In my previous article, we uncovered the need for strong sales coaching, as well as what such coaching looks like. Now, let’s examine what a sales leader or manager should coach his or her team on to increase performance.
There must be a spark — a big moment, idea, event or goal — that lights a fire in each member of the sales force’s belly. This principle is rooted in goal-setting theory, which draws on a large and consistent body of research to demonstrate that challenging and specific goals result in improved performance and greater satisfaction with performance outcomes.
Once salespeople have their goals, they will display an intense motivation to go after them. The sales leader, then, must collaborate with his or her team members to identify challenging goals and provide intense inspiration as the team is let loose.
Resolution and Confidence
Sales researchers have consistently identified confidence as one of the most important indicators of sales performance. When salespeople are confident, they have higher expectations of their performance and are more motivated to take action. They are able to fluidly navigate the vast array of customer scenarios and stay collected under pressure. Perhaps most importantly, confident salespeople can bounce back more quickly from losses and stay focused on wins.
Peesker et al. (2019) found that in addition to confidence, optimism is vital to sales performance. Salespeople must have an inner belief that they can accomplish whatever it is they set out to do. As such, it’s critical that sales coaching and sales training programs focus on instilling a strong sense of confidence and self-efficacy in the sales representatives.
Expertise in the Art and Science of Sales
To excel at sales, reps must have coaching and training on the skills and expertise needed to perform. Coaching on the art of sales involves coaching salespeople on sales strategies, deal-making and the human element of sales. It also includes coaching on the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence needed to engage with customers and excel in a sales role.
Coaching on the science of sales is more focused on defining and measuring sales activities using lagging and leading metrics. Lagging metrics are sales results, whereas leading metrics are based on sales activities and behaviors, such as sales calls, the number of executives in the sales calls, the number of software demonstrations provided and the number of coaching conversations held. This process is not just about becoming a selling machine but, rather, is a process of consciously developing patience and discipline as a salesperson build his or her sales craft.
A sales team should be using every arrow in the quiver to meet objectives and goals, including additional training, research, networking … whatever it takes to get it across the finish line and beyond. According to sales research, coaching and training on both the art and science of the sale directly impacts improved sales performance. In short, salespeople must gain all the necessary competencies to perform their job and to then up-level their performance.
The Value of Resilience
Grit is a key indicator of a salesperson’s success. These men and women frequently confront conflict in their work and family roles due to the unique nature of their job. It’s a high-pressure, high-stakes environment. As such, a peak-performing salesperson must develop and display resilience.
Krush et al. (2013) studied 172 salespeople within the real estate industry and found that resilience has a significant buffering effect on job stress. In other words, a resilient salesperson can perform even in the face of challenges. Likewise, Peesker et al. (2019) drew upon authentic leadership theory, which states that resilience can be developed and improved, (i.e., it is teachable). Their 60 research respondents felt strongly that sales leaders can have a positive influence on the confidence, optimism and resilience of their salespeople. Simply put: It is critical for sales leaders to provide coaching and training to their team on building resilience.
To fully realize each skill or trait, salespeople must deliberately practice each component of sales training. Deliberate practice is a seminal concept introduced by Anders Ericsson, who characterized deliberate practice as those “activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance.” In contrast to other learning activities, such as attending training courses, deliberate practice is a continuous effort to improve one’s competence through activities performed on a regular basis.
Through his extensive and prolific research, Ericsson demonstrated that deliberate practice is crucial to performance improvement. Keeling et al. (2020) applied Ericsson’s deliberate practice model to 383 salespeople at a FTSE 100 company and found that deliberate sales practice can predict increased sales performance. Likewise, Sonnentag and Kleine (2000) studied 100 insurance agents with an average of 11.7 years of experience and determined that the amount of time spent on deliberate practice was significantly and positively related to increased performance.
Deliberate practice has an additional benefit to organizations: It leads to habits. As salespeople become so ingrained in the deliberate practice model, it creates a culture of continuous performance improvement. Then, they are empowered and compelled to constantly set new goals and achieve increasingly higher levels of performance. It is clear that effective sales training programs should include deliberate practice opportunities.
A Missing Thread
Despite the evidence and research supporting these components of an effective sales coaching and training program, it’s difficult to find a program that checks all the boxes. The next article in this series will introduce a framework that combines each of the critical components of highly effective sales training.