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Are sales coaches effective for sales leaders?

More than ever, sales managers today are looking to improve their coaching skills, manage more effectively, and stay in their job longer. Why?

Consider these disconcerting statistics from a white paper by Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joe Folkman:

  • More than 60% of sales reps surveyed say they’ll leave an organization if their boss is a poor sales coach.
  • While 75% of businesses believe coaching is the most important thing sales leader do, almost half the managers surveyed spend less than 30 minutes coaching each rep per week.

Now consider commentary from trainingindustry.com:

“The average sales leader’s tenure is less than two years. Many industry experts peg that figure at 16 to 18 months. This doesn’t bode well for companies, sales revenue or the sales staff.”

It also doesn’t bode well for sales leaders...their hot seat is getting hotter.

One way to counteract these sales trends is for sales leaders to acquire an outside expert to coach them just as is done by athletes, musicians, and executives. Sales leaders seek a coach who can, in turn, help them become a better coach.

What roles can a sales coach fill for sales leaders?

Here are conditions that increase the value for an outside sales coach:

  • When a company wants to develop their sales team’s selling skills by providing better tools and improving the coaching capacity of their sales leaders
  • When a company has talented salespeople who are chronically under-performing
  • When a company is launching a new process, service, or product line
  • When a sales leader needs assistance to become a better coach

Although there are many ways to improve salesperson performance—formal education, online training, classroom workshops, on-the-job experience, seminars—there is no substitute for one-on-one interaction with their sales leader as coach. It's immediate feedback to a rep from their leader with a vested interest in mutual success.

Training and coaching are distinctly different. Training focuses on developing new skills. Coaching focuses on applying those skills to a specific role.

In a coaching session, the sales leader accelerates learning through role-playing, joint sales calls, or practice-repetition cycle. Coaching sessions can also cover sales strategies, improved communication skills, and leveraging resources.

Similarly, for a sales leader to attain superior coaching skills, it requires them to learn, practice and refine. And once refined, to rinse and repeat.

Where do you start?

Here’s how to begin. Choose to work with a respected, knowledgeable coaching professional who will help you reach your personal and professional goals more efficiently and effectively, increasing your effectiveness both on the job and as an individual.

  • Find a coach who has worked within your field and has years of experience from which to draw.
  • Pick someone whose work or accomplishments you admire and who you would like to model in your own career.
  • Build a coaching relationship on respect, one that is exclusively focused on your professional development and success.
  • Find a coach who can offer unbiased advice and share wisdom that will allow you to grow and reach your full potential.

Your coach can also help you avoid mistakes, steer clear of common pitfalls, and serve as an unbiased source with your best interest at heart.

A relationship with the right coach will help you use one of the quickest methods for personal development: emulation. The success principles and processes that work for one person often work for another. Therefore, as you emulate the desired behavior(s) of your coach, you will more quickly improve your own skill set, expand your professional and business knowledge, and jump-start your results.

What else can a coach do for you?

A coach's guidance is personal and specific, often providing constructive support and helpful suggestions through situations like dealing with challenging employees or handling a merger. The results are often quick and can be dramatic.

Today, most coaching is done on the phone or using an interactive tool like Skype. That approach is very time-efficient for both the coach and the student.

Some of the more common areas for guidance include helping you balance your personal and professional life, clarifying and implementing a healthy sales culture, creating a plan for excelling in the workplace or moving up the corporate hierarchy.

Rooted in sports, coaching is about creating results and reaching peak performance.

Making the best choice

Before seeking out a coach, it is important to evaluate your goals and objectives.

  • Why would you like to work with a coach?
  • What results are you looking for?
  • What skills do you want to learn or improve upon?
  • In what areas would you like to see development and growth?
  • What is your time frame?

Answering these questions will give you an assessment of not only your own needs but of which professional will be best at helping you address them. Then you will be ready to seek the most appropriate advisor.

To find and approach a coach, you should first make a list of professional sales coaches or successful sales executives who also serve as coaches. You may know them through your business relationships, networking efforts, research, family, friends or personal encounters. Does anyone stand out? If not, ask your network for recommendations.

Once your list is compiled, approach these individuals, let them know why you're contacting them and what you hope to accomplish.

What should you expect from a coach?

The coaching relationship is a special bond that can make a huge difference in your career. There are a few steps you can take to make sure it pays off.

  • Review your goals with your coach and reach an agreement on the parameters of the relationship specifically the duration, frequency of meetings, investment, and areas of focus.
  • Prepare an agenda for each meeting to guide the conversation and identify goals. This can be done by either the coach or by the student, depending on your arrangement.
  • Be certain to honor all commitments and always discuss, "What has changed?" at the beginning of each meeting. This will eliminate surprises, allow you to make adjustments, and keep you on track.
  • Finally, consider this relationship seriously before pursuing it. Attend to it with as much care as you would your best client.

When seeking out a coach, remember that anyone can use the title "coach." To make sure you are getting a true professional sales coach, thoroughly research a coach's credentials. Ask for at least three references and make sure you interview those references.

Most coaches offer a complimentary engagement session during which you can get to know one another and better determine whether working together will generate your desired outcomes.

Whether it's personal or career improvements you're looking for, an effective coach could be the key to your continued success and long-term career development. Finding one who will be the best fit for you is a matter of individual preference based on the goals you're looking to achieve. When you find the right fit, the potential for long-term growth and improvement can be a key to success and longer tenure.

Are you using a sales coach?
If so, what are your experiences?
If not, why?

Good luck and good selling. Ron.

[Note: Thanks to Roy Chitwood for his contributions to this article.]

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