No Distance Is Too Far When Coaching Sales Skills

To optimize productivity, sales managers should use personalized coaching solutions and focus on developing key skills such as discovery, whether the rep is sitting in the same office with them or is 25 miles away.

Our current COVID-19-required remote work arrangements are likely to continue for large portions of the workforce going into 2021. Gartner analysts predict that up to 48 percent of all workers will be carrying out their duties away from the traditional office, versus the 30 percent who were doing so before the pandemic started.

Regardless of where work is being conducted, sales managers still must coach and develop their reps to meet quotas. To optimize productivity, sales managers should use personalized coaching solutions and focus on developing key skills such as discovery, whether the rep is sitting in the same office with them or is 25 miles away.

Coaching Enhances Training

If your sales organization is squared away, you put your reps through regular training sessions. These sessions address key sales skills and review new features of your products or services. Some managers leave sales reps to sink or swim at this point.

Best-in-class organizations take the next step and require sales managers to deliver coaching. I generally remind sales managers that training is a transfer of knowledge from one person to many. Coaching is all about asking open-ended questions that lead coachees to their own discovery of a better way forward . Our research shows only 53 percent of sales managers feel their ability to coach is a necessary skill to be effective in their company—significantly below the 61 percent who say the same thing about training. These percentages are confounding because CSO Insights reports that formal sales coaching improves win rates by up to 54 percent.

General sales coaching isn’t enough. Managers should personalize their coaching to the rep’s needs. But how exactly will that work when you’re already short on time and reps are scrambling to learn how to sell effectively during these challenging times?

An automated coaching solution can be your most effective tool when it’s time to develop and train your reps on critical skills such how to use new technology on sales calls. One of our recent surveys revealed, not surprisingly, that the volume of customer interaction via video-based technology has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 crisis began. While our survey focused exclusively on media sellers, anecdotal evidence indicates this shift is widespread across all industry verticals.

Communication Cadence and Style

The transition to successfully coaching your reps remotely may require you to adjust your communication style. You’ll likely be chatting with them on video more frequently than you did when you were in the office. In fact, at our company, our vice president of sales often starts the day with a brief team video chat to help the reps get oriented for the day.

Approximately 41 percent of managers say it’s harder to motivate sales staff than the year before, according to our research. And this research was conducted before the Coronavirus-related crisis began. Daily check-ins during current uncertain times allow managers to help disoriented reps find necessary focus.

When you talk one-on-one with reps, you’ll need to shift your approach. They may not be able to concentrate when they’re working from a remote environment. Instead of paying attention to what you’re saying, they may be checking out the paintings on your office wall or be worried that their kids are fighting in the other room.

To help your rep focus on tasks while they’re working in an unfamiliar environment, make specific assignments with hard deadlines. You’ll find it easier to follow up with reps if you create reminders in your coaching solution. This step could prove especially important if you don’t see your reps regularly in person.

Sales managers often don’t realize how important coachability is to a rep’s success. Only 59 percent of surveyed sales managers list coachability as a key characteristic for a rep to become a sales star. But the managers we spoke with told us that once they tried coaching receptive reps, they see the results “in sales trends, data, and numbers,” and they point out that “the reps improve the particular metric we’ve coached to.” Using the right communication style and cadence will optimize the outcomes of your coaching sessions.

Coaching for Discovery

One skill that can be particularly hard to master during a remote sales call is discovery. I believe that if a rep is consistently having trouble closing deals, I can trace the problem back to discovery. Information that becomes available in discovery will help reps put together a compelling proposal and lead the prospect to see the value in agreeing to the deal.

If reps haven’t determined a buyer’s motive, they may need help with their listening skills. In your video coaching calls, role-play with your reps. Provide them with a piece of information early in your call. Then ask them to recall it at the end of the session so they can practice listening.

Another impediment to listening is feeling awkward about long silences. The silences may be more apparent on video calls, and your reps may rush to fill the silence by talking about themselves. Coach your reps how to relax during silent periods. Encourage them to count slowly to 10 or 15 before speaking. That strategy gives the prospect time to think.

Discovery doesn’t work unless your reps successfully assess the buyer’s situation. In person, your reps could check out the business culture as they walked down the hall or grabbed a beverage in the break room. On a video call, they’ll have to watch for changes in facial expressions instead of checking out body language. And they’ll need to listen for pauses or hesitation in the prospect’s voice.

Ultimately, there will be no substitute for asking the right questions. Your more successful reps know which types of questions work best for the solution your company is selling and they should share this knowledge with their co-workers.

Once your reps have mastered the kind of questions they should be asking, remind them to adjust the length of their video calls. A one-hour in-person meeting might seem just right for a good discovery session. For video calls, encourage your reps to schedule shorter and more frequent sessions. These additional calls help your reps strengthen the relationship.

Your reps should follow up on video chats with well-crafted e-mail messages to summarize what they discussed with the prospect and to deliver a piece of content that shows the rep has been paying attention and is trying to meet the prospect’s needs.

We’re all practicing how to be more productive in our new business environment. Your reps need great coaching from you. As they become more comfortable working via video with you, they’ll develop techniques that will help them succeed with prospects.

C. Lee Smith is the founder and CEO of SalesFuel, a Columbus, OH-based firm that leverages critical insights to enable the acquisition, development, and retention of top employees and customers. Smith is author of Amazon international best-seller “Hire Smarter, Sell More!” and is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst. He also is recognized as one of the leading sales consultants in the world by Selling Power. For more information on his sales hiring and coaching SaaS solutions, visit: SalesFuel HIRE and SalesFuel COACH.

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