The new ABC of sales: Always be coaching

Many of us may recall the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross that depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a trainer, Blake, to “motivate” them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired.

Blake, played by Alec Baldwin unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse on the men as his form of training and one of his most infamous lines is “ABC – always be closing”. This infamous line has become synonymous with some sales motivational speakers and some industries as a way to motivate salespeople to make more sales. However, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

We are here, instead, to offer an alternative to the aforementioned ABC of selling and Blake’s abuse and threats disguised as sales training.

In one of our most recent sales managers’ coaching workshops, Belinda Dawes, an SCA sales manager, offered an alternative ABC for sales. Her offering was far more palatable: Always be coaching.

We couldn’t agree more. In today’s complex and busy world, salespeople need effective and ongoing coaching and mentoring.

Sales coaching is not simply a function of giving a salesperson help or guidance. Nor is it only about reminding, or teaching salespeople about skills. Sales coaching is a process that starts with the development of an effective, focused sales strategy, creating and developing the right talent, then introducing disciplines that are understood by the sales team.

It is only when these three basic pillars are in place that sales leaders are able to perform their responsibilities as coaches and mentors effectively. This is the other ABC of sales.

Sales strategies

Whilst executive management will develop grand, organisation-wide strategies and branch management develop regional strategies (with or without the involvement of sales management), sales leaders are charged with developing operational sales strategies for each of the segments covered by their teams. These strategies focus on providing salespeople with an inspirational vision for increasing market-share, developing new business or increasing the share of wallet.

Time and territory management are the responsibility of salespeople, however, to be truly effective, territory plans need direction. That responsibility (for direction) is vested in sales leaders. But there is another reason why sales strategy is such an important part of effective coaching.

As mature as salespeople may be, they generally can’t see the wood for the trees, often getting caught up in side issues that do little to progress sales activity. Setting the scene and presenting the basis for an effective territory plan is the role of good sales leadership.

Sales leadership is about:

  • Inspiring people;
  • Gaining their commitment to a shared vision;
  • Translating the vision into activities; and
  • Coaching their sales teams to meet the expectations and undertake these activities as effectively as possible.

Talent creation

Sales leaders are charged with the responsibility of identifying the right people for the role, nurturing their abilities and encouraging them to be more innovative in their approach.

Too often, however, sales leaders inherit salespeople for their team. To add to their challenge, they can’t easily change the composition or profile, very often having to make do with the talent they have.

What separates effective sales leaders from transactional sales managers is the manner in which they work with the talent they have, not the speed with which they remove what they consider under-performers.

Sales coaching and mentoring are about equalising the playing field. About ensuring that every member of the sales team has the appropriate level of support, guidance and reinforcement to ensure optimal effectiveness in contributing to the realisation of the vision for the sales team.

Sales discipline

Lots of salespeople are inherently undisciplined, not because they wilfully disobey direction, but because they are instinctively creative – if only in the way they approach sales opportunities. Sales leaders are therefore duty bound to balance discipline with focus; momentum with involvement.

A continual challenge facing sales leaders is being able to institute disciplines that do not restrict the creativity of salespeople yet keep them focused and maintains the momentum needed to effectively sell. This means that there are times when sales leaders will have to make harsh decisions and live with the consequences. It also means they have to introduce protocols that help maintain discipline.

Discipline is not a euphemism for punishment. It is establishing the rules and making sure that the guidelines are known and understood and then maintaining adherence to them. However, too often salespeople see these “rules” as being too restrictive.

The key to effective discipline is to involve salespeople in creating the rules, using the sales leader’s greater experience, maturity and knowledge of the “bigger picture” to set the parameters.

Always be coaching

The sales coach and mentor

Without any debate, the most important task for sales leaders (if not sales managers) is the development of the people in their sales teams as professional, effective sales executives.

Sales leaders are not expected to be sales training specialists, but are expected to coach, mentor and reinforce the skills salespeople have acquired and ensure that these are applied as effectively as possible.

This means that sales leaders must develop and hone their coaching and mentoring skills.

Coaching is the practice of supporting an individual through the process of achieving a specific personal or professional result.

Mentoring is a process in which a more experienced person helps a less experienced person through the informal transmission of knowledge, behaviour and psychosocial support. It is always the result of an earned trust-based relationship between mentor and protégé.

So let’s bring a new ABC of sales to the fore: Always be coaching.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform Get to know her further on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


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