It was a bright sunny day, and I was accompanying Sam and his Account Executive (AE) to meet a customer. I had joined them to observe how Sam was coaching his team member on the Field.
As is typical of busy sales managers, Sam and his AE got down to discussing the objectives of the meeting in the car ride to the customer’s office. This deal could make or break the quarter and they were keen to close it. After a few minutes, they ticked off 3 strategies that they wanted to use during the meeting –
1. Force the customer to take a decision this week
2. Throw in some discounts to sweeten the deal, and
3. Use the language of “license compliance” to force the customer’s hand in case they choose not to close.
Observing this interaction, I was struck by how little had changed on the Sales Field in the last two decades. The world may have moved on to Challenger Selling, but the behaviours exhibited on the Field were far from the behaviours that customers expected from salespeople nowadays. This last minute frenetic push to close the deal, damages relationships and undoes all quality work put in prior.
And for me, this was a wonderful coaching moment –
“What value have we created with this customer, that will earn you the right to drive some momentum in this conversation?” I asked.
Both of them intellectually understood the impact of my question, but I could sense the emotional struggle in them. They were wondering – How do we balance the pressures of the “now” (Quota) with the unexplored possibilities of creating a differentiated customer experience?
I continued, “What should you be doing in this meeting today, so as to get the customer to say, “That’s the best one hour I have spent in the last 2 months!”. Both of them smiled nervously. They didn’t care what the customer thought, all they wanted to do was close the deal.
On any given day, there are millions of such interactions that salespeople are conducting with their managers, and these interactions are the best time to engage in ‘Just-in-time’ Field Coaching. If every powerful customer meeting is “three parts preparation, and one part execution”, how can the Sales Manager coach to the customer experience? In my mind, this is the missing piece in transforming behaviour on the Field – the ability to coach to the customer interaction.
In sales, In-Field coaching beats coaching in the office by a wide margin. In order to make significant impact, coaching needs to happen in the Field where salespeople are engaging with prospects and customers. There are several advantages with Field coaching –
1. Witnessing first hand how the salesperson speaks to the customer or handles a meeting helps in accurately gauging their performance and professionalism.
2. It provides an opportunity for the manager to get to know the individual behind the salesperson.
3. Every meeting teaches the manager more about the business, market, account and the sales talent available on the field.
4. The manager can provide feedback to the salesperson that is both timely and specific.
5. It helps in creating sustainable behaviour changes and teaches sales professionals to solve their own problems.
6. Over a period of time, it helps in increasing win rates.
Field coaching is unique as it happens on the job and is therefore more effective. It happens ‘in the moment’ like a sports coach who stands on the sidelines and coaches even during the game. This gives the team member a chance to apply new behaviours and make changes right away. Yet, many sales managers are still focused on short term effectiveness and not long term competence.
I see a lot of organisations investing in Coaching and wanting to build a coaching culture within the organisation. This is a step in the right direction and will provide managers with the core capabilities required to coach their team. However, if this coaching does not land at the critical interfaces that creates value, then coaching remains a theory and a process that managers pay lip service to.
There are some progressive organisations that are now realising the power of coaching on the Field in aspects such as meeting preparation, customer conversation, driving outcomes, higher order behaviour change, cross selling/upselling, orchestration between team members, creating customer consensus, and so on.
The important question is – which kind of organisation are you? Are you an organisation that is paying lip service to Coaching by teaching the process or are you landing Coaching on the Field at the interface that matters the most – your customer!