We all know the value of coaching. The question now is how to deliver coaching in a virtual environment. With that goal in mind, here are three steps that are critical:

Build Trust With the Person You Are Coaching

In coaching, we ask employees to be vulnerable — to reflect on and discuss their challenges and barriers to performance. Will they do so if they don’t trust us? Absolutely not. You may have heard it, but it’s worth repeating: no trust, no change.

One of the easiest ways to build and enhance trust is to make your coaching conversations all about your coachees. What are their goals? What is important to them? What do they want to achieve? When you make your coaching about the sales rep, you are on the same page, and the rep’s buy-in is likely much higher. When you have his or her buy-in, performance improvement follows.

Diagnose Sales Performance

The goal of the diagnostic phase is to identify an area of opportunity or improvement for the employee. There are two components: what to assess and how to assess it. A common mistake that many sales managers make is relying on their opinion rather than creating a set of specified capabilities that they can use to assess performance.

Consider golf as a comparison. It has four capabilities: driving, irons, chipping and putting. It is easy to tell if a golfer is displaying these capabilities. The ball’s landing on the green is the goal; how the golfer swings is the technique. If the ball lands on the green, they meet the goal. If the ball goes into the woods, the golfer knows they have some work to do on their driving.

Making assessing sales performance as easy as assessing a golfer’s performance will make your coaching easier and more effective. To do so, it’s important to observe your sales reps in action. Right now, you might be asking, “How can I observe my reps when I can’t be in the field with them?” Rest assured; it’s still possible. There are three routes you can take: live, recorded or simulated observation.

For example, if a rep on your team has an upcoming video conference with a client, you can ask the rep to invite you to the meeting or record the session for you. In fact, it’s best practice to record the session (with the client’s permission) even if you can attend it live. If you have a recording, you and your rep don’t have to rely on memory to discuss what happened on the call. Just like professional sports teams watch game films to break down their performance, you can use video to coach your sales reps, too.

If live or recorded observation isn’t possible, you can simulate an activity. For example, if a member of your sales team has a presentation or meeting coming up, you (or someone on your team) can play the part of the client and record the simulation. Then, you can still watch the “game film” together afterward.

Develop

There are three essential steps to developing your sales reps:

1. Align on One Targeted Area of Improvement

Often, employees are overloaded with too many things to work on at once. As a result, they may try valiantly for a while but then become overwhelmed and slide back to old habits. When we try to focus on multiple things, we focus on nothing. Instead, focus on one area at a time.

Another common mistake is when managers think that telling an employee what to work on will take care of the issue. You will be far more effective if you also hear the employee’s perspective. Following is a proven, effective approach to doing so.

Once your employee has recorded a video presentation and you have both watched the recording, here are three power questions that you can use to gain the rep’s perspective and align on a targeted area:

How do you think the presentation went? If your rep is like most people, they will start with everything they didn’t like. When that happens, take notes on what they are saying, and assure them that you’ll discuss those things later. Then, redirect them to what went well, which is actually the next question.

What do you think you did well? This question helps the rep reflect on what they did that was effective. This step is important, because we often don’t recognize our own strengths and talents. We make the mistake of thinking that if we can do something, everyone can do it.

What, if anything, would you change about the presentation? This question helps your rep distill their list of dislikes from question 1 into what is most important. If they say, “I wouldn’t change anything,” you have a couple of options: Be prepared with follow-up questions to help them see the gap, or share your own observations. The first option is more effective. If you do need to go the second route, try to share your observation neutrally, with no judgment attached. A neutral observation is simply what a video can record. It is the action that you see or hear.

2. Assign an Activity

Many managers end coaching session by saying, “Go work on X,” but ending a session this way sets reps up to fail and sets up the manager for frustration, because you will find yourselves having the conversation again and again. Do both of you a favor, and break it down into steps that the rep can take to improve the skill or behavior.

3. Provide Accountability and Support

Accountability and support are critical to forming a new habit. Especially now, when you and your sales team are probably not in the same office, it’s important to be intentional and set up a time to follow up on progress after a coaching session. One of the most important things you can do as a coach is to help your reps see their progress as they work on a new skill. They will likely hit some snags as they work on it, which is part of the learning process. What’s critical at this point is that they do not fear reprisal from those missteps. In their book “The Knowing-Doing Gap,” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton write about how important this psychological safety is to bringing about change, going so far as to encourage the reader to “punish inaction, not failed action.”

Because of the uncertainty that everyone is facing right now, coaching is more important than ever. It gives you employees a connection to you, encouragement and a way to make meaningful progress. If this article is helpful and leaves you wanting more, visit this sales management page for more information.

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