Coaching is the most effective tool for managers to improve sales performance. There are various types of coaching: deal coaching, pipeline coaching, call coaching, developmental coaching, and so on. For many leaders, it’s hard to know which to focus on: what will have the most significant impact on revenue?
In addition to coaching focuses, managers should also consider the different coaching models to develop their reps’ skills. These techniques help to facilitate behavior change that leads to long-term performance improvement and growth.
What is a Coaching Model?
A coaching model is a structured but flexible way to approach a coaching session, and it keeps the conversation focused on forward movement and achieving results. While traditional mentoring is usually an ongoing or long-term relationship that focuses on one person imparting their wisdom to another, a coaching conversation is short-term, collaborative, and focused on addressing a particular problem or achieving a specific goal.
What are the Most Popular Coaching Models?
Many coaching models exist, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. Three of the most popular coaching models for sales teams include GROW, OSKAR, and CLEAR.
GROW is the most popular performance coaching model, and it works by taking you through the following steps:
Goal. Define the goal. Most goals are SMART goals or process goals. SMART goals focus on the result and are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Process goals are focused on building the habits or processes necessary to achieve SMART goals.
Reality. What is the current reality? You’re having this conversation because the rep missed a goal or has a skill gap to be closed. What is the present situation making your sales rep feel stuck or fall short of their targets?
Options and Obstacles. Explore options for addressing the obstacles that stand between your sales rep and their stated goal. These options can be internal (behavior change), external (skills or training or conflict resolution), or a combination of the two. If the solution isn’t immediately obvious, take some time to brainstorm together.
Way Forward. This final step is the linchpin for a good coaching conversation. What are the specific actions the rep should take to overcome or move past the existing obstacles? What timeline will they follow? What support or accountability do they need to ensure this happens?
The GROW model is highly customizable for your sales organization’s specific processes and business goals.
How to use GROW to Coach a Salesperson
Goal. As a manager, it’s tempting to name the goal you want your sales rep to achieve. But making the most of the GROW coaching model requires that you approach this step by asking open-ended questions like: What do you (the sales rep) want to accomplish? Let your sales rep name their goal and take ownership of it.
Depending on the situation, you may need to ask follow-up questions to clarify the goal or make sure it aligns with your company or department goals. But make sure that you’re empowering your sales rep to own their goals. They will be more motivated to change and do the work required.
Reality. As you discuss the current situation, ask questions like, “What do you see as the main reason or reasons why you haven’t achieved this goal already? What have you tried? What has helped and what hasn’t?” The purpose here isn’t to accuse or make the sales rep feel like they shouldn’t have a problem; the goal is to create an open and candid environment where they recognize opportunities for growth and feel comfortable enough to share those with you.
Give your sales rep the time and space for earnest, honest self-reflection. If you sense there might be more than the sales rep is sharing, slow down the conversation and ask a follow-up question, such as, “The way you’re answering makes me think you’ve thought about this before. I’m wondering if there might be something here that you haven’t thought of already. Take a minute and really think about it. What’s standing between you and this goal?” It may be helpful to remind your sales rep that there is no right or wrong answer. You’re helping them explore the current reality so that you can work together to address the problem or move towards a goal.
Options and Obstacles. As you discuss obstacles and opportunities for addressing them, make sure you let your sales rep share their ideas first. Sometimes, employees simply need a sounding board. With some reflection from you, they’re able to identify their obstacles and options and come up with a plan to move forward. Other times, you’ll need to provide options. This is especially true if the obstacle your employee faces is skills-related; you may be in a better position to suggest what skills they need to acquire and their options for doing so. Just remember to turn the conversation back around and give them the ability to identify which options make sense to them and which ones they plan to pursue. You may need to provide some guidance on prioritization; after all, there are specific metrics you need the rep to hit.
Way Forward. Keep the focus on your sales rep and ask, “What will you do next? What are the specific actions you will take? When will you do those things? What support do you need?” If the person you’re coaching struggles with the answer, it’s okay to help guide them or offer suggestions, but encourage them to repeat back to you, in their own words, what they plan to do. Don’t forget to celebrate with them how far they have come, and how you’re excited to support them as they continue their professional development.
Since coaching models are designed to provide a flexible structure for forward movement, it’s helpful to keep multiple models in mind. Look over these additional models and make notes about the ones that may fit your coaching program.
The OSKAR coaching model is a solutions-based framework that emphasizes progress and positive achievement. To use the OSKAR model, guide your coaching conversation through the following steps:
Outcome or Objective. Ask your rep: “What do you want to achieve? What challenge should we address, and what would it look like if that problem or issue gets resolved successfully?”
Scale. On a scale of 1-10, ask your sales rep how close he or she thinks they are to solving the problem. Remind them that there’s no right or wrong answer. It will give them and you some insight into how optimistic or frustrated they may feel about reaching a successful resolution to the problem.
Know-How. What does your sales rep need to move forward? Do they need training? More information about a product or process? Do they need help overcoming specific objections?
Affirm & Action. Affirm the things your sales rep does well. These can be broad in terms of the rep’s overall performance, but ideally, it will focus on what they have done well related to the problem at hand. Affirmation will help your sales rep feel more confident about their existing skills and be more open to the behavior changes that are necessary for performance improvement.
The next step is to identify and name the specific actions that your sales rep will now do as a result of this conversation. Make sure the actions are specific and have an associated timetable. An easy way to accomplish this is by leveraging Coaching Plans that outline the end objective, what the rep needs to do to achieve it, and a specific date the rep should hit the target.
Review. Take a minute to review the conversation. Ask your sales rep, “What surprised you about our conversation?” or “Did you have any additional ideas that you wanted to share?” This is also an appropriate time for you to notice and reflect back to your sales rep things they did well. For example, “I noticed that you didn’t try to gloss over the problem; you named it, and you owned it. I appreciated that.”
OSKAR coaching can be a particularly useful model when you have a sales rep that needs high levels of affirmation. Just make sure the conversation doesn’t fail to move forward. The goal is still to identify a specific action plan and timeline.
The CLEAR model is less structured than GROW or OSKAR, but has similarities to both, and includes five steps: Contracting, Listening, Exploring, Action, and Review. The CLEAR model may be beneficial in situations where you suspect a sales rep primarily needs space to talk and be heard. If, however, you find that the conversation gets stuck and the employee isn’t making improvement, you may want to switch over to another coaching model, like GROW.
Worth mentioning are deal and pipeline coaching because they are often more regimented and less flexible than say, call coaching.
Deal coaching is for coaching sales reps on specific opportunities. This method may be preemptive to helping a deal close or serve as a post-mortem for lost deals. Deal coaching helps sales reps identify levers they can pull to help move an opportunity along or skills they should further develop to help with future contracts. While you’ll ask questions to assess problems and help the employee improve, the questions are much less open-ended in this model, and the goal or outcome is more likely to be set by the manager.
Pipeline coaching is possibly the most regimented type of coaching. Managers coach reps on the number of deals, their projections on what will close when, and which stage opportunities are at in the sales process. It’s much more focused on processes and outcomes than skills and behaviors. Pipeline coaching needs to be an ongoing effort–not a roundabout way to address missed quotas. It also builds a feedback loop into the team structure, which can be incredibly helpful for a manager, enabling them to learn about process problems early and work with their sales team to address them.
What Makes Sales Coaching Successful?
Sales performance coaching is successful when you see behavior change that leads to long-term performance improvement. After a fruitful coaching conversation, a sales rep feels empowered and has a clear understanding of the next steps they need to take to solve a problem or achieve a goal, along with the timeline they will follow. As a result of a strong coaching program, sales organizations will see higher revenue and greater employee engagement.
Companies looking to build out an effective coaching program need to consider the different models and the coaching styles of their managers. They must also consider the reps’ perspective and ensure the program helps them grow and develop.
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