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Improve sales by taking a coaching approach

Sales coaching is like coaching a sports team; if you want someone to improve their performance, you need to “go to the game” to see how they perform. Simply telling someone what to do, such as “I want you to score more goals this game” or “I want you to triple your sales figures this quarter” without knowing how they go about it or what their barriers, fears or motivation are won’t get results.

Setting targets and incentives for a person being coached (whether in sport or business) is one part of improving performance – without proper support and planning systems in place, the targets will have limited success.

Using a sales coach is a proven method of increasing sales and staff performance through supporting staff to reach their goals, or targets, using the GROW model approach.

Goal:  First, help them to clarify what they want to achieve. The coach should ask questions such as “What target do you want to reach?” and  “What do you hope to achieve with this customer”?  to help them get clarity on their goal.

Current Reality: This is an exploration to clarify what is happening now. It is important to help staff to consider how far away they are from their goal and what might get in the way, what skills they need to develop and who could help them achieve their goals.

Options: This is where the coach and the individual can explore the different methods of achieving the goal, answering questions such as “What should your first step be?” “What are some challenges you may face with various options?”

Wrap up: In this last step the individual needs to decide the action steps they are going to take and how they will implement them. The coach needs to ensure that the coachee is committed to these steps to ensure they reach their goal.

In using this approach and “attending the game”, coaches will be able to observe the team member completing their normal sales tasks such as making phone calls or visiting clients. Without this inside knowledge, a coach or sales leader may not be able to understand what is causing sales performance to be what it is. Using only guesswork, the problem may never be fixed.

During this observation time the coach would take note of body language, interaction and communication methods. They would then provide feedback and ask the sales team member questions

which in fact may even cause tension between them.

Why create tension?

Creating tension through questioning helps to uncover those things that may be “blind spots” or “fears”.

Imagine you are the coach who has just observed a sales person talking to a client. The client repeatedly brings up the topic of insurance but the sales person ignores the topic. An example of a tension creating question might be, “I heard the customer raise a number of concerns about their insurance cover – what is it about Insurance that you don’t you like discussing with them?” The answer could be any number of things, including that they didn’t feel as though they knew enough about the product to inform the client, or they simply don’t like selling insurance.

The coach and the sales person now know what the problem is and they can work together to clarify a personal development goal and the steps to be taken to achieve it.

Delving deeper

The coaching approach to sales goes a lot deeper than “I want you to triple your results this quarter” and uses GROW and tension creating questions to find out what is happening, why it is happening and how to fix it.

However, the coach doesn’t hand the sales team member the answers, nor is it their responsibility to do so.  In the purist sense of coaching, the coach will rarely give an answer to a problem, but rather will continue to ask questions that will cause the person to discover the answer themselves, leading to a sense of empowerment and ownership over the problem. This leads to increased productivity for the employee and in turn, continued improved results.

It’s not just for underperformers

Coaches are usually brought in to improve performance for those who may not be meeting expectations, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. Coaches should also work with the best person in the team to assist them to set and achieve “stretch” goals, or share their knowledge and expertise with others to help them improve their own performance.

While increased sales is the main benefit of using a sales coach, there are other subsequent benefits for staff and the organisation, including increased confidence of the person who was coached, heightened ability to set goals and develop plans to achieve them. A critical addition to this is to help staff to identify interferences to goal achievement – such as why they don’t like cold calling customers or other barriers to improved performance. Eliminating these barriers will go a long way to help staff achieve their full potential.

Sales coaching is not an exact science for each individual, but an effective sales coach knows the correct questions to ask to assist the team member to improve their performance and reach their goals.