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Sales coaching, training and process- chicken or the egg?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 4/27/16 3:26 PM

This post started as a debate between sales coaching and training- which should come first? 

And then I realized it doesn’t really matter because the majority of the time, given the choice, people will choose training, or marketing, over sales coaching first. Why? Because it is easier. Even if we know that doing the hard thing is what it will take to be successful, we try the easy thing first- just in case it does work and we can avoid the hard thing. It’s not until we fail, or are in a spot where we have tried everything else that is easy, that we will do the hard thing.

Or until we find something that is worth doing the hard things for.

Why is sales training and process easier than sales coaching?

Changing how we think about sales, and as a result, changing our behavior, are the hardest things we can do. It also doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a once and done approach. If only you could just read a book, watch a series of videos, attend seminars, and presto- you’ve changed the way you sell. Why? As much as we might might know what we should do, and are capable of doing it in a classroom, it doesn’t mean that we will do it on a sales call.

It’s the same reason we will spend money on marketing- we hope that some magic will happen and that we won’t have to do the hard work of fundamental selling. Maybe we won’t have to face the rejection when people say no or don’t respond. Or battle with our need for approval when we might have to do something that someone else won’t like. Or struggle to control our emotions when we get unexpected challenges and objections.

It’s just easier to hide in sales training looking for the magic script, and or the right sequence of steps in the process. Engaging in real and meaningful ways with humans is tricky. Maybe we can get a robot or automated email workflow to do that for us?

After all, people love it when they have to call a company, press a bunch of numbers at the prompt of a robot when they want an answer to a question. Look at how well that worked for the customer service departments! (insert sarcasm here)

Does coaching mean that sales training and process isn’t really needed?

Even if you are a solo-preneur who does all the sales, you need a process. How else will you know what activities are leading to the outcomes and results you want? How else can you ever hope to duplicate success?

So yes, a system is needed. But it’s not the answer if salespeople don’t follow the system, nor if sales managers don’t hold people accountable to the system. But most important, if the system is arbitrary and not designed around the buyer process of your ideal buyer.

So the next question you might be asking is how do you design a sales process, and sales training, that is in complete alignment with the buyer?

But what we really need to be asking is- how clearly can we see, understand, and empathize with our buyer’s process? How well can we get inside their head if we can’t get out of our own head? Are we the salesperson our buyer wants, or the sales person our buyer needs?

Ok, so how should sales training, process and coaching work together?

This is the chicken and egg part. You can’t have one without the other. And the reality is, if you know what you are doing, you are using a process. Within a larger organization the question becomes- who knows what they are doing?

If you haven’t read the book “Switch: How to change things when change is hard”. I recommend it. It describes how successful change happens and is a great analogy to how sales training, process (and even marketing), and sales coaching should be working together.

Sales training, like marketing, is a one to many approach. If you have 100 salespeople, it’s easier (for the company) to teach certain things in a classroom rather than on 100 1:1 coaching calls. Even initial role plays between classmates can be beneficial, but the real change will happen 1:1 with a coach and a sales evaluation report to address the specific DNA of the salesperson.

However, individuals benefit the most when process, skills training and DNA development are intertwined in a highly personalized 1:1 approach that addresses the individual in specific situations against the backdrop of the sales evaluation.

If sales process is a systematic approach, then how do you define the system and steps? Wouldn’t it make sense to have salespeople who have mastered the fundamentals be the in-the-field resource to feedback to leadership how the system is designed to be in alignment with the buyer of today?

And if sales training is the ability to understand how the product solves the buyer’s problem, then wouldn’t it make sense to first make sure that they understand the buyer’s problem? That they know how to ask questions that get to why it is a problem, why is it worth solving, how they have already tried to solve it?

Aren’t the ones best to answer these questions the very ones that are talking to customers everyday? Why then are we designing training and process without them, and then expecting them to get it? Is it any wonder that no one is following the process (if it even exists) and that the training gets lost with 90-120 days?

Why aren’t we starting with the people who are going to be implementing the process to begin with? Wouldn’t it be more effective to do as the book Switch directs and give them a vision, uncover their motivations, and then focus on the behaviors that gets everyone to the goal?

I have said this over and over “ If we want to fix sales, we must fix the salespeople first.”. But really, the salespeople have to want to fix themselves.

Do you want success? No really- some people say they do, but they really don’t. They want just enough that doesn't require stepping outside what they are comfortable with. But for those who believe in abundance, just enough isn’t enough. To have success that is more than just enough, isn’t it going to require a different you?

Topics: sales process, sales coach, sales training