What It Means to Be a Sales Coach

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There are few outstanding sales professionals who will tell you that they have achieved their levels of successes solely on their own. Most would mention a key figure who--knowingly or unknowingly--has coached them to become truly excellent role models and performers in the competitive world of selling.

If you have been in the sales force for a long time and have achieved a level of respect from your peers, then you certainly have taken in sales greenhorns under your wings at least once. During this period, you assumed the role of coach or mentor to your subordinates.

But what does it mean to be a sales coach? Excellent sales coaches are those that establish rapport with their proteges, encouraging open, sympathetic communication that even allows productive, respectful dissent to flourish. Effective coaches are always good communicators, have a working understanding of human psychology, motivated, discreet, and have a genuine calling to help sales persons overcome challenges and improve themselves. Often, sales coaches communicate all too well, to the point that each word can have a sting that could pain the protege's ego initially but has an urgency that will compel the sales professional to perform an outstanding job; which is something that will make the protege significantly wiser in the end.

When you have been a sales manager for some time, it is inevitable that you will intermittently find the need to coach one or more of your sales executives. If you find yourself in this position, acknowledge that sales coaches --however acclaimed by peers--are by no means comprised of perfect people. It is your job to integrate this fact into your relationship with your protege. There are coaches who do demand perfection but it is a wiser course to establish at the onset that you require progress, not necessarily perfection. Mistakes do happen and your ability and that of your protege to use mistakes as a platform for growth will have a lasting impact on your fulfillment as a sales coach, as well as on your protege's development into a better performing sales professional. This means that you can--and should by all means--make mistakes costly. However, you should consciously avoid meting out excessive punishments that may cause proteges to resent the relationship and view sales coaching as just a source of frustration, or even a hindrance to their growth.

Another important thing to remember when coaching proteges is to keep them focused on performance. At its most fundamental sense, sales coaching is about taking a salesperson's performance level a notch higher than his or her very best so far. With this in mind, you will need to use solid, unassailable metrics as a tool for goading, guiding, and grooming the protege. Performance that missed the target requires you to goad your ward back on track. Performance that does meet the desired goals is an opportunity to guide your sales executive towards learning a lasting tactical lesson. Consistently outstanding performance that surprises even you can be considered a sign that the protege is ready to be groomed for a more pivotal role or special responsibilities. In any case, sales executives under your wings must be compelled to remain keen on achieving targets. And, it is your primary job as a sales coach to help keep them focused towards those targets.

If you are still on the sales force, the best way to teach your students new rope tricks is to show them how you actually do them yourself. Bring them along when you engage clients and share valuable insights using actual demonstrations. Allowing your students to see how you handle different situations and clearly projecting the most appropriate attitudes in each of these situations is among the best teaching methods that will speed up the learning process. Give your students the generous bonus of being both a mentor and a sales coach to them.

There will be situations wherein your protege will ask for your advice on how best to solve a particular problem they are facing. While it is tempting to always respond with a clear-cut, sure-win solution, avoid serving ready-made solutions on a platter all the time. As a mentor (not a sales coach), it is best to strike a balance by alternating between making a strong point through having a new sales method or theory confirmed immediately, and having your students learn the theories or methods by themselves. Allow for frequent instances of exciting personal discoveries. Your students will thank you for these. Remember that new challenges are the most ideal classrooms for real learning. In addition, there are very few things that will satisfy your sales executives as much as solving their own problems using new solutions that they--with minor help--discovered by themselves. This develops self-esteem and confidence, two traits that mentors should actively develop in their students.

If you are mentoring a corporate colleague, it is important that you consistently exhibit confidence in your company and the products or services it offers. You don't need to be a corporate mouthpiece as this will only dilute your credibility. However, being a strong advocate of the good things your company stands for will cement your status as a role model people look up to for guidance. In the same manner, be supportive of your proteges as much as possible without being condescending nor encouraging excessive mistakes. A firm, supportive stance is a good mentoring balance.

Always avoid turning your relationship into something like reading a book or attending a seminar. Sales coaching and mentoring should not be experienced like a textbook nor a webinar. While these methods are good sources of learning, providing clear differentiation will help your students appreciate and make the most out of the relationship. Remember that you are not merely teaching new selling techniques to your proteges nor keeping them focused on sales targets. In the higher scheme of things, you are actually engineering shared experiences in order for your students to develop lasting behavioral changes that will help them consistently achieve success.