Coaching Tips

Posted on 06/01/2006 in Sales Coaching

Tips for Coaching Your Salespeople and Employees

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."

-John C. Maxwell  

So why don't salespeople, and in general, employees do what you expect?

There are three main reasons why employees don't do what a manager expects them to do.  Based on a survey from our Coaching for Sales Success Workshop, the number one reason is that the manager's expectations are not clear.  Has the sales manager clearly communicated to each salesperson how much time and sales activity should be spent on prospecting? If not, many salespeople will spend too much time in their "comfort zone," resulting in too much time with existing clients and not enough time prospecting for new business.    

The second reason for non-performance is that the salesperson or employee does not have the skills or knowledge to perform the desired task or expectation.  If you suspect that this is the underlying issue, an appropriate action by the manager would be to provide training for that employee. 

Finally, if you, as the manager, have clearly stated your expectations AND you know that the employee possesses the necessary skills and knowledge, but the employee is still not doing the task, it is likely to be a motivation issue. This third reason why salespeople don't do what you expect can be more difficult to resolve.  Consequently, motivating employees is clearly one of the most critical roles that a manager must perform well.  The best managers are especially good at motivating their employees.

All three of the above performance issues can be addressed by pro-active coaching by the manager. 

Coaching Tips and Suggestions

The best managers are also the best coaches.  A common characteristic shared by top managers is that they focus on developing the skills and capabilities of their entire team.  Below are three tips and related suggestions on how to become a more effective coach.

1. Your starting point must be "setting clear expectations."

It is worth repeating that the number one reason why salespeople and employees in general don't do what a manager expects is due to confusion or lack of clarity about the manager's expectations.  Do not assume that all employees are clear about your performance expectations and goals. You must have an ongoing dialogue with all of your employees to ensure that expectations are clearly understood.

An additional and less obvious tip about setting expectations is that many managers believe that employees will be more empowered if the employee sets his or her own expectations and goals. To a certain extent this may be true.  However, numerous studies have shown that there is a significant difference between top performers and average performers with regard to setting expectations.  Top performers will self-select challenging performance expectations and goals.

By contrast, average performers tend to set modest targets. A common example that we hear from many sales managers is that their average sales performers do a poor job of allocating their available selling time, meaning that they don't spend enough time with the right accounts. A manager must ensure that his or her people are spending time on the critical accounts and other top priorities.

We encourage you to let your employees set their own expectations, but you must be prepared to "raise the bar" if the employee's goals will not allow you to implement your overall strategy and reach desired business outcomes. 

2. Next, you must "inspect what you expect."

As a manager, you cannot simply stop at setting clear expectations, but must monitor and follow up on those expectations.  Active monitoring by the manager has several advantages, notably that corrective action can be taken if the actual performance by the employee does not meet desired performance expectations. 

In fact, failing to "inspect what you expect" is one of the more common mistakes made by managers. Managers are so busy with other tasks that they don't follow up with employees until the annual performance appraisal.  This is often too little and too late, and will in many cases demotivate employees because by then the performance appraisal feedback is a surprise. The best managers provide frequent feedback, which gives the employee the opportunity to improve and demonstrates to the employee that you are serious about him or her accomplishing the goal or task. 

Frequent follow-up by the manager can also help to motivate each employee.  If an employee has been successful and made progress toward meeting the expectation and goal, the manager should then praise him or her for meeting or exceeding expectations.  We encourage managers to reward and praise employees when it is warranted.  A series of small successes will soon become self-sustaining when the manager uses praise and recognition. 

3. Coach everyone, especially your top performers!

This coaching tip can actually generate the maximum results for the minimum amount of time invested by the manager.  Ask yourself this question: do you spend most of your coaching time with your poorer performers, or most of your coaching time with your better performers?  The majority of managers raise their hand for the first choice. What would happen if instead you spent more time developing the skills and capabilities of your top performers; for example, perhaps one of your younger salespeople is a "diamond in the rough" and simply needs some fine-tuning to get to the next performance level. 

Of course managers should not stop helping their poorer performers. The best managers develop the capabilities of their entire team. However, a common mistake by many managers is to ignore their best performers because they're doing well without you, and instead spend their limited coaching time with their poorer performers only.  Don't make this mistake. Try this last tip for one month and see what happens.

If you are interested in learning more about other aspects of coaching, please visit us on the web to learn more about our Coaching for Sales Success Workshop.  and our one-on-one coaching service.