How to effectively coach long-distance or distributed sales teams

By Henrik Troselius - February 13, 2018

Coaching is an integral part of a sales team's success, but far too many organisations struggle with its execution. In fact, a figure from 2016 suggests that 73% of managers spend 5% or less of their time coaching their sales team. When you have a distributed organisation or you're a long-distance leader, it can prove to be even more difficult to successfully coach your managers and sales staff to make improvements in selling techniques, closing methodology, and customer support activities.

So how can you instill a tangible change in your team in order to improve the overall sales performance of your company? There are a few ways to go about coaching long-distance using this process.

First, have a clear picture of sales performance metrics

To be able to coach your distributed sales team, you need to have a grasp of their individual performance, weaknesses and actual coaching opportunities. Coaching shouldn't necessarily be one-size-fits all, unless it's regarding organisational change management or implementing a strategy.

But to have insight into these types of metrics, you'll need to utilize a reporting strategy. Manual reporting can take up valuable time and therefore may be done less frequently. Instead, you can opt for a comprehensive reporting tool that will allow you to see individual performance metrics and provide you insight into your whole sales team without needing to be physically present.

When you know what the teachable moments and coaching opportunities are for your sales team and individual associates, you can be prepared to implement the actual coaching. Data driven coaching is far more effective than basing your coaching opportunities upon estimations or sporadic feedback.

Create a schedule and methodology

In order to be successful in long-distance leadership, you need to have a schedule and a prescribed methodology for addressing your staff and implementing coaching. If you are in charge of other managers, ensure that you are creating regular opportunities for one-on-one meetings and brainstorms, so that they can feel that you are devoting a sufficient amount of productive time to assisting them in their leadership roles.

When it comes to coaching your sales associates, you may want to consider a methodology for prioritizing urgent cases, identifying on-the-spot learning opportunities, and create a system for checking in to make sure you aren't missing some crucial coaching opportunities. The ability to successfully coach your teams also comes from mutual respect and trust, so open lines of communication and a time commitment are necessary to ensure future progress.

Deploy self-evaluation and problem solving

Good coaching comes from clear intention, encouraging self-awareness, and active problem solving. To achieve this, help your staff think about the Why, What, and How: WHY did you get this result?, WHAT are you going to do differently? HOW are you going to do it?

Self-evaluation is one of the four ingredients of success for sales organisations, and it starts with good leadership. Encouraging your staff to look at the learning potential in every failure, poor result, or even good result, is the foundation for effective coaching.

But your staff shouldn't necessarily be required to come up with their Why What and How entirely on their own. Provide outside perspective and your own experience to help them consider factors that impact their performance in a different way. Encourage them to seek answers to Why from within their own behaviors or actions, rather than looking to blame others, or their situation. While we may not have control over some external factors in sales, we do have choices and tools at our disposal that are used in response to those factors. Without the ability to think about the Why under the context of self-evaluation, your staff may struggle through coaching.

When thinking about the What, this can be a turning point for your staff. If it is difficult for them to think of the alternatives to their actions, you may want to consider helping them through role play, examples, or discussions with other team members. Sales associates may also have fears about new sales tactics, or have trouble performing certain actions which they deem outside of their comfort zone. Coaching can allow you to effectively reassure your team that there is space for making mistakes, as long as they can be learned from. Trying new methods may be the only way to improve, but you'll be there to support them.

The How is where your staff outline the actionable steps to take. In the beginning you'll be needed, just as a coach helps a football team understand how to execute a play, you may have to provide direction. Over time, your staff will begin to learn the play book, understand the various actions that can be used, and be able to diagnose and alter their own sales activities that will improve their results.

This methodology if performed right, will elevate the staff to "self coachers." When they can self-evaluate using the Why, What, How questions, they can be better positioned to adjust their sales process and make improvements in real-time.

Follow up and seek alternatives

No coaching activity would be complete without follow-up. With your staff going through the effort and challenge of self-evaluation and improvement, you should monitor their ongoing results, and follow up with them on their progress. First, this encourages them through feeling that they have a support system and a real coach to help facilitate their growth, but also someone who can be aware when the process just isn't working. In the latter case, you may need to adopt alternative methods for individual staff, and consider that not everyone responds the same way to criticism, perceived failures, and the goal setting process. The important thing for you to remember, is that coaching is only successful when those being coached are open to it.

Long-distance leadership is often challenging, but coaching can be a necessary practice for improving your team's sales performance. Through using certain methodology, ensuring you have the right tools in place, and creating a support system for your team as they go through self-evaluation, you'll be able to handle coaching your sales staff, even from afar.

Want to help your staff be better at self-evaluation? Check out our self-evaluation checklist now.

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