Tim, our representative speaking ‘from the field’, turns his attention to the loaded issue of sales coaching.
There is no such thing as a perfect representative. Sorry, but this includes you. As evidence, I cite the increasing importance of coaching. If representatives couldn’t improve, we wouldn’t need coaching. I’m sure your manager would love to have a team who were all as good as they could possibly be. This would drastically reduce their coaching requirements, allowing the manager to spend more time planning and shopping. But the manager is an important cog in the wheel of self-development. This is especially true when it comes to new representatives.
For most sales representatives, the manager is the person who will provide the most coaching over the course of their career. Therefore it is necessary to have a good coach-coachee relationship with your manager. You need to understand each other’s expectations, aims and objectives. One way of doing this is to draw up a contract that defines the agreed actions and behaviours. This is good practice, but in reality how often does it happen? I can count the number of people I know with a written agreement of this kind on the fingers of no hands.
This does not mean that you and your manager cannot have an understanding of each other. If you are not sure what your manager expects, ask them. If there is an area of development you would like to pursue, tell them. If they have expectations of you, listen to them. An informal agreement can include basics such as how much notice you would like before a field visit, as well as more important factors such as how to assess improvement and, crucially, how to celebrate achievement.
Whether or not you have a written coaching contract, it is vital that you remember the agreement is two-way. You have to fulfil your part of the bargain. When your manager asks after a call “How do you think that went?” it is not always because they don’t know. Your answer to this question shows not only your understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, but also your level of commitment to improving yourself. Replies such as “I don’t know, what did you think?” or “You’re the coach, you tell me” are not productive.
Coaching is important: it can make a huge difference to our skills and our results. It’s not easy to discuss with your manager what you both expect from each other, but it will help you to get the most out of your field visits. And as one representative said to me last week, “The better I perform on a field visit, the less often I get my manager out with me.” Not the most positive of attitudes, perhaps – but like our customers, we are all motivated by different things!