I recently watched a video of an industry pundit pontificating that for sales coaching to be effective, it must be done separately from deal and pipeline reviews.
He went so far as to say that, in essence, the very worst possible thing you can do as a sales manager is to mix coaching with deal and pipeline reviews. He sighed that, sadly, this is an all too common practice. A moving performance, but I’m not buying it.
The only thing missing from this video was the La La Land soundtrack and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone waltzing through a violet-blue star-strewn sky.
Here’s why this advice is fantasy talk.
Already overflowing monthly calendars. Increasingly wider spans of control. A preponderance of first-time-and newly-minted managers in the frontline management ranks.
If a sales manager has 10 reps, they’re likely already doing weekly or bi-weekly deal and pipeline reviews with each rep. That’s 20-40 individual meetings not including the weekly forecast calls with their management. To ask them to layer 10 coaching sessions on top of this is nonsensical.
We recently worked with a prominent fast-growth software company on this very issue. The objective of the workshop was to help the 40+ frontline sales managers they’d flown in from around the world, most of which were first-time-managers or just taking on the role, become more proficient at coaching their reps.
As the workshop facilitators, we posited that the key to coaching success was that it needed to be personalized and programmatic.
In other words, it had to be based on a rep-specific plan with clearly delineated and mutually agreed to business and professional development goals, action items, and milestones. Feedback, good and bad, needed to be authentic, direct, prompt, continuous, consequential, and emblematic of the manager’s desire to help their rep grow.
We tossed out the notion that, ideally, they would want to separate rep development coaching from deal coaching. A near-violent room-wide protest ensued. One of the managers had us walk over to look at her calendar. “Here is a typical week. Zero white space. Tell me, where in the @#!!! am I supposed to find the time?”
The coaching constraints these managers faced were spans of control stretching from 8 to 17 reps ranging in experience from newbies to wily veterans, and already jam-packed Outlook calendars.
After some back and forth, here’s where we landed.
Use quarterly business plans to co-author individual rep development plans and the deal and pipeline reviews as the venue to assess and reinforce progress.
Why using deal reviews for coaching is the optimal approach.
Managers already have a built-in cadence of deal and pipeline review meetings.
Assuming your managers use your sales process as the framework for running their deal reviews (admittedly, a big leap of faith), the deal review is the perfect venue and opportunity to coach a stage-specific skill – like discovery, for example.
It’s not a theoretical suggestion like, “Great discovery calls consist of asking open-ended questions and active listening.” An excellent tip, but not immediately actionable.
Instead, as part of a specific deal review and planning discussion, the manager works with the rep to develop a call plan outlining the set and sequence of carefully-crafted questions that will enable the rep to conduct an effective discovery conversation on the very next call that helps them (and the manager) move that opportunity forward.
Note that, assuming that discovery is an area of improvement for the rep in question, the manager can still reinforce the best practice of using open-ended questions and active listening, but because the lesson is being taught in the context of a real deal, through the deal review discussion, it can be immediately tested, understood, and applied.
Even a rookie manager can pull this off because their selling skills are one of the main reasons they got promoted. They can use pattern recognition from their own experience to suggest the best approach to applying a specific skill at the point in the sales cycle where the skill is most needed to advance the deal. By definition, the manager is a proven subject matter expert on this skill.
The use of your sales process as the coaching framework is a prerequisite for this strategy to work.
A sales-process-centric deal review is the optimal vehicle for skills coaching because the manager can coach the rep on how to apply the best practice version of the stage-relevant skill on the very next call with the prospect in question.
Deal-review-based stage-specific-skills rep coaching is: Personalized. Practical. Repeatable. Reinforceable. Measurable. Immediately applicable. Performance-enhancing.
As much as I enjoyed La La Land (can’t get the theme song, “City of Stars”, to stop playing in my head), let’s leave the fantasy storytelling to Hollywood.
Separate or together?