What does March Madness have to do with Sales Coaching?

I love March Madness! It’s hard to be an alumnus of Indiana University within the Bobby Knight era and not be a big college basketball fan! We have a family bracket going, and I’m in a respectable 3rd place right now.

I was just explaining the result of one of the recent games and mentioned to my daughter that the losing team got “out-coached.” It made me think about coaching and how important it is in sales leadership. In particular, I’d like to share a few insights on coaching salespeople because this is a huge topic in the new world of selling, and certainly one that I hope every sales leader is spending 50% of their time on.

Sales managers should be spending 50% of their time on coaching their team. 

– Jennifer Hines

A Sales Playbook

There is a phrase in sales that says, “telling isn’t selling.” Just because you tell someone how great your product or solution is doesn’t mean the person on the opposite side of the desk is buying. In fact, I would argue that this approach creates the opposite effect.

However, if you help someone by asking great and timely questions, you can influence them to come to their own conclusion that they want to buy your product or solution.  Interestingly, coaching works in a similar way. Coaching is NOT telling people what to do, but it IS asking your team great and timely questions to help them see what they don’t see and buy-in to your solution or direction.

Effective coaching also requires a playbook, focused on a milestone- centric sales process.

– Jennifer Hines

Effective coaching also requires a playbook, and this playbook should focus on a milestone- centric sales process that not only accounts for your internal qualifying process but also the prospect’s or customer’s decision-making process. I find that most organizations are very good at internally qualifying but tend to be remiss in incorporating the buyer’s decision-making process, and the two are not alike! Sales coaching should incorporate asking your team what the customer’s decision-making process looks like (including timelines), in addition to how well they have qualified the opportunity based upon your company’s criteria.

Sales coaching should incorporate asking what the customer’s decision-making process looks like, and how well your sales team has qualified the opportunity.

– Jennifer Hines

Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

Another critical component of effective coaching is keeping your eye on the ball. It might seem like I’m referring to the score right now, but I’m not. When you think about a basketball game, you don’t see the players obsessed with looking at the scoreboard. The score is there, but their focus is on the ball, running their plays with great execution and moving the ball from one end of the court to the other, until they are in a position to score. The score is the result of effective ball handling, strong defense and precise shooting, just to name a few. The team’s effectiveness in these areas lead to how well they score or not, and it’s very similar in sales.

Changing the Score with Leading Indicators

I find that many sales leaders lead with the numbers, but generally speaking, the numbers are typically historical. They are lagging indicators. And, you can’t change the score with lagging indicators. You can, however, change it with leading indicators. In other words, effective coaching means that your eye is consistently on the sales activities that lead to the results you are after. Sales coaching needs to incorporate KPI’s that are indicative of moving the ball from one end of the court to the other and scoring successfully! In addition, there should be proactive accountability that lets the team know that you’re keeping score and coaching them to the win.

Speaking of the win…I’m not sure if I will win our family bracket this March Madness or not.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying the coaching and playing on the court almost as much as I enjoy all the analogies to sales and sales leadership!

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