Most sales managers understand that the most important and effective activity they can do to improve performance is coach their sales reps. But many will also admit they don’t have enough time to coach as much or as often as they know they should. So, what’s the solution? Short of admitting defeat or searching for hidden, unused hours in the week, is there a way managers can consistently hit the desired number of hours of coaching per rep per month? Yes, there is.

How Important Is Field Time?

Finding more time to coach simply requires dispelling a myth: that effective coaching can only take place in the field while riding along with salespeople. This myth is based on the assumption that good coaching can only occur through observing actual sales behaviors and providing immediate feedback. As the thinking goes, it is this process of face-to-face observation and feedback that enables the sales manager to influence the salesperson’s future behaviors and improve his or her overall skill. Based on this belief, most managers wait to coach until they can schedule a day in the field with their reps.

But while field ride-alongs are certainly valuable, it’s important to keep in mind that by the time a manager tags along on a sales call, the rep has already made a series of critical decisions. First, the rep decided why this customer or prospect was more important than other customers or prospects they could have called on that day. They also decided whom to call on within that account and what the topic of discussion would be. And they decided when to call on that customer and how to do it.

Pre-Field Time Is What’s Critical

Leading up to the ride-along call, the rep could have made some bad decisions, and the manager could be observing a sales call that is on the wrong prospect, with the wrong buyer, at the wrong time, with the wrong approach. The reality is that most sales reps need less sales coaching around their selling skills and more sales coaching around their selling strategies. The decisions around whom to call and when, why, where and how to do it are potentially much more important than the skill with which the call is executed. A perfectly executed shot aimed at the wrong target is always a miss.

Managers who understand this logic recognize they no longer need to block out entire days to ride along with each of their reps in order to coach. They can usually coach more effectively in the office or virtually (via telephone or video conference) by asking questions such as these:

  • Which customers are you going to call on next week?
  • Why are you calling on them?
  • Why are these opportunities your top priority?
  • Which opportunities are you neglecting in order to attend to these calls?
  • With whom are you meeting?
  • Why would they want to meet you?

These are critical questions that don’t need to be asked or answered from a car seat – nor should they, because the decisions have already been made.

A More Rigorous Approach – With Spectacular Results

Here’s an example: A large conglomerate was suffering from historically low performance driven by poor sales execution with low win rates and poor forecasting accuracy. Previous training efforts failed to make a sustained impact. Sales leaders realized that managers knew how to coach, but they just weren’t doing it. The coaching frameworks they had deployed were generic and not sales-specific. Managers needed a defined coaching framework and to focus on the selling activities that would directly improve sales outcomes.

New training helped managers focus on coaching to help reps pursue opportunities more strategically and make better sales calls. The company established a formal coaching rhythm and created coaching guides to structure the coaching conversations. It also put in place mechanisms to hold managers and leaders accountable for consistent execution.

The outcome was remarkable. During the 18 months following implementation, the number of reps who said they were coached climbed from 44 percent to 91 percent, deal win rates increased from 37 percent to 71 percent and forecasted revenue grew from 25 percent to 54 percent.

The bottom line is that of course, managers need to be in the field observing sellers interacting with customers, but field ride-alongs shouldn’t be the only venue for sales coaching, nor should they be viewed as the most important venue. More frequent, scheduled, shorter conversations that make sure sellers are pointed in the right direction and are faithfully executing your company’s go-to-market strategy are a far more powerful approach to sales coaching that drives immediate results.

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