Sales managers are where they are because they have proven their ability to sell. Their titles change from rep to manager, but they’re still selling—they’re “selling” better performance! They can use the same selling habits that made them winners in the field to help them build high performing teams.
Let’s explore just a few parallels we can draw between the selling process and the coaching process.
Fact: Top salespeople plan for each sales call.
Parallel: Top sales managers plan for each field visit.
Ask managers how much effort they and their reps put into pre-visit planning, and you may be surprised to hear, “Not much.” What a missed opportunity! A recent survey of sales managers revealed that only 30 percent felt their pre-visit planning was effective. Some admitted that all they asked the rep to do was list the customers they’d be visiting and the product they were going to highlight.
Considering the heavy emphasis on pre-call planning for reps, it’s ironic that managers don’t do more pre-field-visit planning. Like a sales call, a field visit is an appointment to sell something—that something isn’t a product or a service, it’s better performance.
With new report forms in the cloud, more companies are including a field visit plan as part of the report structure. Having it there is one thing; using it effectively is another.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the most successful managers get the coaching process off to a good start with a solid pre-visit plan in writing. For these people, it’s just a part of what they do every week.
Pre-Visit Planning Has to Be Easy
Lots of managers say, “I don’t have time to do what I’m doing, let alone add another task to my to-do list.” That’s why pre-visit planning has to be easy.
Ideally, the rep and the manager should decide on a plan together. That could be as simple as an email from the manager to the rep with two questions:
Or, the manager can put the monkey on the rep’s back and ask for a brief plan for the day. (Most cloud-based report forms are set up for the rep to initiate the plan.) Suppose a rep’s plan is to see four customers who are good candidates for using XYZ. The manager can turn the conversation to behavior with a directive response like this:
Based on what we discussed in our last ride-along, have you prepared targeted questions for each customer? I will be looking for ….
The manager’s coaching response might only be one or two sentences. It’s not the length that matters—it’s the strength.
There’s no reason to leave field visit planning for a discussion first thing in the ride-along morning. This can all be taken care of in writing ahead of time. That allows more time for both selling and coaching.
Fact: Top salespeople focus on “how” in each call.
Parallel: Top sales managers focus on “how” in their field coaching reports.
It would be absurd to sell a product simply by saying, “My product is great. You should buy it.” Top salespeople sell by explaining the “how.”
How the product has worked.
How the customer can use the product.
How it will benefit the customer.
In field coaching reports, managers can explain:
How a rep’s behavior worked or didn’t work.
How to do something better next time.
How specific actions will benefit the rep.
Incorporating More “How” in Field Coaching Reports
What two words start most field coaching reports? “Nice job!” If the next comment has something that defines what made the job “nice,” and the comment after that gives some direction, that’s not a terrible way to start a report. Far too many reports, however, don’t give the specifics that are necessary after “nice job.”
During a recent training session with 20 experienced managers reviewing two of their own reports, all 20 found at least one “good job” or “nice job” or “excellent job.” More revealing, however, is that 15 managers found more than 10 in just two of their reports! Here’s an example one manager shared with the group:
You had an excellent call at XYZ Center! You also did a good job interacting with the XYZ team. Overall, this was a very good day!
What’s the impact of content like that in a coaching report? Almost zero. It’s just feel-good talk without any substance. What made the call excellent? What did the rep do that made the interacting good? What made it a very good day?
No wonder most reps think that reports don’t hold any value for them! No wonder no one goes back to the report as a refresher in between field visits.
In contrast, really great managers (coaches!) consistently give specific feedback and direction like this:
Using the Selling Excellence (SE) model at ABC Center resulted in very positive engagement and interaction with this team. When you addressed X’s concern about ..., you seemed very comfortable asking open-ended questions, and you left with a solid agreement on Product HGL. Continue to use the same approach with all of your customers on every call. In fact, in the next two weeks, before you meet with any customer, take a moment to remember today’s success.
That’s truly effective reinforcement and practical advice. It sure beats “nice job”! That’s the kind of field coaching report comment section that merits revisiting even if just for the last “take a moment to remember today’s success.” What a positive way to “sell” better performance!
Field coaching reports present great opportunities to reinforce curbside conversations. We know that people are more likely to remember what they hear when they also see it in print. That’s why it makes sense for reports to focus on “how” someone performed and “how” to continue improving. Strong field coaching reports stretch the impact of a manager’s thoughtful assessment and advice.
Although coaching in writing is a challenge for some managers, when they “get it,” they reap the benefits—they make the “sale”!
Fact: Top salespeople follow up after calls.
Parallel: Top sales managers follow up after field visits.
Follow-up seals the deal. Managers always encourage reps to follow up with customers after sales calls. They know how much “nice nudging” contributes to gaining the business. Likewise, following up after field visits is more likely to result in better performance.
Scheduled one-to-ones are a very effective standard procedure, but that’s not the only way to follow up. Managers have a perfect follow-up vehicle right under their noses—smartphones! A Deloitte survey in 2015 found that people in the 25-to-34 age bracket look at their phones 50 times a day; those between 18 and 24 check 74 times a day!
If managers prove they have something valuable to say when they coach in short texts and emails, reps will listen. Just an occasional text message like this one can be a good memory jogger:
Having a good day? Be sure to ….
Reps who grew up with texting find it easy to ask managers for advice from their smartphones, and they’re eager to continue the coaching process with frequent touchpoints. Managers just need to open the door for that to happen. One way is to use an open-ended question in an email, like this:
What worked really well in one of your calls this week?
To avoid an overload of emails to read and respond to, however, that kind of open-ended email doesn't have to go to every team member every week. Some reps don't need it.
Email follow up is not a one-way street. It’s the ideal conduit for sales coaching conversations—two-way conversations, not one-way monologues or sermons.
Managers who want to initiate email coaching conversations may want to begin with the general rule of “Let’s respect each other’s time and keep messages concise.” They can even give reps two possible subject lines: “Help Needed” or “Sharing an Experience.” Everyone should understand that “Help Needed” emails take priority. Managers can set up their own policy of responding to those within 24 hours but responding to “Sharing an Experience” within three days.
Selling better performance varies from rep to rep, just as selling a product varies from customer to customer. An essential question is simply, “What does this person need?” Effective—maybe even intuitive—selling habits can turn the routine field visit process into outstanding coaching experiences. Everybody wins!
[This blog post is adapted from an article by Joy Van Skiver. It initially appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of FOCUS, Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network (LTEN) Magazine.]