What is the difference between sales coaching and sales training? And how can sales leaders best coach their staff?
Best-selling author and speaker, Sean McPheat has helped shape the evolution of the sales role, having overseen the training of over 50,000 staff from 2,500 different businesses ranging from Xerox to Starbucks through his consultancy firm, MTD Training.
As highlighted on MyCustomer before, the traditional role of salesperson is tough and only getting tougher. As a result, during his time advising managers how to get the best out of their sales teams, McPheat has witnessed the growing organisational trend of opting for longer-term strategies towards sales, in a bid to boost performance while growing better customer relationships.
As part of this longer-term view, many sales managers now opt to coach their teams, as opposed to just providing training. McPheat believes the premise of coaching is completely different to training, and suggests more organisations look at the process as a form of improving the wider concept of customer experience. Here is his advice on sales coaching.
Sales reps want to be coached
Every sales director and manager wants consistent performance over the long run instead of short-term spikes in performance. Coaching is viewed as an ongoing support activity to ensure that sales reps are always maximising their capability.
Coaching consists of regular sit downs, field sales accompaniment and also “as it happens” coaching. Even the top golf pros have a coach. The likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have a coach even though they are deemed to the best in the world. It keeps them going and they are continually looking for those 1 percenters to make them better.
What makes a good coach
Coaching is all about facilitating the process of where you want to get to from where you currently are – it’s all about managing the gap. A coach needs to be great at asking the right questions at the right time. You don’t have to be brilliant at the task yourself you just need to ask the right questions and listen.
The best coaches are good listeners, supportive and motivational. You can bounce ideas off them and they can be the voice of reason when needed and also can give you a kick up the backside if you’re not being as good as you can be.
Coaching consists of regular sit downs, field sales accompaniment and also “as it happens” coaching. Even the top golf pros have a coach.
The very best coaches understand what makes others tick and can tap into your preferences and what motivates you. After all, the process of coaching is the same but how coaching is delivered is completely differently and makes the difference between success and failure.
Modern-day customer challenges
Today’s buyers are more sales savvy than at any time in history. With the internet and information being so easy to come by, your prospects and clients can do a lot of research on your products and services before they even engage with you - so it’s getting tougher in this respect because it’s more of a level playing field.
Social selling, more options, sales savvy buyers – the modern day sales professional needs to be just that, a professional rather than someone who just rocks up and works in sales. With the economy just coming out of recession our buyers want more for less and are still working to tight budgets, so we need to do everything we can get an advantage to even up the odds.
Coaching isn’t training
Coaching is normally done on a one-to-one basis, whereas training can often be from one to hundreds. Coaching is more personalised and is focused on where you need to get to, where you are now and what you need to do to manage the gap; more personalised to the individual. If you’ve got 5 in a room then to specifically cover exactly what everyone wants to the level they need will be difficult.
Key characteristics of training:
- Skills focused (i.e learning a skill or set of skills).
- Provides new knowledge and skills.
- Small or large groups.
- Structured approach with agenda and content.
Key characteristics of coaching:
- Ongoing development of individual.
- Facilitates an improvement process.
- Takes place one-on-one.
- Informal or unstructured.
Improving customer experience
In order to improve the customer experience we always need to look at ways in which coaching can add to the overall goal. We can never rest – it’s an on-going thing. The same can be said for coaching and rather than have “one off” training, coaching lends itself to continuous improvement as it never stands still.
Playing the long game
Should businesses invest more in the longevity of their sales teams, in order to see better results down the line? The simple answer is yes. One off training will work but it only has a limited shelf life. A sales rep will go back to the office all fired up, more motivated and with a toolbox full of sales skills. Indeed, sales performance will improve but then slowly overtime it will revert back to where it was because there is no driving force internally to keep the fires burning.
The most effective programmes are a combination of workshop-based training and on-going internal coaching. It’s not a quick fix thing any longer, companies are now taking a much more medium to long term view on the development of their sales teams. This eradicates the spikes in performance, the ups and downs in motivation and harbours fewer leavers. After all, a sales rep that is more motivated, is supported more often and has consistent results will not want to leave.
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.