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Don’t Be a Jerk – Coaching and Mentoring Sales Reps Leads to More Effective Knowledge Transfer

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richardsonsalestraining12 June 2013Blog

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We see it so often that it’s almost cliché. There is the bad guy (“the jerk”) who demands results by endlessly belittling, berating, and badgering his people.

We instantly recognise this negative behaviour and more readily gravitate toward the good guy – the nurturing coach and mentor who takes a genuine interest in teaching and supporting his people. Cliché or not, managers that wear the white hat of coach and mentor are more likely to get their people to perform better over time.

A recent study conducted by Training Industry Quarterly found that learning leaders from effective organisations reported using coaching and mentor networks almost twice as often as ineffective organisations in facilitating knowledge transfer among their employees. This seems to indicate that good ol’ fashioned dialogue can mean the difference between meeting or falling short of your objectives.

That’s not to say that the other methods of knowledge transfer are useless. Other tools and practises measured in the study included work shadowing, paired work, short-form content (e.g., quick reference guides), knowledge libraries, and e-learning modules. Used in concert, these each have a place in the development of sales reps, especially as references following some form of training.

Training is about teaching new knowledge and skills and changing existing behaviours to fulfil an objective. The training programme itself is certainly important, but what you do beyond the training event can have a tremendous impact toward achieving the desired objectives sooner and sustain them longer over time.

Beware of Negative Competition

Sales has a reputation for being a fast-paced, high-pressure, and results-oriented environment. And that’s not without reason. Many sales reps are well-compensated with generous incentives to perform. Those who don’t hit their numbers are dragging the team down and risk being cast aside for the next crop of sales trainees.

Another common element among sales forces is competition. Healthy competition can be good and, let’s face it, most sales reps are competitive by nature. However, negative competition usually fits well with the bad behaviour cited at the start of this post. Watch for it and stifle it before it gets out of control.

Yes, cracking the whip is sometimes necessary and might help some reps to achieve short-term results, but that’s not a long-term strategy for success. Repeatedly hounding and badgering certain reps will eventually take its toll. If a rep consistently misses his numbers, then maybe he is just not cut out for sales and should move on. Perhaps something else is going on that’s distracting the rep or preventing him from reaching his goals. This is where a healthy dialogue comes into play and enables sales managers to identify problems and come up with solutions to help get their reps over the hump.

If you only “drop in” when numbers are down, then you’re not getting to know your reps, including their nuances, strengths, and weaknesses (which will help direct your training efforts).

(Of course, don’t be a pushover either and allow reps to take advantage of your goodwill and nurturing tactics. If there’s cause for concern, then take the necessary steps to ensure that the underperforming reps get back on track and document your actions along the way in case more drastic decisions are required down the road.)

Foster a Coaching Culture

Coaching sales reps with a focus on and intent to not only help them hit their numbers, but also to grow and develop their selling skills has many benefits. In these cases, managers send a clear signal that “I want you on my team, and I want to see you do well.” Other research shows that employees leave bad bosses, not their company. If a sales manager can build trust with his reps, that should in turn increase employee satisfaction and thus engagement and performance.

Heads of sales trying to encourage a culture of coaching among their sales managers may find it difficult to achieve if it runs counter to the culture of the broader organisation. When senior leaders believe in the power and effectiveness of coaching and mentoring, their actions and words will trickle down throughout the organisation to drive that behaviour.

Mentor networks not only help to maintain a coaching culture, but also provide stellar reps with the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise with those who need it. It empowers the mentors, gives them a taste of what it would be like to become a sales manager, and establishes a mechanism for unlocking their wisdom and imparting it throughout the organisation. Just be careful to rein in rogue reps’ philosophies and ideas before unleashing them on innocent learners – be sure you can trust the mentors to teach and reinforce the right behaviours.

Do your managers know how and when to coach? Do you encourage sales managers to coach their reps? Do you assume that they coach reps? Or do you just worry about other things as long as everyone makes their numbers?

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