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Successful sales managers understand that they can positively impact their sales team by effectively coaching and developing them.

The bad news is that many sales managers find coaching a difficult skill to master. The problem is two fold:

1. The next level of sales management does not do an effective job role modeling coaching

2. Only 50% of organizations invest in ongoing training and development of their sales managers.

Can you relate to this?

If you are not getting the support you need to effectively coach your sales team don’t despair. Here are 7 tips to effectively coach your sales team:

1. Building Trust

For sales coaching to work, the sales manager must earn trust. Sales managers must learn to remove their management helmets and put on their coaching hats. The coaching hat is all about being non-judgmental and allowing the individual to be open in the discussion of behaviors and/or performance challenges. Trust is the foundation for coaching.

2. Ask Effective Questions 

Most people don’t like to be told what to do. Sales reps are no different. Successful sales coaches achieve agreement on the “what” and use effective questions on the “how.” Successful sales organizations allow their sales people to own the solution which leads to better execution and better people development.

With effective sales coaching, the coach uses effective questions that stimulate thinking and illuminate solutions.

3. Self Evaluation

When doing post call debriefs or skill assessments, it is critical to have the sales person guide the process and self-evaluate. As a sales manager, you may only be in the field with the rep one or two days a month. The goal is to encourage the sales rep to evaluate how they did on each call even when you are not in the field with them.

Many managers are quick to offer feedback. Relax and take a step back and let the sales rep self-evaluate. Being able to assess what they did well and what they can improve upon leads to greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is the gateway to self-confidence. Give your sales people the gift of self-confidence by withholding your feedback and allowing them to self-assess. 

4. Focus

For coaching to be effective, you need to work with the rep on improving one area at a time versus working on multiple areas.  Sales managers who try and work on improving many areas end up seeing no change. My focused coaching methodology is based on the premise that as a coach, if you can help each of your reps improve in one area during a year, you have been effective.

5. The Rep Guides the Discussion

How does the effective coach determine the area of focus? I say, if there is a benefit to the area that the rep decides to focus on, then go with their suggestion. This creates a stronger desire to improve as the rep is making the commitment. Less effective managers will pick the area and then wonder why they don’t get buy-in from their rep to change.

6. Plan of Action

To create momentum for change, effective coaches use the power of questioning. Open questioning creates an environment where the sales rep thinks through areas of focus and change, offering proactive methods to achieve targets. This takes time, but if the coach tells the sales rep what they should do, the buy-in is lost. Best practice is having the sales rep physically write out a plan of action and send it to the manager.

The power of putting pen to paper is twofold. Firstly, the sales rep needs to think through what they are committed to doing and secondly by putting their commitment to paper it crystallizes their thinking.

7. Holding Your Rep Accountable

“People respect what you inspect.” The effective coach understands that once the plan of action is in place, their role as coach is to hold the sales rep accountable for following through on their commitment. To accelerate the development process and/or completion of the sales rep’s plan of action, the coach asks the sales rep open-ended follow up questions such as:

What success have you had with your plan? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome those challenges?

By taking a few minutes on every interaction (via phone calls or on the next field visit) effective coaches are stressing the importance of their coaching. Sales reps begin to understand that they are going to be routinely asked how the focused plan of action is proceeding and they then understand that the manager is holding them accountable for progress and improvement.

Successful sales coaching is a process that has many nuances. By following best practices, such as effective questioning, focus and holding your sales people accountable, you stand the best chance as a coach to improve your sales reps performance. The power of effective coaching is based on the belief that the sales rep has the answers and the coach’s role is one of facilitation and holding the rep accountable.

Remember coaching is the key to driving sales performance.  To effectively coach a team it is important to develop both yourself and your team.

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Steven A. Rosen, MBA is the founder of STAR Results, a leading sales management training and leadership coaching Company. He is the author of 52 Sales Management Tips – The Sales Manager’s Success Guide. Steven has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Sales Influencers.