How to coach a minor league sales rep into a major league player
5 practices for turning B-level employees into A-level salespeople
Every job is a sales job. Sales are exchanges. In the wine and spirit business, the most common exchange is that of money for product. Buy this whiskey. Purchase that Burgundy. Importers and distributors tend to emphasize exchanges involving alcoholic goods and, to a lesser extent, customer service. This simplified model fails to account for the other types of sales necessary to be successful in this industry:
Owners and executives need to sell their vision and mission to safeguard their company’s reputation and integrity.
Administrators need to sell their processes to ensure that their company runs smoothly.
Managers need to sell themselves to guarantee the company’s goals are achieved.
Whether managers oversee portfolios or people, their foremost objective is to gain the trust and respect of their suppliers or sales team. It’s hard to listen to someone you don’t think highly of.
Assuming this first objective has been realized, successful coaching requires:
Here are five practices for coaching sales reps to optimal performance:
Provide real, meaningful, and constant feedback. Quarterly, annual, or bi-annual performance reviews don’t cut it. Do you know any athlete that speaks to their coach only once or a few times a year? Short weekly or bi-weekly conversations provide insight as to what’s going wrong and what’s going right. Make clear that the feedback was heard and return to future conversations having adjusted the strategy, where appropriate, to show that everyone is accountable.
Don’t waste a rep’s time. Holding weekly conversations doesn’t mean you’ll be burdening your reps with fuller schedules if you don’t hold unnecessarily long and/or frequent sales meetings. Four back-to-back suppliers presenting PowerPoints is no one’s idea of a good or effective use of time. Try aggregating information into a memo so that it can be read and digested before or at the beginning of the meeting. If it works for Amazon and Twitter, it should be good enough for the wine and spirit trade. You will save hours. These are hours that reps can now use to sell, organize, or, frankly, relax. All of these things are better uses of time.
Level up your reps’ skills. Figure skating coaches talk about techniques and soccer coaches talk about tactics. Neither focuses on scores or points because those things are the result of practiced and honed skills. If your discourse with a rep is only about accounts opened and cases sold, you aren’t a coach, you’re a scorekeeper. A good manager-coach aids their reps in acquiring the skills required for success.
Preemptively train your reps for the next stage of success. A rep who might be great at cold calling might need help learning how to manage a 100-customer account run. Understand what future success might look like for that rep and plan accordingly. Letting a second-year rep know during a review that they should be focused on growing business at pre-existing accounts rather than opening new ones is a failure of management and not the rep.
Stack goals on top of purpose. Effective coaching is dependent on the alignment of the individual’s and organization’s needs. Don’t submit to the fallacy that the company’s success and the rep’s success are equivalent. Just because the company’s goals were met doesn’t mean the rep’s ambitions were fulfilled. If the sales rep exceeded a quota at the cost of their own happiness or desires, it’s all for naught. That kind of short-termism will cast a shadow on the manager’s ability to get the very best from a salesperson.
Vision and mission are not the same thing. A mission is a roadmap for today and a vision is a plan for the future. Employees need to possess a clear understanding of both to execute their roles efficiently.
The people we trust and respect are those we find most compelling. These are people that successfully balance the traits of likability and authority.
Not everyone can be coached. According to Lillian Valdez, someone is coachable if they are: curious, self-aware, action-oriented, accountable, willing to try new things, and long-term oriented. These would be qualities worth screening for during the hiring process.