Learning outcomes

• Use your skills and experience to coach your sales team in order to bring out the best in them, maximise their performance, and celebrate team successes.• Understand the importance of consistency in the timing of meetings and how they are run.

• Implement our suggestions for encouraging team members to participate in the meetings, and recognise the need to set achievable team goals.

• Develop techniques for delivering both the good and the bad news to team members, while maintaining a positive attitude.

Article

Why is it that in sport you will often see a team of average players beat an opposing team that has a number of highly talented individuals? Often it comes down to the coach, someone who was able to get the team to work together to achieve a result that was perhaps in excess of their abilities and expectations. In sport and in business the coach can make the difference between winning and losing.

Sometimes in larger organisations you will see external coaches being employed to help train and motivate a team to achieve greatness, but generally it is the manager or leader of the business that will need to be able coach their team to perform. In this article we will focus on how you can improve your ability to coach your sales team as a whole rather than as individuals. You may also want to read our article on one on one coaching to enhance your skills in coaching individual members of your team.[wlm_ismember]

Through our hands-on experience coaching high-performing sales teams, we have developed the following tips and advice that will help you to coach your team to higher levels of performance.

It’s all about them

Coaching is about bringing out the best in others, using your skills and experience to help the team perform to the highest possible standard. Too often we see the leader of a sales team spending too much time focusing on what they do or used to do rather than focusing on building the abilities of those around them. In sales it is not unusual for a top performer to move into a leadership role. Like many things in life this comes with its pluses and minuses. It is likely that this person has a high level of passion, skill and experience; however, along with this usually comes a healthy ego and level of independence that helped them succeed, and this can hamper their efforts as a coach.

It is important that the sales coach understands their success is no longer linked to their own performance but the performance of others, and most importantly, the performance of the team. A quote to live by for anyone looking to build a high-performing team is one by Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Consistency

Consistency is important in coaching . The most successful sales teams meet regularly, usually on a weekly basis at a minimum. We suggest that you make this meeting compulsory for all team members. The day and time for the meeting needs to be chosen based on what is likely to be most convenient for everyone and when it will have the greatest impact. For example, for some businesses an 8.00am meeting on Monday morning might kick-start the week for everyone before appointments and deals become a distraction during the week; for other businesses Wednesdays might work best as this is the quietest day. As a rule we find mornings work best, but once again it is important to find what is most appropriate for your business.

Once the day and time are finalised, this needs to be set in stone – it is not changed to suit you or anyone else. The meeting should start on time, every time and should have a set agenda and finishing time. By their nature salespeople tend to have high energy levels and relatively short attention spans, and we suggest that the meetings do not exceed 60 minutes. In our experience, it is wise to set some ground rules for sales meetings such as banning phones to ensure the attendees are focused and productive. Our article “Effective Meetings” may be helpful if your meetings are not working as well as you would like.

Encourage participation

In any team you will have those that are outspoken and always happy to share their opinion and those that tend to sit back and listen. The key to coaching is to ensure that you do not get into the habit of “telling”, but that you spend more time “asking” to encourage the attendees to participate. If the team come up with solutions for problems or issues, you will find that they are more committed to the required actions and results are stronger. We like to start off a sales meeting with a quick exercise that forces everyone in the group to participate from the outset. Here are a few simple ideas to try. You might like to use one for a period of time and then switch to another:

• Win of the week – have everyone in the group give a 30-second summary of the best thing that happened in the last week. It can be work-related or personal. This exercise tends to start the meeting off on a positive note.

• Monthly goal – at the start of each month get everyone to tell the group about one goal that they want to achieve in the next 30 days. Once again it can be business-related or personal. Use our SMART goal-setting technique as a guide if necessary. Everyone can then report on their progress at the meeting in each subsequent week.

• Motivational moment of the week – everyone in the group provides a motivational moment to start the meeting each week. It might be a short video, quote or story. It is done on a roster basis, so depending on the size of the team it may take several weeks or even months for everyone in the team to present their moment. And once again this activity will start the week off on a positive note.

You may find that some of your team struggle with these activities in the first few weeks. However, if you are consistent you will soon find that everyone comes to the meeting ready and prepared. It is important that you lead by example and that you also share your win of the week, monthly goal or motivational moment.

Set group goals

As we outline in our article “Working in Teams”, working towards a common goal is one of the key components of building an effective team. As salespeople almost always have individual targets, are often paid on their individual performance and they tend to be very independent and competitive, this can make focusing on group targets even more important in order to foster a team mentality.

The good thing is that the competitive nature of salespeople can work for you when setting team goals as you will find that most often challenges are greeted with enthusiasm and excitement. Over time we have found that are there are a few key things to keep in mind when setting group goals and when linking them to incentives and rewards:

• Get the group to set the goal. Targets should be based on what the group feels they can achieve rather than what you as a leader want (or need) them to achieve. In our experience, almost without exception, the group sets a higher target than what the leader would have set. Remember with goal-setting it is important that goals are set at an achievable level, and this is particularly important in the early stages of the coaching process as you want to promote a winning mentality.

• It is very likely that you will have salespeople that perform at different levels within your team; therefore, it is important to be wary of setting incentives and rewards that benefit only the top performers as this can be demotivating for those that know they cannot win. An example of this might be the offer of a reward for the highest volume of sales where there are only a few real contenders for the prize. We prefer to set group targets and incentives and reward the entire group, for example a dinner or lunch for the entire team if the target is met. This type of incentive works to lift the performance of the entire group.

• Keep time frames short and sharp. Working on monthly, or at the most, quarterly targets and goals will work best for sales teams. Again salespeople are quick and active thinkers and can easily become bored when things drag on. We prefer shorter monthly targets and incentives in order to maintain the team’s momentum. This also allows the salespeople to focus on different activities as required. For example, the focus in one month might be on increasing fees and the next might be on the number of transactions.

• Finally, it is important to give a short update each week to maintain a focus on the activity and to keep motivation levels high. It may be helpful to encourage the team and ask for feedback, for example by saying, “we are so close, what can we do this week to get across the line?”

Celebrate success

At Absolute Best we believe in building from strengths. We believe that you should always be on the lookout for areas of improvement and as a coach you want to look for opportunities to celebrate the successes of the team and individuals. This reinforces the behaviours that you want to see and builds a mindset of success within your team. You will find that if you foster this culture of encouragement and support, it will rub off on even the most cynical of your team members and successes will become more frequent. Use the sales meeting as a time to give a public pat on the back to those that have had a good week; don’t focus just on sales results but vary the content, for example discuss feedback from a client or mention that a member of the team went out of their way to help someone else.

Once again you need to be consistent with your positive feedback and how you deliver it. Some coaches like to use group email or the company intranet to send praise on an ongoing basis throughout the week; others will allocate some time in the sales meeting to recognise a number of team members. The important thing is to make sure that some people do not miss out. You need to have a system and stick to it.

Ask, don’t tell

As mentioned earlier, the key thing that differentiates a sales manager from a sales coach is that the coach facilitates the team’s participation in their own development and improvement, while the manager tends to focus just on results and activities. In most sales meetings there is an agenda item that focuses on performance. A sales manager may simply report the figures and comment on what needs to improve. On the other hand, the coach will use this time as an opportunity to ask the team to identify areas of improvement and to look for solutions. They will use non-confrontational language and encourage active participation. For new teams, or if this style is new to you, it may work well to break the large group into pairs or smaller groups to brainstorm ideas. This technique allows the team to gain confidence in putting forward ideas and encourages participation from all team members.

What if things are not going well?

Finally, we are frequently asked what happens when the results are not good enough. This occurs in teams all over the world both in business and in sport. It is vital as a coach to use your skills and experience to identify why. You can then use this knowledge to help the team to work towards a solution. It is important as a coach to remain positive, but it is also important to be honest with the team. If the results are not what they should be, your integrity will suffer if you do not acknowledge this. The key is to show that you are supportive and are there to help guide the team to make the necessary changes. Individuals who are not performing should not be singled out in the group meeting, but rather they should be taken aside for one-on-one coaching. You will find more about how to improve your skills in this area in the “People Management” section of the website.[/wlm_ismember]

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