Coaching staff members on consultative selling methods, then establishing a strong administrative system based on a "coaching culture" can help build a more successful practice.

Coaching—from sports to business management—is recognized as one of a manager’s most important activities along with recruiting, motivating, and assigning accountability.1-2 In order to help people capitalize on their strengths and overcome personal obstacles to attain their next level of expertise, a coach must focus on high return on investment (ROI) skills, implement a strong selling system, understand the hand you’ve been dealt, and track metrics.

This article examines deterrents to coaching and de-mystifies the process by providing ideas and tools that help create a coaching culture for generating a high ROI. In Rethinking the Sales Force, Neil Rackham & John deVincentis note, “Studies of high-performance consultative sales forces consistently show that systematic high-quality coaching is the most important single tool for developing performance.”3

When to Coach
High-performance business managers crave high-performance staff members. But when should you put on your coach’s hat? While the vast majority of people need some form of coaching, a person involved in the dispensing of hearing aids is sending a strong signal when he/she:

• Always asks for “special” low pricing;
• Lacks motivation and drive;
• Lacks confidence and has difficulty recovering from rejection;
• Continually accepts stalls and put-offs;
• Finds it impossible to recommend top-of-the-line products.

Of course, these are only a few examples from an extensive list. But even if you notice only a few of these signals, keep in mind that increased product “commoditization” makes staff members a critical point of differentiation—your company’s competitive edge. If you accept this proposition, then coaching takes on the utmost importance.

Why Not Coach?
Considering the positive results derived from effective coaching, why does coaching often get overlooked?

Lack of experience. Many managers don’t know how to coach in a consultative-selling environment. First of all, they may not have been coached in it, or perhaps they experienced previous success in a more clinical or transactional environment (eg, they did the testing and diagnostics, and the fitting, counseling, and aural rehabilitation process was left to another professional). Consultative selling is very different from a transactional sale; it requires management’s involvement beyond hiring professionals who “know it all.” In today’s business world, change is constant and staff members need to be strategically and tactically “on board.” Entrepreneurs need to learn how to coach their personnel on the effective counseling and dispensing related to appropriate products/services.

Lack of training. In other businesses, many sales managers are promoted because they were naturally talented, top sales performers. In a hearing care office that requires consultative selling skills, however, these complex “people-oriented” skills must be learned. Without appropriate training in how to coach, entrepreneurs too often play the role of the “white knight” rescuing the deal. They simply can’t see themselves as a developer of sales people who consistently outperform their manager. Frequently, these same business managers are frustrated by a staff member’s inability to produce the results they are accustomed to generating themselves.

Lack of understanding. Business managers who assume their coaching is done when they point out to their staff areas for improvement have an overly simplistic view of this skill. They don’t understand that the process for delivering long-term behavior change should include an awareness of the skill gap, knowledge, application, reinforcement, and accountability.

At a recent national conference for sales managers, I asked the question, “Why don’t you invest time in coaching your sales people?” Their responses demonstrated a general lack of understanding about the coaching process, skills and potential ROI:

• I don’t like listening to their complaining.
• I’m busy taking care of my own accounts.
• They’ll come to me when they need my help.
• That rep is so stuck in his ways, he’ll never change.
• I’m too busy going to management meetings.
• I don’t know where to begin.
• I’m so busy with day-to-day issues.

Creating a Coaching Culture
Here are some practical ideas for developing a coaching culture:

Focus on high ROI skills and beliefs. How does a business manager know where to focus their coaching effort to maximize performance? Start with an assessment tool that provides objective information about the “selling” beliefs of the staff member. This information is a reliable source for determining how to best coach him/her to maximize results. Without this type of information, you may have your eye on the wrong ball.

One business manager I worked with felt that his sales people always needed help in the closing process and spent all of his coaching time on this step. In reality, his sales people were having difficulty with the discovery phase, believing it was impolite to ask questions. Without answers to the right questions, outstanding closing skills, and consultative sales strategies are useless!

As a sales manager, Objective Management Group’s (OMG) sales evaluation helps identify beliefs that are sabotaging the dispensing professional’s efforts. Then I focus my coaching on those areas that would address these beliefs.

For example, as a sales manager, I had a representative who frequently said, “They don’t have the money in their budget.” Through extensive research, OMG has determined that there are a number of beliefs that are not helpful in the consultative sales process:

• I should have the best price.
• It’s impolite to talk about money.
• If there isn’t enough money in their budget. I can’t get more.

Since a discomfort talking about money can negatively impact sales results by up to 24%, I decided that my coaching and training efforts needed to focus on these belief systems. Until my salesperson could talk comfortably and confidently about money and budgets, this objection would haunt him forever!

There are many management tools available that can assist a manager of a small business in this endeavor. Quick Coach4 is one example of a CD full of helpful ideas on how to start coaching. I use it to access coaching suggestions for a representative’s identified roadblock. The program offers positive affirmations, recommends books on coaching, and other training and coaching resources. In short, it provides a mini-course for creating a coaching culture.

Introducing more productive ways of thinking can be a coaching challenge. A staff member who has the desire to be successful, the unconditional commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful (ie, within solid professional and ethical parameters), and the willingness to take personal responsibility for their success will be able to adjust their mindsets once they understand the benefits to their clients, the business/practice, and their own professional development.

Implement a Strong System Reliant on Consultative Sales
A strong system provides a framework for assessing needs and measuring progress, including:

• Clear steps that can be inspected and monitored;
• A common language for planning and debriefing on office visits;
• A framework for making joint decisions regarding sales when needed.

For example, when I initially started working with a high-end IT consulting company, they were convinced that their sales cycle could not be less than 18 months. They agreed that it would be valuable to have a shorter sales cycle, but that it would be impossible to attain. We documented their selling process and optimized it to ensure every interaction with the prospect was maximized. In creating this process, they created a common language for the entire sales organization that ensured more effective pre-call planning, call execution, post-call debriefing. These processes reduced the average sales cycle to 15 months, resulting in improved margins and cash flow for the company.

Although hearing instrument dispensing is obviously a completely different type of environment, there are many analogous situations relative to client “hand-holding” and consultative selling. A strong system combined with a skilled business manager who coaches staff members via a focused process builds the confidence of the staff and initiates exploration into new ways to be successful. Ultimately, this will reap personal and bottom-line rewards for everyone.

Understand the Hand-You’ve-Been-Dealt
One tool that can help a manager of a small business determine the best approach in coaching for success is the “Hand-You’ve-Been-Dealt” quadrant5 developed by John Condry of Cornerstones Management, a management consulting firm (Figure 1). Once you determine which quadrant your staff member is in, you can determine the best coaching strategy: 1) terminate or transfer; 2) train and provide personal goal development; 3) retain and provide growth opportunities, or 4) maintain and monitor performance.

figureFigure 1. The Hand-You’ve-Been-Dealt quadrant system, developed by John Condry5 is a useful way to assess coaching goals for staff members.

For example, Jim, an office products company president, had two sales people who weren’t hitting revenue targets. Jack had been with the company for about 9 months and had not hit any quick-start targets. He seemed to always make excuses for his non-performance. “The competition is giving product away; how do you expect me to compete when you don’t give me the negotiating room I need?” and “I don’t get enough technical support. If you want me to sell, I need more support.” After evaluating Jack’s performance, Jim put Jack into the first quadrant with poor attitude and low competence. Jim had three options:

1. Talk to Jack about personal responsibility for results to move him to quadrant two where there would be ROI in training efforts
2. Transfer him to another department
3. Terminate his employment

Jim had to coach Jack differently than Nancy. Nancy was new to the company. She had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and was very trainable. However, she lacked product knowledge and selling skills. She had a good attitude but poor skills, earning her a spot in quadrant #1. The required action to move her to quadrant four was training. In understanding “the hand he was dealt,” Jim was able to more clearly identify what action steps were needed.

Track Metrics
Another process that managers find helpful in determining where to begin coaching is to inspect the staff member’s metrics and his/her ratios in each step of the consultative selling process. For example, what’s the value of each sale? Is the staff member’s dispensing activity in line with your or others’ activities? Are there greater returns associated with his/her clients? Although the sales steps and metrics will vary based on the field, market, and the types of products and services, by inspecting these metrics on a regular basis, a business manager can diagnosis areas of constraint then focus coaching on these particular steps of the process.

Personal Proof
A typical assessment by a sales person I encountered attests to the power of effective sales coaching: “It’s so helpful to have an objective person to debrief [client visits] with, someone who can help me identify the roadblocks that seem to block my way repeatedly.”

Linda Richardson in her book, Sales Coaching, sums up the critical need for effective coaching in business: “Even if an organization has a compelling vision, even it is highly market-oriented, and even if it has sales systems, without developmental coaching as a way of life and feedback as a mainstay of communication, its management and sales people cannot continuously improve and get to the next level fast enough.”6

Hearing instrument dispensing is a complex task that demands a high degree of audiological knowledge, fitting experience, and counseling skills, as well as a highly ethical approach to helping people who suffer from hearing loss. However, dispensing offices/practices rely on the many of same consultative sales principles that make most small businesses successful. A hearing care business/practice—including the owner and his/her staff members—stands to benefit significantly from basic coaching in consultative sales.

f05a.jpg (8493 bytes)Danita Bye is president of Sales Growth Specialists (SGS) Inc, Minneapolis, a company that specializes in helping business owners increase their revenue-generating capabilities.

References
1. Bye D. Five steps to building a great team. Hearing Review. 2003;10(7):28-31.
2. Bye D. Creating a team culture of personal accountability. Hearing Review. 2004;11(4):40-44,69.
3. Rackham N, DeVincentis J. Rethinking the Sales Force: Redefining Selling to Create and Capture Customer Value. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1999.
4. Sierra Management Solutions. Quick Coach CD. Gold River, Calif: SMS.
5. Condry J. The Hand-You’ve-Been-Dealt quadrant. Information presented in: Career Success Seminars. Cornerstones Management: Orem, Utah.
6. Richardson L. Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1996.
Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Danita Bye, Sales Growth Specialists, 1160 Cherokee Rd, Long Lake, MN 55356; email: dbye10@mchsi.com.