The challenge of coaching sales reps in the field has never been more important than it is today, due to increased media consolidation that has increased responsibilities of sales management. The real art lies in the difference between just riding with a rep and coaching a rep in the field to increase their sales skill sets. I often encounter sales managers that have never graduated from the wannabe stage. The wannabe stage is when a manager will not let go of the control reins on the reps. They want to be in charge of every aspect of the sale from the opening call to the closing presentation. A common mistake that a manager makes is taking over the call rather than strategizing, coaching, and letting the sales rep quarterback the call. Some managers feel that being hyper-involved is the justification for their existence. Being involved in the process is important, but giving the reps control of the reins is a key aspect of the selling process!
Here are five suggestions to help managers turn the reins loose, and systematically grade and evaluate sales reps on their progress in the field.
1) Ask for the sales reps input: At the next sales meeting, ask each rep to list five selling skills that they want to improve on personally. Some examples would be closing, overcoming objections, opening the call, information gathering, and sales tool usage.
2) Coaching Guide Notebook: Now compile each reps list and organize the individual responses. Create an In-Field Sales Rep Coaching Guide. Refer to this guide on each sales call with the individual rep. Before making the next call with the rep, pull out the guide and simply state, Here are the five skill areas that you listed for improvement. Tell the rep that you will be evaluating the progress of these skills on the call.
3) Positive Feedback: Whenever coaching, always cover the positives of the call before delving into the areas for improvement. In the guide, jot down the areas where improvement occurred, and the areas the rep needs to work on for the next in-field coaching session. These skills can be covered in role-playing during upcoming sales meetings. Practice makes perfect? Wrong! Perfect practice makes perfect!
4) Coaching Calendar: I see too many managers paying lip service to in-field coaching. In-field coaching is not an optional job duty for managers. Show reps how important traveling with them is by posting the travel schedule a month in advance. Predictability is acceptable in this case. When planned in advance, the rep has no excuse for being unprepared for the in-field coaching sessions. The top sales managers spend 40-60 percent of their time coaching their reps. Be committed to the travel schedule. Never cancel an in-field coaching call unless a true emergency arises. Cancelling appointments sends the signal that something else is more important than the reps skills improvement. Nothing is more important unless it is an illness or a family emergency. A sales manager needs to arrange their schedule so that department meetings and the like occur before or after prime selling time.
5) Written Evaluations: Just like in school, we all love to be graded, especially when we are doing well. Complete a written evaluation every six months for each rep on their in-field performance. Managers can also reward the reps with incentives for those who have shown the most improvement. Once the evaluations are given, it is time to start the process again with five new areas for improvement. Compile the new list and repeat the process.
The largest cost to a sales department is sales rep turnover. Ensure the success of the sales department by getting out from behind the ivory desk and hitting the field with the reps!
Sean Luce is the Head International Instructor for the Luce Performance Group and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.