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Book Club: Dave Brock on Empowering Sales Managers to be Effective Coaches

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

A rather hot topic in sales enablement lately is that of sales coaching. And that’s because organizations are realizing that when it comes to behavior change, coaching can really move the needle and unlock the potential of reps at all levels. But in order for coaching to be effective, sales managers need to know what good coaching looks like.

Today, I’m so excited to have Dave Brock, the author of “Sales Manager Survival Guide”, join us to talk about some of the strategies that he lays out in his book. Dave, I’d love it if you could just take a moment and introduce yourself to our audience.

Dave Brock: Well, first of all, thanks so much for inviting me to participate, Olivia. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. As Olivia mentioned, I’m the author of “Sales Manager Survival Guide”, and the upcoming “Sales Executive Survival Guide”. In addition to that, I run a consulting company called Partners in Excellence. There are about 15 of us. We focus on really business strategy and sales and marketing strategies with kind of a global customer base.

OF: So, in your book, you include coaching as one of the core areas of responsibility for sales managers. Why is coaching such a critical part of the sales manager role?

DB: Yeah, let me back up a little bit to provide some context. You know, you think of what the sales manager’s job is and oftentimes when I talk to people and ask them, “what’s your job,” they say it’s making the numbers. And that really isn’t the sales manager’s job. That’s your people’s job. The job of the sales manager is to maximize the performance of every person on the sales manager’s team. And one of the most powerful tools to maximize that performance is coaching. So, then you see that coaching and finding every opportunity you can to help the person recognize what they’re doing, learn about how they might improve, and how they might do it better. And in enabling them then to try new things and to improve that performance. Coaching plays such a vital role in driving performance improvement.

OF: That’s fantastic. So, we talked about why coaching is so important, but in your opinion, what is it that makes a good sales coach? So, what are some of the key skills that managers actually need to be able to conduct effective coaching sessions?

DB: So, I think there are a few things. One is you have to genuinely care. You have to care about the individual that you’re coaching. You have to care about her success and her ability to grow. Not only in what she’s doing today in the job, but what she can do in the future in terms of her future developments here, coaching both for the short-term kind of tactical execution and their long-term development as a sales professional.

So, one, you got to care. Two, you got to really listen, and not listen for the things that you want to hear but really listen and hear what they’re saying and really be curious about engaging them about how to improve. And I think the final thing, there are a whole bunch of things, but I think the final thing is you got to get your ego out of it. Too much of the time it’s about demonstrating about how smart we are, where that doesn’t really make any difference. You’re trying to make the person, the salesperson you’re coaching, as smart and as capable as possible. If we don’t get our egos out of it, we stand in the way of effective coaching.

OF: Definitely. So, you mentioned that there are different styles of coaching, but in your book, you also talk about some different ways to coach and some different types of coaching. So specifically, you differentiate between directive and non-directive coaching. So, can you explain to our audience what the difference is between those two and when each of these approaches should be used?

DB: Yeah. And I think that’s a good point because too often, I think when we learn how to coach with some people, the way they teach you how to coach is they teach you a certain style. And really to become a better coach by adopting and integrating a number of styles. And if you kind of peel back all the different things people teach you, there is kind of two fundamental ways of coaching, which is directive, which is basically as the word implies. It’s telling somebody what to do. You know, go out and see Olivia and talk to her about those issues, then come back and tell me what happened. That’s directive coaching.

Non-directive coaching is one that’s more question-based. It’s more things about asking the person to the salesperson to think about and reflect on what’s happened. So, it may be, I just made a sales call on Olivia. What were the results? What happened as a result of the sales call? What are the next steps? What are the next actions? Is there anything you might’ve done differently that could have enabled you to accomplish more? Is there anything, did you set reasonable objectives for the call, and did you accomplish all of them? Or, what could you have done better? Those kinds of things tend to be more examples of non-directive coaching where you’re trying to get the person to think about and figure things out themselves about, could I have accomplished more? What could I have accomplished?

So, the way you recognize non-directive coaching is it’s a lot of question-based things. It’s a lot of how, why, who, what, those kinds of things. So, again, the person develops better themselves. And we all know it, when somebody tells us something, it doesn’t really sink in very well. When we figure it out ourselves, we own it, we internalize it and we’re more likely to do that the next time around. And so really good coaching helps people learn. It helps the salesperson learn and at the same time it helps the sales manager learn. So, it’s kind of a collaborative learning journey.

OF: In terms of when to coach, you also wrote that coaching should really take place informally. In this virtual environment that we’re now in, how can sales managers take advantage of those opportunities to coach in the moment and informally when they might not be passing each other in the hallway or just be able to grab someone at their desk for a quick chat.

DB: Let me give a step back and give a little bit of context. As a manager, we should find as many opportunities as we can to coach and develop our people. So, part of it is we do pipeline reviews, we do deal reviews and so on, and so forth, and those have a business management context to it, but we can use those as powerful coaching vehicles as well. We can, you know, doing a deal review, get them to think about how they might approach the deal differently and help them in developing more impactful strategy, but there’ a lot of in-between spaces. In the old days before COVID, and when we used to go out on sales calls and things like that, you know, there was a lot of what we used to call windshield time. Where I might go out with a salesperson, on a call, as we’re driving out to the customer, as we were in the elevator, or in New York City going up to the offices, I start saying, “well, what are your goals for this? What are you trying to accomplish?” And so, on and so forth. So, I’d use that as an opportunity to coach and help them think.

After the call, I would say, “how did you do, what could you have done better? Might you approach some things differently?” And those kinds of things. So, you use those times. So, I basically try and find every opportunity I can to coach somebody, even if it’s for a minute or something. There’s the time we spend, we don’t see you have watercourse anymore, so there’s a time that you spend in the Starbucks line and you have the opportunity to look at something and get them to think about things differently. So, I’m kind of one of these where you always think about always be closing, from a manager’s point of view you should always be coaching.

OF: So, I mentioned in the beginning that sales coaching is such a hot topic in sales enablement right now because it can have such an impact on behavior change. But in your opinion, what is sales enablement’s role in coaching and how can enablement really be involved in helping to prepare sales managers to be more effective coaches?

DB: So, I think there were about three or four key things that are really important that sales enablement does is one train managers in how to coach. Most managers have had no formal kind of training and even though they want to coach, they don’t know how to coach. So, sales enablement can train managers informally in how to coach.

Two is, as sales enablement launches new programs for the salespeople, there’s the reinforcement, there’s kind of the activation and reinforcement phase. I mean, we’re all familiar with it, with the data that says the half-life of any sales training is less than 30 days unless there’s some sort of coaching and reinforcement. So, every new program, every new initiative that sales enablement launches should have an accompanying responsibility and coaching role for the managers.

If we’re doing say a new account management program, sales enablement needs to sit down with the managers beforehand and say, after your people have completed this account management program, you have the responsibility for coaching and reinforcing what we introduced to them in that program over this period of time. You might put together a semiformal training program or advice about how they reinforce the account management concepts and so on and so forth. And if you have that then you’ll build those skills, people will come out of that program they’ll be coached by their manager in applying those skills in real life, and they’ll build those skills and they’re far more likely to sustain those.

So, those couple of things, and there is a thing, you know, I’ve kind of gotten into debates with people in the Sales Enablement Society, and other sales enablement professionals, sometimes sales enablement gets into coaching roles. I’m working with a very large telecommunications right now where they have a small team of sales enablement professionals coaching, but what they’ve done and what I recommend is that they do it as a compliment to the sales manager, not to displace the responsibility from the sales manager. So, for instance, these coaches are spending a lot of time with new employees and helping them with the onboarding process. So, they’re doing a lot of coaching around products, around markets, around how the company works, and so on and so forth where they can do that very effectively but also in sync with what the sales manager is doing.

I do believe that there is a role for sales enablement to do some very specific coaching, but always as a compliment in reinforcement to what the sales manager is doing, not to displace the sales manager or even to give the sales manager an excuse if sales enablement people are doing coaching so I don’t need to do that. It’s a big key part of the manager’s responsibility to coach.

OF: So, we’ve talked about coaching from kind of the individual side and developing sales managers, but let’s talk about developing a coaching culture. What do you think are some of the key challenges that organizations run into when trying to establish a really strong coaching culture and then maybe how could sales enablement help to overcome some of those barriers?

DB: I think part of it is it’s hard for a sales manager to coach if that sales manager isn’t being coached herself. Managers all the way up the food chain have a responsibility for coaching. So even if I’m maybe the CRO or the CEO, I have a responsibility of coaching the people that report to me, they may be VP of sales, chief marketing officers, or so on and so forth. And the nature of that coaching and how you coach changes because they’re much more experienced, they’re much more mature and so on, but they still need coaching. And that needs to be cascaded down through the organization. So frontline sales managers should have an expectation and ask their managers to be coached, and that kind of thing. So, doing that starts to set up a coaching culture.

Two is training and learning, and so on and so forth. I think sales enablement can provide a lot to really help them on how we train our people, train our managers in how to coach, how do we in fact coach them in coaching as well.

Three, I think what sales enablement can do is provide the tools and make sure the managers are using the tools that facilitate the coaching. So, for instance, if I’m doing a deal review and all we bring up the deal in the CRM system, we look at the opportunity in the CRM system, we use that as the basis for a coaching discussion. You know, at the end of any coaching session, you want to agree on what are we going to do? What are the next steps? Who’s going to do it? Do I have some things that I need to do? Do you as the salesperson have some things you need to do? What are we going to do and by when? And we need to leverage the CRM system to record those as actions or activities.

As a manager, one of my favorite reports in Salesforce is the activity report. If we’ve sat down and agreed on some next steps and some next activities, and I pull up the report and say, Olivia hasn’t done any of those that sets up a coaching opportunity for me to say, you know, Olivia, what’s standing in the way of your ability to meet your commitments. So, helping the managers understand how they use the tools for coaching.

The other thing I think that we get wrong about coaching is people think of, and I’ve already implied this already, people think of coaching as something I do separately from the day to day business. And the reason a lot of coaching doesn’t get done is we prioritize the day to day business, and then any leftover time we have, we do for coaching. But guess what? We had no leftover time. That’s why you have to integrate coaching into everything you do when you’re sitting doing pipeline reviews, when you’re sitting doing deal reviews, when you’re going out on a customer call, when you’re debriefing on a customer call. Every single opportunity that you have, there’s a way you can inject a little bit of a coaching conversation into it.

OF: How can you really measure the impact of coaching?

DB: The ultimate way is you expect to see improvements in performance. So, you expect to see when rates go up. You expect to see maybe if you’re coaching them to increase the average deal size, you expect to see average deal size go up. You expect to see performance of percentage of people making quota, you expect to see going up. What they do want to do is you want to look at what are the leading activities, what are the leading activities that tell you that the person is internalizing the coaching that you’re giving them.

So, for instance, things like using the CRM system and saying, we’ve agreed on these next steps. I, Dave, need to do some things on this. You Olivia, you need to do some things on that. Monitoring that they’re actually executing those things is a measure that says, I know if we meet those commitments, you’re more likely to make quota than not. Quota may be a year away. So, you want to look at some of those leading things, you’ll want to start looking at, is the person, are they chasing better quality deals, more active deals, or hire a guy deal. You’re going to want to inspect them and see what’s that change over time is the quality of deals.

I have a client that went through a massive change with all their people. They wanted to take their average deal size from 10,000 a person up to a 100,000 per person. And so, what we did is we went through some training and we went through some coaching and they have planned to do this over a two-year period, but with the coaching that they instituted, they did it in nine months. In over two years, they got the average deal size up to 500,000. So, there’s some real tangible business benefit to these things. I’d say the other thing too is to be very focused.

An analogy I like to use is I attempt to play golf, I’m not sure I really play golf, but one time I got a good buddy of mine who was a really good golfer and I said, my drive just is terrible, can you help me. And he said, you know, here are the six or seven things, Dave, you need to fix. And I was getting so confused with all those six or seven things that my drive actually got worse. Then I decided to pay money to see a professional. And we started out slowly. He said, Dave, this is the one thing I want you to do right now. And then I mastered that, and he said, okay, Dave, this is the next thing you need to do. And over time, my drive started improving. It still sucks, but it started improving.

And so, I think we as managers sometimes confuse our people because we try and coach them on too many things. And, so we have to look at, we’ve adopted kind of a methodology of how we identify the highest leverage coaching opportunity and focus just on that one thing, get the person to master that, then move to the next. Then move to the next and move to the next. Oftentimes what you find you get them performing better at that one thing. And a lot of the other things that they aren’t doing well, actually disappear because there’s a ripple through effect.

OF: That’s fantastic. Well, Dave, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really, really appreciated you providing some actionable tips for our audience.

DB: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the invitation. You guys do some really important stuff, so I appreciate participating.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.