Time for Coaching

The Top Three Things to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Coach

In Posts by Craig by Craig Jones

Time for CoachingIn a pressure-filled, fast-moving environment where there’s rarely a spare moment to pause and reflect, coaching may seem like a luxury you can’t afford. It’s not. Coaching is, in fact, essential to improving and sustaining your sales team’s performance. With the right approach, coaching can even lighten your workload, allowing you to get more done through others, rather than taking over the selling efforts yourself.

The misconception that there’s simply no time for coaching may stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to “coach.” Many managers spend too much of their all-too-limited time devising and laying out plans for the underperforming members of the sales team and too little of their time with those who can really make a difference. While this approach may be helpful in the moment, it’s not a strategy that will be effective in the long run. When your time and energy are consumed by your underachievers, there’s a double-edged risk: they become reliant on you to make their numbers, and you lose the opportunity to develop your people to their fullest potential. Still worse, when your top performers feel neglected because they can’t get access to you when they need it, they are likely to take their talents elsewhere.

In his book Coaching for Performance, workplace coaching pioneer Sir John Whitmore described the essence of coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It’s helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.” Accomplishing this starts with an understanding of what coaching is vs. what coaching is not.

Coaching is a means for developing your people’s potential. It involves:

  • Asking, not telling.
  • Actively listening, not simply waiting for your turn to talk.
  • Asking tough questions, not asking questions with predictable answers.
  • Helping others solve problems, not solving others’ problems for them.

Even when you are pressed for time, you can maximize the value of your conversations with your sales team by taking these three simple actions:

  1. Ask thought-provoking questions. Every salesperson encounters and addresses challenges differently. Use your powers of observation to identify some questions you can ask to draw out the answers they need. Asking questions (as opposed to giving advice) can have more impact on your people than virtually any other coaching activity. Their answers will reveal how much they really know (or don’t know), and articulating their thoughts will help them see—for themselves—what they need to do.
  2. Get to the heart of the issue. Many salespeople are uncomfortable revealing the fundamental challenges that are having an impact on their work, but it is our job as coaches to bring those issues to light, much like we ask our salespeople to do with their customers and prospective customers in the discovery phase of a sales cycle. For instance, was the customer reluctant to reveal details about their business, or is the salesperson uncomfortable asking for those details because they don’t really understand the customer’s world? What is the real issue?
  3. Co-create an action plan. Salespeople who are encouraged to come up with their own ideas learn to trust their own ability to troubleshoot problems and find solutions. When they create the action plan for themselves, they own it—and they are more likely to execute. If you create the action plan for them, there’s a good chance they’ll carry it out only because you told them to, not because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

At the end of every chapter in Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World, authors Steve Andersen and Dave Stein put forward a set of questions to help the reader determine his or her effectiveness at mastering the topics covered in that chapter. As you implement a more proactive and efficient approach to coaching, you will find many of those questions helpful for developing thought-provoking questions of your own.

To make the most effective use of your time and energy, you must make coaching a priority. Your job isn’t to tell the members of your sales team what to do, but to help them see what they can’t see on their own. Simply asking thought-provoking questions and actively listening to the answers will serve you well in your efforts to maximize their performance. When you develop all of your people to their full potential, they can make their numbers, and you can make yours.

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