Does Sales Coaching Work?

I have never been a fan of sales coaches. Yes, sales performance is just about the most important function in any business. Yes, top performing people in any field need a coach. And yes, sales people should constantly improve their skills to stay on top of their sales game. However, my belief is that it’s the sales manager’s job to coach sales people, and if that is the manager’s job, why is a sales coach needed? In other words, it reminds me of a Tom Peters quote, “Banking is necessary. Banks are not!”

Although I don’t believe in sales coaching, I had a recent experience with an insurance sales executive that has caused me to re-think my position. An insurance sales person I know just landed a meeting with a large grocery store chain to discuss it’s insurance needs. Sounds good, right? This is a large company, and it is a great step in the right direction to get an in-person meeting with a decision-maker. However, my friend was worried about the meeting telling me, “Frankly, I got this meeting because I was a little pushy.” My friend had asked the grocery chain manager if they had ever looked at captives, as an insurance strategy, to which the manager replied that he had about 7 or 8 years ago and that it did not make much sense then.

My friends told the manager that things have changed and that he should really take this meeting. The manager responded, “We are all set, but I will give you 20 minutes.”

The meeting was on!

Now that he secured the meeting, my friend is worried that 20 minutes is not enough time to explain why this type of insurance will be beneficial to the prospect. He wants to bring in a team of experienced insurance sales people from his firm to his meeting; to bring to bear all the knowledge and resources so that his firm can “explain,” OK “dump” everything they can into those 20 minutes. In addition, my friend wants to call the prospect and ask for an hour instead of the agreed upon 20 minutes. However, my friend tells me, “Twenty minutes is not enough time, but I don’t want to give him a reason to get off the hook.”

This is where the sales coaching began, and we talked it through.

I said, “Don’t ask for more time. You scheduled 20 minutes. This is the first meeting. Respect his time and use 15 minutes. Then, leave.” Then I asked, “What’s the biggest mistake you could make in this meeting?” My friend responded by telling me the worst thing he could do is go in there and vomit features and benefits all over the prospect. “Man,” said my friend. “If I go into that meeting with my colleagues to speed through everything this insurance can do for him, no matter how good it really is, this guy’s going to throw me out of his office.”

“Didn’t he tell you he looked at this insurance structure in the past and it didn’t make sense? Why didn’t it?” My friend thought for a minute. “That’s it,” said my friend. “I’ll go into the meeting and just ask him about what he looked at before, and why it didn’t make sense at the time. I will not pitch him. I only have 20 minutes. I will just talk about him, and then ask him how his business has changed during the same time period. I already know how their business has changed through growth and acquisitions. I will end the meeting by scheduling a follow up during which we can discuss possible solutions, assuming what I have can even help him.”

Bingo!

Although this an abbreviated version of the conversation, my simple questions helped the sales person stop himself from making a huge mistake in going into that meeting ready to convince the prospect why his solution would work. My friend is a successful sales person, and a person one would not think needs sales training or coaching, but a little coaching got him back on track.

I think I will convert.

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Ann Rossley, CC 2.0)