a perfectly good superstar is traded and the team suffers loss because of the conflict of egos between the player and the coach. How many thousands of companies have traded sales superstars for the same reason?
Five practical activities for building good relationships between coaches and salespeople are as follows:
- Affirm and acknowledge the need for coaching often
- Reassure the salesperson that coaching is not a criticism of skills but rather is a method for making the very skilful even better
- Affirm and acknolwedge the skill level that is already developed in the sales person.
- Carry on continual dialogue concerning the reason for coaching
- Save teasing and joking for other areas of the work place. Never belittle or embarrass the salesperson. Be sensitive to the ego of the salesperson.
It is a natural human tendency to get complacent. Familiarity with the job and the repetition of tasks and approaches over and over, tend to bring a person to a place of being mediocre or run of the mill. This is where affirming the need for coaching is critical. When a sales staff is accustomed to the coaching aspect of ongoing training and preparation, there is room made for real growth and the sales person can remain vital. The sales person must have internalized the idea, that no one gets to the point of knowing, past which, there is no additional learning. It has been said, “the enemy of learning is knowing.”
Being sensitive to the salespersons ego is paramount to a successful coaching relationship. This is why sales managers are not necessarily good candidates for sales coaches. The sales manager is in the position of authority and ultimately is responsible for discipline action all the way through termination of the salesperson. This is seen as a conflict of interest by the salesperson and stands in the way of allowing the sales manager to truly fulfill the role of coach. The coach must reassure the salesperson often that he/she believes in his/her worth as a sales professional. This opens the door to conversation that can focus on improving the selling skills, delivery and methods of the salesperson. The salesperson is much more open to accept coaching input if he/she realizes that they are valued by the coach. The best way to build this rapport is to concentrate on catching the salesperson doing something that is praiseworthy. Everyone likes to know that they are appreciated and recognized for their efforts. This step is an important part of coaching. This affirms their value as a salesperson and equips them with the ability to take correction from the coach.
Speak often about the need for ongoing coaching; Dialogue about the ways that coaching is improving production. Once the sales superstar can identify the benefit of coaching in his/her commission checks and added recognition, coaching will be an accepted part of their selling regimen. Coaching is especially profitable when the sales cycle is extended. The coach can help with strategizing in all aspects of communication with the prospective client. Remind the sales people that focus is an important factor and a good coach helps focus efforts with a closing sale in mind.
There is an age-old cliché that states, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” This is never truer than in the case of working with sales superstars. Embarrassment and teasing is a poor motivator. Sometimes it is easier to use this method than the tried and true method of having difficult discussions in a forthright manner. This is the job of the sales manager and the coach. The coach’s honest communication should be given in a non-threatening way with the purpose of changing unproductive behavior. It should be given in private so that the sales person is not put on the spot. The sales manager can save the tough dialogue for the disciplinary encounters that can be handled no other way. This is always after the individual has refused to be coached.
Winning teams are teams that have great superstars and great coaches. When they work together for a common goal they become unstoppable.
 Selling For Dummies pp. 90; Selling For Dummies, Tom Hopkins, IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., Foster City, CA 1995