Good sales managers recognize their greatest power is to grow the contributions of each salesperson and achieve a revenue multiplier impact. This is clearly the fastest path to increase productivity and scale a company.
However, too often sales management reverts to administrative and operational compliance rather than staff advancement. Compliance is important, but growing staff is a precursor to growing the company.
Sales coaching is an effective but under-utilized method to increase staff confidence, productivity and business performance. When I implement culture-based employee experience or staff coaching programs I find that coaching is often intermittent or hap hazard because managers aren't sure when or how to coach. They also don't fully grasp the differences between coaching, facilitating, mentoring and training – all of which are unique and collectively contribute to staff development and business growth.
Below is some explanation to bring clarity to these important management tools.
Coaching employs attentive listening, empathy and a dialogue of questions to guide staff through a process of creating their own understanding and answers. Coaching surfaces questions that need to be answered, exposes gaps to be remedied, removes doubts and uncertainties, and enables the protégé to craft a solution from within.
Coaching and delegation are symbiotic. Good coaches tend to give their staff clear goals, empowerment and the space to get the job done. However, they don't leave staff unattended. They make themselves accessible, regularly check-in and periodically measure progress.
They expect good work, and either apply remediation plans when work disappoints or celebrate when work meets the mark. Unfortunately, for new coaches, delegation doesn't mean you will lighten your workload. In fact, I've had a few managers tell me they've never worked more trying to do less.
Coaching should be used when managers believe staff can produce the answers themselves when prompted with questions that flush out the salient points.
The GROW model is a great coaching method. GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options and Will – a four phase coaching sequence. The GROW model uses an ask rather than tell conversational approach. It's particularly effective when staff have the skills but not the confidence to uncover solutions. Here's how it works.
- Goal: Initial questions help solidify a clearly defined goal. For example, what would you like to achieve in the short term or long term? How will you know if you are successful?
- Reality: Here the coach asks questions to clearly understand the current situation. What's happening now? What are the facts? What are the obstacles?
- Options: The next set of questions help identify options. The goal is to maximize choices, consider all the possibilities and prioritize the options. What can you do? What have you already tried? What else could you try? What steps would help you get started?
- Will: In the final stage, you want to narrow from broad options to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound) actions. Convert the discussion into a decision, and consider potential obstacles and how to mitigate them. What will you do? When will you do it? What support will be needed to succeed? When will you know if you are successful?
Facilitation occurs when managers apply their skills or experience to suggest a structured approach, solution or answer.
While coaching is normally performed in one on one, facilitation may be done with individuals or groups. This technique scales workforce impact and is very effective in building high performance sales teams.
Sometimes facilitators act as neutral participants to aid staff without getting directly involved in the action or result. This is particularly true when managing groups and a process is needed to orchestrate multiple people toward a consensus answer. However, it's also common that managers share vested interest with their staff, have solved a staff issue previously and apply their prior experience to jump to a recommended answer.
Staff provide situational content and context and facilitators focus on experience or a process which leads to a recommendation.
Use facilitation when management has the experience to know the answer to an issue, it's important to resolve the situation quickly, or the answer is not particularly instrumental in the staff's learning or career aspirations.
A mentor is a trusted counselor. Mentors generally have more clout and experience than mentees and apply their tenure, understanding or wisdom to aid and evolve mentees.
Mentoring is most often a one to one activity and may be delivered informally or as part of a formal program. It's unfortunate but not uncommon that company mentorship programs are limited to staff whom are struggling or introduced as part of a performance improvement plan (PIP).
Mentoring is based on rapport, respect, trust, openness, and many times a genuine personal interest by the mentor in the mentee. When mentorship programs are triggered by PIPs, these essential elements are often lacking. Performance improvement is better accomplished with coaching.
Mentoring differs from coaching as it is more focused on the advancement of individuals than creating solutions or resolving task oriented challenges. Mentors help their mentees advance personal objectives which may include things like company networking, leadership development or career path advancement.
Mentoring programs improve morale, decrease churn, aid succession planning and increase employee loyalty.
Use mentoring from day one to evolve employee progression in the company, which will also enhance employee contribution to the company. Mentoring can also be used to promote interpersonal relationships, improve teamwork, increase employee churn, build the next generation of managers and aid company culture. I advise clients to assign mentors to all new-hires during the on-boarding process and to rotate mentors periodically thereafter. Recognize mentorships are not permanent, and mentors should recognize when progress slows and it is time to let go.
Training is dedicated instruction for skills learning or knowledge transfer. It's a type of education that passes knowledge from an expert to staff in need of the expertise. It's often a formal, direct and hands-on approach to delivering subject matter content to trainees.
Important sales training programs may include instruction for sales methodologies, sales process techniques or CRM software for sales reps.
Training can be delivered to individual staff, but for efficiency reasons, it's normally delivered in a one to many setting.
Training should be used to pass skills or knowledge to groups of learners in the shortest amount of time.
The Point is This
Good sales managers use personal development methods to produce the next generation of good managers. They know when and how to leverage coaching, facilitating, mentoring or training to advance staff, achieve a force-multiplier effect and scale productivity for business results. Seasoned managers can move seamlessly from one method to another, but that takes practice.
To get started, I recommend managers begin with training and then follow-up with coaching to create an experiential effect. By themselves, workshops or training classes don't create action or impact. Information by itself does not create transformation. What's needed is to apply the learning to daily action, get feedback, and make adjustments for improvement. We must live it to learn it. Some actions will need to be supported by processes and systems. It's a lot like getting in shape, in that it requires near daily effort, and results are slow but accumulate over time.