For most small and medium-sized businesses, sales keep the lights on. An effective sales force is crucial to ongoing profitability and long-term success, especially in B2B environments. But as a company grows, it faces several challenges that begin to test the true abilities of its sales team.
Passionate business owners can close $1 million dollars in sales by themselves. Beyond that, firms must hire their first dedicated sales rep. When owners defer cold calling to sales reps, problems arise. Soon, one hire turns into five and from five, 50. Quickly without warning the sales processes become chaotic and plateau.
For sales-driven organizations, an experienced and process-oriented sales coach can play a key role in helping them achieve more of their goals without all the growing pains.
The advantages of a sales coach
Companies committed to growth can enjoy the experience and foresight of an effective sales coach. A soon-to-be published report by the The Alternative Board (TAB) found that, “81% of business owners have seen a positive impact from working with a business coach, and 85% plan to maintain or increase their spending on coaching in the coming year,” shared TAB’s vice president David Scarola. Furthermore, “The survey also revealed that nearly 2/3 of business owners believe a business coach can help them improve sales revenue.”
Sales coaches are invaluable for companies, especially as sales grow. Ten ways sales coaches add value to the team are:
- Establish early culture and remedy toxic behaviors. Many sales reps get caught up on commissions; they prioritize personal earnings over company goals and cause friction among their team members. Sales coaches identify problematic behaviors and work to create an environment that supports healthy competition, continuous learning and teamwork instead of contention and rivalry.
- Groom the right sales managers. Successful salespeople do not always make good managers, yet businesses regularly make the mistake of placing their top reps in managerial roles. Justin Zappulla, managing partner at sales consultancy Janek Performance Group, insists that the skills required for each role are different. With a sales coach, companies reorganize the way a sales team functions to best use each individual’s superpowers without demoting any person either.
- Objectively identify growth opportunities and system flaws. Fortunately, a third-party sales coach is not beholden to office politics. Sales strategist Mark Allen Roberts believes, “An independent coach is about setting your team up to win, period. They do not care if the web site that is not producing inbound leads was made by the president and his daughter 10 years ago. They lack emotional connections and seek roadblocks and coach people through them. They examine the market and establish current market truth.” Rather than preserve old sales tactics that worked just a few years ago, sales coaches abolish processes that are no longer effective and focus on the development of new sales strategies that resonate with customers now.
- Prioritize the right performance metrics. Over the phone, John Oberg of Sandler Training references Goodhart’s law. “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” In under five years, Oberg coached a construction and remodeling company as it grew annual sales from $6 million to $70 million. Knowing that activity is not an accurate measure of sales success, Oberg teaches his clients how to grow the mass and velocity of their pipeline and opportunities. While other metrics are important to track, they do not always help managers and business owners reach the right conclusions. But as a company’s sales department grows, smart sales coaches place increasing emphasis on productivity.
- Develop salespeople’s skills. Sales teams are only as strong as their weakest link. So, to be successful, businesses need to invest in the personal and professional development of each of their team members. “A sales coach also understands how to analyze and assess specific areas of the sales interaction,” explains Zappulla. “They understand how to break down the different areas of the sales process, analyze them, and be able to provide guidance in coaching to improve the salesperson’s ability on how to be more effective in those areas.” But follow-through is critical too. Thankfully, Zappulla believes, “[Sales coaches] know how to gain commitments on next steps in terms of the development process.”
- Minimize distractions and build time management skills. “There is never a lack of things to do in sales,” says Roberts. “Far too many salespeople associate activity with adding value.” Junior sales reps are guilty of spending too much time chasing dead leads and managing tasks they can automate. Often, they get distracted by non-revenue generating responsibilities. An experienced sales coach can rein them back in and teach them how to set priorities, focus on high-impact initiatives and reduce clutter.
- Revise self-defeating attitudes. According to Michael O’Brien, president of Peloton Coaching and Consulting, sales coaches help reframe sales reps’ mindsets to visualize success. O’Brien explains there are four common mindset blocks that cause salespeople to perpetuate failure.
- “Limiting Belief – A belief that limits potential options or progress. (e.g., I can’t sell my product because it’s too expensive).”
- “Interpretation – A false conclusion of the situation. (e.g., My prospect isn’t interested because they haven’t called back).”
- “Assumption – A belief that something will happen because it happened in the past. (e.g., The last time I called them, they weren’t interested).”
- “Inner Critic – This is the most powerful block that prevents sales representatives from closing hard and securing new business. It’s associated with fear, worry, and anxiety. They may fear the customer will say no. As a result, they don’t bother trying to close the sale.”
- Decrease employee turnover. In 2013, The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey revealed that 52.3% of workers in the U.S. were unhappy with their jobs. Sales is a function where professionals change employers regularly. For businesses, the cost of employee turnover is upwards of 200% of each departing person’s annual salary. Sales coaches minimize sales rep attrition by helping businesses align their long-term goals with the financial and intrinsic needs of salespeople.
- Recruit better salespeople and improve the onboarding process. Oberg routinely spends time with clients’ management teams to develop a process for systematically recruiting the best sales candidates. He also collaborates with clients to develop internal training programs that support the acquisition of new skills and the application of existing ones, which include ride alongs and roleplaying.
- Qualify leads early. Salespeople waste a lot of time engaging the wrong customers. Robert (Bob) Davis of sales.strategy insists that good coaches show sales teams how they can avoid filling their pipeline with dead-end leads. By qualifying customers early, sales reps can abandon bad leads and spend more energy pursuing promising prospects.
When businesses should hire a sales coach
Early in his career as a sales coach, Bob Davis secured new business using the same tactics he now teaches clients to go from introduction to close. Now, 100% of his clients comes in through referrals. The most popular sales coaches are sought out; they seldom cold pitch new prospects. Companies intent on growing their bottom line cannot afford to wait until a sales coach approaches them with the promise of upgrading their sales skills. Instead, businesses need to make a conscious choice to seek out a sales coach as they reach pivotal stages of growth or stagnation. When companies experience one of four scenarios below, they become perfect candidates for sales coaching:
- High employee turnover. According to Davis, this issue is comprised of three parts: hiring, training and culture.
- Hypergrowth stages. Though revenues may double every year, sales teams still need a strong coach to ensure sales reps can keep up with the demand and avoid misalignments between sales and fulfillment.
- Sales plateau. At a certain point, long-proven processes start to produce less predictable results, and the addition of new salespeople only aggravates the issue.
- First sales hire. Small businesses thrive when passionate owners lead sales. Eventually, owners step down to manage operations. At this stage, coaches like Oberg help greenfield sales organizations develop predictable processes to recruit, retain and grow their sales team.
Of course, hiring the right sales coach can be difficult. In their search, companies may ask the wrong questions and can get lost in all the options. “Since most companies have never enlisted an effective sales coach, most owners and leaders don’t even know what to ask for,” says Joseph Zente of Z|Three. “They may ask ‘Can you help train my salespeople?’ or ‘Can you help me hire a great salesperson?’ or ‘Can you spend a day with my sales team to motivate or teach them?’ What they should be asking is ‘How can you help me build an accountable sales culture that can create consistent, predictable, sales results?’”
Unfortunately, there are two types of companies that are poor candidates for sales coaching. Amy Hardin, founder and CEO of SELLect Sales Development, believes sales coaching does not work for:
- Companies that are not committed to growth.
- Web-based businesses that drive sales without the involvement of a salesperson.
What companies can expect
The mistake that many businesses make is believing sales coaches offer a full-service approach to upgrading their sales teams. Sales coaches need the active support and participation of business owners and senior sales management. Clients should expect sales coaching to be a collaborative effort; they, too, need to be agents of change within their own organization.
“Most salespeople, sales managers, business leaders, and owners are looking for ‘tips’ or ‘tricks,’” believes Zente. Still, he insists that sales coaching is not a quick fix. “Although there are hundreds of tips or tricks, the fact is that tips and tricks do very little in the way of improving a salesperson’s performance and do nothing to address the real challenge for the organization (the lack of consistent, predictable, visible, scalable growth in sales). The proper strategy to build a world class sales team involves a holistic approach that requires a commitment from the top. The Formula for Sales Success includes (at a minimum) an assessment followed by three key processes: a sales process, and sales management process, and a sales recruiting process.”
Coaching engagements are unique because every sales coach tailors his or her approach to fit the client’s needs. But as businesses evaluate their options, Davis suggests your money is best spent on sales coaches who have “street level experience, [the] ability to quickly understand your markets, great people skills and [the ability] to ‘sell’ you on their value first if they are going to teach your team the same.” Effective sales coaches practice what they preach and they commit to instill certain behaviors and values that will make you successful. Oberg stresses the importance of reinforcement. He says, “Reinforcement is the key to behavioral change. Any program without reinforcement is less likely to succeed.” Companies would be wise to hire a sales coach with proven sales experience who will reinforce strategies and tactics that guarantee sales.
Ultimately, sales coaches identify the real, root problems businesses face and work with management and individual sales reps to engineer the right solution. Businesses that partner with a sales coach can expect to be held accountable for their contribution to organizational change. Those that hold up their end of the bargain upgrade their sales skills and develop scalable processes that may help them grow their bottom line indefinitely.
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