Sales coaching is one of the most important duties of sales managers, because by helping your sales reps develop and grow, the team has a much better chance of hitting or exceeding quota. It also fosters a sense of camaraderie and the feeling of mentorship, which both help in sales rep retention. The list of benefits to coaching goes on and on. While we’ve talked about sales coaching in general before, today we’re going to drill down into the best practices of one of the sales manager’s most powerful tools – the 1 on 1 sales coaching meeting.
- Tie your meeting frequency to your sales cycle. Many sales managers only meet with their reps monthly, and if you’re in a longer sales cycle, that’s perfectly fine. However, short cycles or high-volume sales environments should be meeting weekly, while middle-range, middle-volume companies are likely best served by bi-weekly meetings. In general, try to avoid meeting more frequently than once a week, or less than once a month. The reason why is because you want to have enough time to accumulate information to respond to, yet intervene quickly enough to coach up sales reps effectively.
- Have a consistent schedule and meet either at the beginning or end of the week.
However often you’re holding sessions with your reps, the best practice is to schedule them either at the beginning of the week or at the end of the week. Ideally, they’ll be on the same day and at the same time to establish a rhythm and routine. The reason for the extreme ends of the workweek is that they’re natural places to both review the previous week(s) and look forward to the next week(s).
- Consider asking your reps to come to the meeting with an agenda of their own and send it to you before the meeting.
When you allow your reps to come up with topics they want to discuss in a coaching meeting, you’re giving them ownership and a stake in the conversation. This can lead to increased motivation and buy-in, because your direct reports feel like their voice matters and they’re being heard. The other major advantage of taking this approach is that sometimes reps will come up with things that you yourself might not have thought of.
It may take some time for this to be truly effective – there’s a fair chance the sales team hasn’t been exposed to this approach before and will have some initial trouble (which you can alleviate through behavior modeling), but in the long run, the benefits of this bilateral communication can pay off significant dividends. Important note: You’ll also want to come with items of your own to discuss even if you take this route. That way, you’ll be sure of covering the areas you want to make sure are included. Also, be sure to ask your sales reps to send their agenda in advance of the meeting so you have time to prepare.
- Take the length of your meeting and block out an additional 15 minutes.
Whether you’re meeting for 15 minutes or 60, add on another 15 minutes for the session in your schedule. This not only provides a cushion in case time runs over, it gives you a space to reflect on how the meeting went and document the discussion in your notes – a key factor in improving team accountability.
- Listen more, talk less.
While the 90% listen, 10% talk guideline for sales managers floated in some quarters is the typical fluff rounding you sometimes see with business clichés, the underlying principle is correct. By spending more time listening than talking, you again allow sales reps to take an ownership stake in the conversation. Just as, if not more important – you can learn more about your reps, their personalities, and how each one responds to different coaching strategies. Prioritizing listening over talking also makes reps more receptive to modifying their behavior and implementing performance improvement plans, because it’s not a sales manager just grilling them in a single top-down flow.
- Put more emphasis on the future rather than the past.
While it’s important to review the history of an issue, it’s far more critical to frame the conversation in such a way that it elicits future change and improvement. For example, let’s say you’re meeting with a rep named Simon. You’ve noticed over the last few weeks that Simon has failed to include a call to action (CTA) in his communication with prospects. As a result, his conversion rates have plummeted.
In the meeting, you can either rail at Simon about his mistakes (and risk putting him on the defensive, thereby resistant to coaching), or you can ask something like, “Thinking back over the past few weeks, do you see any changes you’d like to make to your selling process going forward?” This gives Simon space to self-reflect and come to the realization on his own that he needs to start using CTAs when communicating with customers – and much more likely to adopt the behavioral change.
But what if Simon doesn’t come up with that answer and says, “Nothing” or “I don’t know.”? You can respond with something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed the last few weeks you’ve forgotten to include CTAs at the end of your contacts with prospects. Do you think this has had an effect on your conversion rate?” Again, you’re trying to help Simon engage in critical thinking and voice the conclusion of his own initiative. If he still doesn’t respond affirmatively, only then do you point out that you’d like to see him start including CTAs and, if necessary, explain how making the change will improve his conversion rates.
- Keep the quotas/KPIs discussion to a minimum and favor actionable changes.
Yes, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and quotas are critical pieces of data. But harping away on them won’t lead to a productive meeting or effective coaching. Instead, think of KPIs and quotas as reference points and material to allude to within the context of taking necessary actions.
Using our previous example, instead of telling Simon, “You need to get your conversion rate up next month,” tell him, “Now that we’ve identified the issue, let’s have you commit to including CTAs when you’re reaching out to customers.” Notice how this gives Simon an action he can take (making sure he adds CTAs) rather than simply have a quota he has to meet (He has to increase his conversion rate by 5% next month), with no roadmap of how to get there.
By listening, giving your sales reps agency and ownership in the coaching process, teaching to behavioral and action changes geared towards the future, sales managers can make their 1 on 1 meetings genuinely productive and fruitful for both the reps and the organization.