Effective sales coaching stems from having effective conversations. Myself and Adam Zais of Kurlan Associates, recently wrote about the impact having great quality pre-call planning and post –call debriefing conversations can have on successful sales outcomes.
At the same time, we also touched upon the common approach taken to these interactions by the average sales manager, and how poor coaching conversations, do not contribute to either helping to aid the sales process or increasing the skillset of the sales person.
In order to bring this to life to really showcase the difference between the two, myself and Adam recorded ourselves role-playing both bad and good examples of coaching conversations. You can find these below, along with commentary covering what’s happening within the videos.
In each scenario, the sales rep (Richard) and sales manager (Adam) belong to a fictional company selling take-away coffee cups to café chains.
The start of this conversation has the sales person claim they have ‘an exciting opportunity’ lined up with a prospect. Rather than diagnose why the sales person feels so enthused about the opportunity, the sales manager simply feeds the sales person with blind enthusiasm by saying ‘awesome!’ The manager bypasses investing time questioning the rep as to how this opportunity came about, what information or background the rep has on the prospect, and what his strategy is ahead of the call too.
The manager is also too focused on the ‘size of the deal’, which is perhaps irrelevant at this stage as it is getting the rep to be too focused on an unqualified outcome. Overall, this conversation was nothing more than a short check-in, with the rep no better off having this discussion than he was previously.
Bad Post- Call:
Notice the sales manager asks the question “how did it go?” at the start of the call. This is too much of a generalised question, which simply invites the rep to ramble about the call as a whole, rather than hone in and focus on a specific event or outcome of the conversation. Once the sales rep outlays his excitement that he’s ‘been asked for a proposal’ by the prospect (probably a bad sign this early on in the sales process and fuelled by having a poor pre-call coaching conversation), the manager delivers unfounded praise: ‘Great!’.
There was no sense of understanding why the rep got to that outcome, or indeed the strategy he executed on the call. In this scenario, the sales manager is more interested on when this deal will ‘hit the pipeline’ rather than helping the rep focus on what he could do to help progress the opportunity, or indeed what could have been done differently next time round. Furthermore, the sales manager's poor feedback and suggestions are centred solely around using discounts as a way for the rep to move the deal forward – a sharp contrast to focusing in on selling skills and techniques which would benefit the rep longer term. Lastly – notice that this post-call debrief was ultimately all about the manager succeeding: “get the deal in and that will help me out a lot”. Yikes!
In this scene, the manager responds to the initial information from the rep with questions about his plans, expectations, and objectives. Furthermore, the manager diagnoses and temperature checks the opportunity life cycle to-date, to help formulate good quality questions. This stands in stark contrast to the questions about the deal in the first scenario.
Following that, the manager and rep pick apart the assumptions the rep has about the buyer's motivations and then discuss questioning approaches for best uncovering those motivations (one additional approach, which could be leveraged here, is actively role-playing these question approaches with the rep). At this point, the manager reminds the rep to keep focused on the number one challenge - reducing resistance - and importantly, provides strong support and encouragement.
Here the manager asks a far better question than in the previous post-call scenario: "How did the call end?" This question is better than, "How did it go?" because it gets to factual information rather than seeking the rep's subjective opinion. This allows the manager and rep to work backwards from how the conversation ended and cover what he did and how the conversation actually sounded. By dealing in facts instead of impressions or opinions the discussion unfolds without any of the pressure or emotions that typically characterize these debriefs, which generally leads to reps dreading the calls, overstating their chances, and making things up because that's what they think their manager wants to hear. In fact, in this case the rep is able to admit that he missed an opportunity to build a stronger business case with the buyer without fear of being punished or ridiculed.
The call ends with the manager supportively summarizing the progress made and challenging the rep positively going into the next call with the buyer. The call ends with both parties fully on the same page, far more useful information exchanged, and clear expectations for their next call.