Are You Coaching or Just Inspecting?

By Lon Cunninghis

Does anyone truly have to be sold on the value of a coach? Olympians, business leaders, politicians, and specialized practitioners have coaches they rely on to help them succeed and achieve their goals. What many sales leaders have come to refer to as coaching, however, really isn’t coaching at all; it’s inspecting.

Sales leaders interrogate their team members on the status of must-win deals to reassure themselves (and their bosses) that the deals they’re counting on to make their numbers are still on track to close as forecasted. This is not coaching; it’s inspecting.

Nevertheless, a critical part of a sales leader’s job is to inspect. In fact, great sales leaders have a governance strategy and a regular cadence of inspection for their sales funnels and pipelines, forecasts, and the other leading metrics that drive top- and bottom-line results. But inspection without coaching leads to morale issues, increased employee turnover, and poor performance. Moreover, it can create a culture of fear and dishonesty. Rather than face potential judgment and penalty, the sales team will stuff the funnel with opportunities they will never win, along with deals that would be bad business if won. The sales professional will hide opportunities from the pipeline and forecast until he or she is absolutely certain they will close. Rather than raise inevitable sales issues and challenges that must be overcome in a deal, the sales professional would rather give you every excuse in the book as to why his or her deal will close next month instead.

There are natural opportunities for coaching in every sales pursuit. Early in the sales cycle, coaching is typically focused on creating demand and the go/no-go decision at the deal-qualification stage. As the deal progresses, coaching should focus on the reasons deals are won or lost, such as the following:

  • Executing the right competitive strategy
  • Understanding the formal decision-making process
  • Leveraging the right relationships
  • Aligning to political power
  • Leveraging a compelling value proposition
  • Implementing a driving mechanism

Account reviews, funnel and pipeline reviews, and forecast reviews all provide opportunities for coaching, as well.

Installing a coaching culture will help ensure that your sales team embraces risk, innovation, and collaboration. Your team members will be more likely to ask for help, instead of act independently and merely hope to win. They will be more inclined to speak up and report when a deal is going off track, and they will be more willing to take risks and experiment with new ways of selling, which could help differentiate them from your competition. Creating a coaching culture has a synergistic effect as winning becomes part of the team’s DNA. You get higher win rates, more reps to plan, reliable forecasts, and higher employee and client retention.

Today’s sales environment is brutal, especially in the large-enterprise space. The current economic climate coupled with decreasing demand, commoditization, onerous client-procurement processes, and heightened competition all require your sales team to be on top of its game like never before.

Consider the well-known adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Coaching teaches your team how to fish. When done properly and consistently, it will help you both advance the talent and capabilities of your sales team and increase your win rates.