As a sales leader, you depend on your team to contribute consistently and predictably towards achievement of sales goals. But, what should you do if previously top-performing sellers on the team start to slide backwards? How do you get them back on track – and keep them there?

In working with our clients, we find that many first-line sales managers don’t really know what to do when top performers on their team stumble. Most of them feel comfortable when coaching rookies or average performers, but they aren’t as confident about how to coach an experienced seller with a strong record of success, especially when a high performer falters.

The reason for this is simple. Most sales managers, especially those new to the position, mistakenly believe that coaching is equivalent to providing good advice, based on their own past success and experience. As a result, when working with someone who already has a good sales track record and considerable experience, many sales managers are at a loss about how to best coach a veteran performer.

Providing useful advice is certainly a desirable outcome of coaching, but most sales managers need to rethink how they go about doing this. Effective coaching starts first with establishing standards of excellence, and coming to agreement with sellers about what those standards require.

Coaching sales behavior against agreed-upon standards enables managers to help each salesperson, regardless of their performance history, come to their own realization of what they can do to improve.

3 Steps to Standard-based Sales Coaching

  1. Establish standards for customer engagement – If you don’t have agreed-upon expectations for how your salespeople should engage with customers and how your sales managers should engage with their salespeople, then establish those first. We help our clients do this through the development of dynamic, buyer-aligned sales processes, as we described in chapter 7 of our recent book, The Collaborative Sale. Standards for effective sales engagement should include:
    • Ideal pipeline characteristics – how large and how dynamic should they be?
    • Ideal customer profile – what do your best customers look like?
    • The customer buying process(es) – what are their buying preferences?
    • Aligned seller process steps, with verifiable outcomes at each step
    • Opportunity qualification criteria – when will you walk away from a deal?
    • Cadence and criteria for sales management inspection
  2. Train sales managers to assess and diagnose against your standards – With clear standards, your sales managers then have objective criteria against which to assess and diagnose performance issues, regardless of any salesperson’s tenure or experience. By examining each seller’s pipeline shape, managers can identify skill, time, and activity management issues. Standards enable your sales managers to proactively identify issues and prescribe corrective action, before they grow into big problems.
  3. Train sales managers to coach effectively against standards – Effective coaching entails observing what happened relative to a standard, knowing why it happened, and reaching an agreement with the seller on how they can comply better with expectations. If the manager’s diagnosis is based on objective criteria and accurate observations, then a high-performing salesperson will be more open to listening and acting.

But good coaching is both a science and an art. While coaching to objective standards is important, there’s also a human side to coaching. It’s important to understand the preferred work style of each seller, so that the sales manager can coach them effectively. Using an assessment tool like DISC can help sales managers better understand their preferred style and how to best align with those in their charge.

Too many sales managers rely on informal, on-the-spot coaching alone. The best sales managers also establish a regular cadence for formal review of pipelines and opportunities, and take the time to prepare for each coaching conversation.

We’ve provided a complimentary coaching preparation template to help your managers coach more effectively to your standards of excellence – and keep your sales team’s performance on track.

Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan, Director of Business Development

Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.

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Sales Coaching Prep Worksheet

With this simple planning tool, you can be better prepared to coach and keep your sellers on track.