Establish the context for your coaching before you do your coaching.

If you’re like most sales managers you are looking at the end-of-the-year and feeling the pressure of “making your numbers.”

It’s now, during the next four months, that your skills as a sales coach come into its own.

The greatest challenge, based on sales manager feedback, is how to deal with the impact that the variety of representative response has on making your numbers.

Why is this such a challenge?

It is because on one hand, you have a variety in rep response, and on the other, a consistency in coaching approach as you dutifully follow the company’s coaching model.

Here’s the thing.

This seemingly hit-and-miss situation can put some doubt in your mind about your capacity to coach and manage them.

And you’re not alone. A group of sales managers (at a recent workshop) said that this hesitation often leads to them playing a guessing game as they coach, connect, and communicate with their reps.

With the pressure to achieve business goals, the group went on to explain why they were cautious coaching their team. It all had to do with risk.

Here are some of the things they said:

  • Reps have a strong activity focus, so they have little insight about why they do what they do, so the coaching conversation goes nowhere.
  • They didn’t want any confrontation and so demotivate the rep, and ultimately (because they all talk to each other) the team.
  • They’re afraid that the rep may leave which would reflect poorly on the manager.
  • They’re afraid that they may be a part of the problem.
  • They’re so busy doing other things that they feel guilty not spending enough time with them.

They all sound familiar, don’t they?

Trouble is, they are all from the Sales Manager’s perspective.

Let’s look instead at a representative’s behaviour (and their performance) from their perspective.

Let’s look at this challenge in a different context.

Here’s when a rep welcomes your coaching and some change:

  • When they need to resolve a business problem they can’t fix themselves
  • When the rep’s familiar resources (things they usually tap into) cannot fix the problem
  • When the rep can see that change will not create a major disruption in the balance between policies, rules, guidelines, and relationships
  • When they know how to get agreement from everyone that counts in their circle (other stakeholders)
  • When the problem is causing more personal angst not being fixed than the potential disruption because of the change.   

If they don’t know how to do these things, guess what, they’ll resist change and your coaching, and do nothing. The time it takes for them to resolve the issue and develop their “own” answers is the time it takes to improve.

And there’s one other major consideration.

Reps exist within a system that’s made up of many, many relationships – you, other company types, sales team mates, senior sales managers, other non-team reps, customers, spouse/ partner, parents, brother-in-law, neighbours, etc.

You get the picture.

These relationships represent a critical frame of reference for their identity, so change is resisted until they’ve considered how what you’re advocating will affect the status quo of all the relationships.

Isaac Newton, that famous physician, would’ve called it inertia. We probably call it procrastination.

Remember, the first decision will always be to see if “known resources” can fix the problem because known resources reduce the chance of upsetting the status quo.

You need to realise that fundamentally, reps are not seeking to change anything, merely to resolve the business problem the way that they know how/ the way they did it last time, and find the easiest way to do it.

So before you start thinking about changing anything you should be supporting/ reassuring the rep to solve the problem with what they already have.

When that is insufficient, and they are aware of it and accept it, then they’ll accept your coaching and you can move them onto a development plan.

And not before.