The greatest challenge most sales managers face is the lack of time to deal with all the management, coaching, sales strategy and operational tasks their job demands of them. Compounding this challenge are growing sales teams and territories. Many sales managers are time constrained due to an inefficient process which includes jumping into high value opportunities or accounts and acting on behalf of their salespeople to clean up account issues, take over difficult contract negotiations or close business. Add in the typical reporting, forecasting and other internal work heaped on Sales Managers and you’ve got the primary culprit that keep Sales Managers from being people-building leaders, or- what we like to call- deal coaches.
Unless a pro-active approach is implemented, sales managers easily fall into this pattern since they are former “A-player” salespeople who pride themselves on their sales skills. Much like the coach of a sports team, a good sales manager must have a strategy and process for coaching their sales team from the sidelines, rather than jumping onto the playing field and running the play themselves. It is nearly impossible for the coach to run the team successfully while also playing the game themselves.
Great sales coaching starts with a sales manager truly caring about the success of their direct reports and a plan for coaching them on how to achieve that success, especially when it comes to deal coaching. Most salespeople are trained to look for positive account signals such as having a solid internal champion with a strong interest in their product. Unfortunately, the salesperson often ignores the challenges that may exist within the account, such as a technical or financial stakeholder that is an advocate for the competition or a committee that ties its buying decisions to an existing vendor relationship. How do sales managers effectively coach their salespeople in instances like this? At Venator, we use a process called “interrogating reality” which digs below the surface of an account to find out what is going on behind the scenes. In other words, to discover the intangibles often not recognized that create obstacles in managing the account or closing new business.
To properly interrogate the reality of an account, a manager needs a process for debriefing the salesperson about the opportunity in an effort to uncover critical information that has yet to be discovered. When done effectively, the manager helps the salesperson gain a 360-degree perspective on the opportunity and any possible landmines that may exist. The ideal process entails consistent management debriefs that examine the account realities versus what a salesperson wants to believe is true.
Below are three core components that should be involved in a successful deal coaching process.
1. An ability to uncover critical business-driver information that may have been overlooked during a previous sales call through debrief questions.
Some example questions include:
- Is the issue affecting other departmental timelines or goals?
- How is the issue impacting the company operationally & financially?
- Did they ever approach the existing vendor with their concerns?
- Is there pressure on their department to fix this?
- Has the issue scaled outside of their company?
2. A method to ensure that the salesperson has a comprehensive perspective on all stakeholders that will be involved in the decision, as well as a stakeholder map to discover interrelationships between all key stakeholders.
Some sample questions a manager can use to help a salesperson navigate stakeholders include:
- What other departments are impacted by this?
- Have you met with these different stakeholders or gotten any information about their personal issues, concerns and vision? Is there consensus regarding the issue?
- Have they had discussions internally about the issues or the fact that they are looking at us?
- Is there a formal budgetary process and who controls it?
3. A process for exposing any roadblocks or landmines that will stand in the way of closing the sale or compromise account success.
Some sample debrief questions in this category include:
- What are other priorities that could interfere with this initiative?
- What does the prospect see as the biggest roadblock? Budgetary constraints?
- If there was a possible stumbling block that they see or that their management may present, what is it?
- Are they looking at alternative solutions or other providers? And if so, who?
Using a structured deal debriefing process, a manager can coach their salespeople rather than feeling the need to run onto the playing field for them. The manager can help develop a strategic approach that empowers the salesperson to interrogate the deal reality and effectively close more sales on their own. With an effective coaching strategy the organization can scale and everyone wins.