Monday, July 19, 2010

Are you spending your coaching time wisely?

Managers' reasoning for not coaching their people as much as they should or want to, is the lack of time. They might therefore welcome tools, like the one, I believe I was alerted to through a LinkedIn Group, promising efficiency gains in coaching field sales people.

Setting the scene
The product is a sort of voice recorder than can replay specific recorded advise on sales behavior to reinforce sales training. Permission of the prospect granted, it can also be used to record face to face sales conversations. This is actually a clever idea. Conversations of telesales people with their prospects are recorded frequently for quality assurance purposes. Applying a similar procedure for face to face conversations would considerably reduce the time managers need for coaching their people in the field. They could save the travel time needed for observing the conversation directly on the prospect' s premises and coach their people on the basis of these recordings. There is another interesting positive side effect for managers who find it hard to stay in their observer role while being on a sales call with one of their people. Not being present in the call simply eliminates this challenge.

The use case
On the website promoting the tool, a set of short video clips is made available to illustrate the use of the tool.

In a first clip, a sales manager passes by the cubicle of one of his salespeople. He asks this person whether she has already prepared for an important sales call she is going to have the next day. The answer is not yet, but it is on her to-do list for later today.

The next clip is showing how the person is preparing for the call with the help of this new nifty tool.

More interesting, for the point I want to make, is the next clip. The manager passes by the cubicle again with obviously the same question, whether preparation has been done. This time, the salesperson is affirmative. The manager reminds the salesperson not to forget to use the new tool to record the conversation. He also asks that a copy of the recording of the conversation be sent to him for review purposes.

Obviously there followed a clip how the tool is used during the conversation.

More relevant again is the next clip. The manager is calling the salesperson, asking if she had a moment for a short debriefing. He had listened to the recording and would like to give some feedback how she could further improve her conversations in further calls.

Observations
The initial impression is that the manager described above does do coaching. Yet, I am not so sure I would agree.

The presumed coaching happens in the debriefing after the call. This is certainly well meant but not necessarily effective. Against what criteria is the sales manager going to evaluate the recorded conversation? There is no explicit common understanding between him and the salesperson on the objective of the call. At best the manager could test how well the salesperson applied what she had been taught in previous trainings and comment on these observations. Any further comments would be highly subjective as there is no commonly agreed purpose and expected outcome for the call.

From the way the manager acted during the preparation phase of the call, we can infer that he follows a command and control management style. Given this style, it is reasonable to assume that the salesperson will not speak up if she would disagree with the manager's potentially subjective conclusions which result from the lack of a common understanding of the purpose and the objectives of the call. The manager therefore would never get any feedback of the effectiveness of his coaching. He might though wonder about the limited effect his coaching has on his people.

An alternative proactive coaching scenario
Instead of just checking whether the salesperson can confirm that she has prepared for the call , the manager should get involved in the preparation. Discussing the call plan the salesperson has prepared and maybe even role play critical parts of the anticipated conversation would first, assure that there is an alignment about the purpose and the objective of the call. Secondly, possible misconceptions by the salesperson could be detected and corrected prior to the call and thus increase the likelihood for a successful outcome of the conversation with the prospect.

Yet for managers adhering to the command and control style, such discussions with their salespeople are not easy. They will tend to tell the salesperson exactly what to do for the case at hand. Intuitively they might even sense the danger that by doing so, they can now be held accountable for the outcome of the call. Therefore they prefer to stay in safe territory with the behavior illustrated in the video clip. As is well known, there are however coaching techniques which can be applied to avoid this risk. In addition, such techniques reinforce learning better than straight 'how to do' instructions.

By having been involved in the preparation, the manger then also has the criteria fore a more objective debriefing. Here again though, the emphasis should not be on telling what ought have been done and what to do the next time in a similar situation. The more effective way is guiding the salesperson to discover for herself what could be improved.

Conclusions
Admittedly this alternative approach takes some more time, especially in the preparation phase. Yet there is a higher likelihood for a positive impact for the concrete call at hand; an opportunity completely missed in the scenario shown in the clips. There is also a higher probability that there is a learning effect in this alternative scenario. As mentioned earlier, with the approach illustrated in the clips, there is a fair chance that the whole time invested in coaching might actually be wasted.

There is another interesting lesson that can be learned form this discussion. There is a tool presented in these clips that has a some potential for efficiency and effectiveness gains for managers and salespeople. However those gains cannot be had if the tool is applied in the context of bad processes. Tools can reinforce good processes, but they never can compensate for flawed processes.

What comes to your mind after having read this post?

2 comments:

  1. You make a number of very interesting points. I do believe that most managers resist, for whatever reason, taking a collaborative approach to planning for sales calls. Coaching to me is an integral part of any leaders role...in sales its even more important. Yet, most managers take a "dont question me" approach to "collaborating" with their reps. The reality is that no ONE person can see every sales cycle from every possible angle. Multiple perspectives, whether it be from a manager or a peer, can be instrumental in winning business. The best managers I had always added value without diminishing my credibility. Unfortunately, there are not many that fall into this category---and revenue suffers as a result.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your comment. It proves why the sscene to promote the tool was done the way I describe it. It is not common that sales managers take a collaborative approach

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