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Coaching Sales Professionals to be Extraordinary

October 19, 2020

By: Keather Snyder

Fifty-five percent of the people making their living in sales do not have the right skills to be successful.  Let that number sink in … over half need more coaching. How many are on your sales team? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 14.3 million people are working in sales and related revenue-generating occupations, so that means only 6.5 million of them will be successful. Can you imagine how many unhappy, dissatisfied salespeople are frustrated that they’re not hitting their numbers and are miserable going to work each day?

When I came across this study, I was genuinely alarmed. In fact, the article was called “21 Mind-Blowing Sales Stats”. And blow my mind, they did.  It was a stop what I’m doing and take a huge gulp moment.  And I truly believe it doesn’t have to be this way. These are numbers that can be improved. When people are aligned to a role that best fits their unique personality traits and strengths and is supported by a leader committed to coaching and developing them along the way, they can be successful.  Mindtickle recently published a study that says effective sales coaching can improve sales reps’ performance by 20%.

First, we must embrace the reality that coaching is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, which might explain why it often falls to the wayside. A sales leader must understand the unique traits, strengths, challenges, and motivational drivers for their individual sales reps to coach effectively. The good news is, there is an easy way to enable and coach different personality styles that actually work. Employee behavioral assessments promote a deeper understanding of your sales reps' personality traits. All it takes is ten minutes of your employee's time and a willingness to use the information to modify coaching and leadership techniques based on personality styles.

Once you know the innate individual traits among your team members, you can design action plans for coaching and development.  This data also provides helpful insight into how best to motivate individuals and, better yet, avoid de-motivating them. Let’s look at some examples across a few primary sales personality traits The Omnia Group measures.

Level of Assertiveness: If you’ve got individuals on your team who have an extremely high level of assertiveness, and hopefully you do, you can be comfortable knowing they are typically self-driven with a strong need to win.  It’s likely that these individuals don’t need coaching to make enough calls, get to the decision-makers, and ask for the business.  On the flip side, though, sales reps with this trait can come across as overly aggressive and may have difficulty backing down from deals that aren’t going to happen. To coach this style effectively, take time to observe their sales calls and watch for an overly forceful tone. Listen to how their buyers react to this style.  Use these observations to bring awareness to your sales rep on the impact their behaviors may have on winning over the prospect and getting the deal.

Professionals with a high level of assertiveness are motivated by individual goals and knowing their progress toward those goals. They love seeing their achievements posted on weekly sales standings.  They’re likely to be de-motivated by an overly zealous sales leader who wants to be on every call with them – these folks like to run their own show.  So when you go on calls with them, you need to bring your A-game and make sure you’re adding value to the call.

Another important personality trait to understand is the individual’s communication style.  Some salespeople are highly motivated by being around people and are natural rapport builders. While they can win people over easily with their enthusiasm, they may not be listening closely enough to discern the client’s true need for your solution or identifying the concern that keeps them from buying.  When going over a deal review, make sure you ask these individuals for details regarding the client’s needs and their genuine concerns. Actively engage in brainstorming on how to best follow through to keep the deal moving forward.  Also, be sure they have identified the actual decision-maker and aren’t just relying on a single relationship to get the deal.

Individuals who are highly communicative and people-oriented may be struggling the most with not being able to make face-to-face appointments right now, and they likely miss collaboration with their teams.  Ensure they have the support to attend virtual networking events and offer up multiple ways to connect with colleagues across the organization.  While a lot of the world is “Zoomed out,” sales reps with this personality trait will likely be energized by virtual happy hour and ice breaker activities.

Another concerning statistic is this one: Over 60% of salespeople are more likely to leave their job if their manager is a poor coach. Coaching, like most skills, requires practice and focused attention. It’s a good bet that the manager didn’t have effective coaching skills or wasn’t hitting the right mark in coaching the sales rep based on individual needs.  This leads me to another key sales trait…

The Need for Autonomy vs. Structure: Sales professionals with a high need for autonomy could have a visceral reaction to a sales leader who micro-manages their activities or a finance department that buries them knee-deep in the weeds of contract terms and conditions.  These sales individuals are not naturally focused on details and resist getting bogged down in them. And yet, we know as sales leaders that these details can make or break a deal. It’s best to arm a big-picture salesperson with a strong support system to proofread their proposals or go over product details with their clients.  They thrive when they have a strong sales engineer, solution architect, or client advisor supporting them and the client through the sales cycle.  They’ll be indebted to the sales leader who gets them these resources, and the deals they bring in will make it worth the investment.

It’s also super important to be consistent in coaching and development across your sales team.  Nobody is motivated when they’re held to a different standard, perceive they have less support, or feel they don’t have the resources to effectively do their job.  Here are some key questions to ask ourselves when it comes to making sure we’ve set up our team for success:

Have I clearly defined expectations?  It’s important that everyone clearly understand what success looks like and what key behaviors and activities are expected across the team. Then, be sure you hold everyone accountable. People notice when someone else is getting away with something they’re not and de-motivated when others don’t do their share.

Have I provided sufficient training? Every salesperson comes with different experiences and skillsets. Conduct a gap analysis and clearly identify what skills need to be developed at an individual level, then provide the training needed to get them there. High-performing sales organizations are twice as likely to provide ongoing training as low-performing ones. (75 Key Sales Statistics That'll Help You Sell Smarter in 2020)

Have I “inspected what I expect”? – Once you’ve laid out expectations, it’s critical to review and make sure the actions are taking place. Provide on-going recognition and praise for the people who are doing what you expect; highlight how these actions led to wins and successes.  For those not doing what you expect – double down on the coaching and explore why it’s not happening.  It may be that more training is needed, or it may be that this person is not up for the job.

Am I adapting to changing circumstances? – Clearly, the goals we set in January 2020 may not be realistic for where we are today.  The best organizations and leaders are agile and adaptive to changing circumstances.  Salespeople are motivated by wins.  Make sure you’re adjusting your goals, expectations, and leadership approach to current times.

And finally – Have I asked for feedback?  Let’s face it, we don’t have all the answers, and we don’t always get it right.  Take time to ask your salespeople what it is that you can do to better support their success.  There may be things you’re doing that you’re not aware of that are de-motivating and having unintended consequences on their productivity.  This can be a tough thing to do. Put your ego aside, listen to what they have to say, look for trends and consistent themes, and, most importantly, act on what you heard.

As sales leaders, we have a responsibility to our business to bring the revenue in, and the only way we can do that is through an engaged,  productive, and successful sales team.  When we take the time to understand what makes our teammates tick, what motivates and demotivates them, and what they need for development, we can provide the specific coaching they need to hit that success.  Just think, we can contribute to millions of people going to bed each night knowing they have what it takes to succeed and happier in their jobs. Let’s get to it.

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Have an article specific question or want to continue the conversation? Now you can! Contact the author directly through the short form below and Keather Snyder will respond to your query. If you have a more general question please use our chat function, call 800.525.7117, or visit our contact us page and we'll have a subject matter expert answer your questions.

Keather Snyder

Keather Snyder is President & Chief Operating Officer of The Omnia Group, a leader in helping organizations optimize their talent selection, development and company culture. She is dedicated to helping organizations drive results through the power of their people. Keather is also hugely passionate about developing our future generation of leaders and dedicates personal time to mentoring college age and early career professionals.

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