sales management

Front-Line Sales Leadership: What Works Now

Everyone agrees on the importance of front-line sales managers. But in practice, sales coaching continues to fall short. A Brevet survey of over 5,000 sales managers found a disappointing amount of time spent on coaching. On average, sales managers devoted less than 25% of their time to coaching activities.

While this reality frustrates senior leaders, sales managers have a lot on their plate. More is added every day: too many Zoom calls, new hire onboarding, hands-on selling in open territories, running reports, reporting on reports, and of course forecasting!

It never ends. 

The truth is, most managers already know the importance of sales coaching. What they’re struggling with is how to do it more efficiently in today's always-on, virtual operating model. Helping managers understand the three different coaching situations is the first step to improving efficiency. 

Coaching Situation 1: Skill Coaching

This involves observing and providing feedback on a seller's core selling skills. The focus is on the basics like conducting good virtual discovery, delivering the message, and handling objections. This may also include process skills like call planning and account management.

Coaching Situation 2: Pipeline Coaching

This involves evaluating the health of a seller's funnel. It includes prioritizing opportunities, assessing deal velocity, and assigning resources. Pipeline coaching helps sellers understand how the quality and quantity of deals in their funnel align to their targets.

Coaching Situation 3: Deal or Opportunity Coaching

This form of coaching helps sellers increase the win rate of individual opportunities. Ideally, it involves assessing the unique aspects of deals and identifying appropriate strategies and tactics.

For most managers, finding time for skills coaching comes easiest. It’s a natural part of joint sales calls and other frequent seller interactions. In the same way, pipeline coaching tends to occur more regularly because it's tied to monthly forecasting. 

In contrast, our research finds that managers devote far too little time to deal coaching. And that’s ironic as this form of coaching is so critical in a time when every win counts. In today's rapidly changing selling environment, there are so many ways opportunities can stall out . 

Modern Deal Coaching that Works Now

Time efficiency in deal coaching starts with managers engaging sales reps in brief deal check-ins, some as short as ten minutes. The focus shifts from determining the grand deal strategy to a more targeted dialogue:

  1. "What’s the situation and what factors did you rely on to make that assessment?" The leader is simply checking the accuracy of rep’s assessment of the situation. Asking a few questions is usually all it takes: "Which previous deal is this current deal like and why?"
  2. "What’s the right play for this particular situation?" There may be a number of possible sales plays – what to say, do, and show. But particular plays are best suited for particular deal situations. Once the situation is defined and the pattern matched, the right play becomes more apparent.

In today's fast-moving world, less than five questions can help a leader and seller form a clear understanding of a deal situation. Once the pattern is known, determining the sales play is easier (and quicker). The coaching conversation is focused, centered on overcoming one hurdle at one point in the deal.

This approach is similar to a coach helping a quarterback manage a specific series in football. Great football coaches don’t focus on a ‘touchdown play’. They use a select set of situational factors (position on the field, time on the clock, down and distance, and so on) to select a play. Touchdowns come from calling the right play at the right time to move the ball forward. Likewise, winning deals come as a result of good play-calling throughout the sales process. 

Evolving Coaching to Fit Today's Reality

Understanding 'what's next' in our world is difficult. There are signs things are moving back to normal, but we also know in our hearts, there's no going back to pre-pandemic times. 

With a more targeted deal coaching approach, leaders can help their sellers navigate more deals in a shorter amount of time. And right now, time and focus is key. In this model, sales coaching is more defined and targeted: understand where the deal is on the field of play, then ensure that the seller is running the right play to move things forward.

Making the transition to more efficient deal coaching can be challenging, especially for leaders distracted by a growing list of to-dos right now. But the benefits are significant. 

Learn more in our upcoming virtual master class on Sales Leader Excellence.

About The Author

Author photo Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.

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