Personalized Sales Coaching

In our third and final POV on sales coaching, we’ll take a look at behavioral coaching techniques – the “art” of coaching. Once your organization adopts a coaching model, the next step is to personalize the techniques based on the individuals’ competencies and needs.  Coaching can help elevate a sales rep’s game, but only if the rep is open to feedback. And even then, the feedback must be tailored for that particular rep.

The Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) is a powerful tool that when used properly, helps leaders understand not just their own way of thinking, but that of their reps and customers as well.

Master trainer, author, and creative-thinking expert Ned Hermann was determined to answer a perplexing question: Why do only some people in the room understand the messages we’re delivering?

Ned researched the traditional model of thinking preferences, digging deeper into “left brain/right brain” theory.  Left-brain people are thought of as more structured data driven, logical, analytical, and quantitative.  Right-brain people are thought of as more creative, holistic, free thinking, interpersonal, and emotional.

Ned, who for many years led training efforts at GE, theorized that the human brain is actually comprised of four quadrants – a left-brain upper and lower; and a right brain upper and lower.  The left upper asks “What?” The left lower asks “How?” The right upper asks “Why?” and the right lower asks “Who?”

These quadrants reflect our primary preferences as humans.  Many of us are “multiple dominant” with strong preferences in two or more quadrants.  But these are preferences, not necessarily competencies.  Sure, we can all access the four quadrants, but we favor just one or two.  This explains why we take on certain roles professionally, why we choose some hobbies and not others, why we learn in different ways, and why we click with some people faster than with others.

HBDI is the next step to customize sales coaching.

Whole Brain Communication

Some people need to hear why, what, how, and/or who before a message will resonate. Some respond to hard facts; others to intuitive observations. “Whole brain communication,” the foundational concept of HBDI, embraces all types of listeners by crafting messages that touch all four quadrants of the brain.

Figure 1. HBDI Whole Brain® Model

Figure 1. HBDI Whole Brain® Model


Let’s look at how sales leaders can apply this model to coaching sales teams:

Step 1 – Assess your own thinking preferences.  How do you filter and process information? How do you communicate?  An honest self-assessment can open new pathways and reveal blind spots and biases such as why you prefer working with some people and have difficulty with others; and why some individuals enjoy working for you while others might not.

Step 2 – If possible, assess your sales reps’ thinking preferences.  Results can provide the team a look at their own way of thinking as well as group results to understand how to align faster and more effectively.  Plus, with this knowledge, managers can further customize their coaching to individual thinking preferences.  Short of having the sales team complete the online assessment, sales leaders can use the model in Figure 1 to pick up the clues about their teams.

Step 3- Look for preference clues in customers and prospects.  Now that your team understands the model, reps can begin to apply it in the field through “whole brain presentations” and information delivered in a decision maker’s primary preferences.

Sale Leadership Cadence

With a solid foundation in place, the only remaining question is how often a sales manager needs to be with the team. The answer to that question has troubled many organizations and sales leaders. You may be familiar with concepts such as “ride with your reps once per quarter,” “spend your time with those who ‘want’ to be helped, and “only go with the reps on the really big important calls.”

But such conventional wisdom is shortsighted. If we know one thing for sure it’s that once per quarter is not enough – regardless of where the rep may be on the developmental scale.  Leaders need to invest more time in the field.

A good rule of thumb, when possible, is to spend between one and one-and-a-half days per week in the office and the rest of the time in the field with the team.  We meet many sales leaders who spend too little time in the field with teams. They get pulled into “administrivia” and countless meetings that keep them out of the field.

A strong sales leader must stand up and announce: “My job is to be in the field with the reps making sales happen and driving performance.”  Be prepared for some pushback. In many organizations, the layer of management directly above front-line sales leadership wants sales managers in the office so they can yell at them about the numbers whenever they want.

Our advice: Break the chain. Get out of the office and into the field.  In parts one and two, we compared coaching a sales team to tending an orchard. Extending that analogy a bit further, we can look at everything highlighted in these articles – coaching fundamentals, the basics of sales coaching, the fundamentals of the field coaching, HBDI, and the amount of time spent with reps – as the vital nutrients a growing sales organization needs.

For salespeople, the key nutrient is feedback.  The more feedback people get, the more they feel connected to the leader and to development.  People want to be the best they can be and they will appreciate constructive feedback that’s specific, frequent, and aligned to their own thinking preferences.

Give sales reps the gift of good feedback and you’ll become the leader they think of when they’re asked about the best leader for whom they ever worked!

Our final two topics may seem like “everyday” knowledge, but they require serious attention from sales leaders.  Part of the normal sales leadership cadence involves:

  • Regular meetings and phone calls:  These are needed and expected communications.  The key is to direct the conversation toward productive sales dialogue. Ask questions that will drive the sales process, prepare the reps for better calls, and build on the observations from the field.  To make these calls as effective as possible, don’t be afraid to practice some key selling skills such as handling objections, asking discovery or probing questions, un-planned appointment detours, presentation skills, and anything else you think your reps need.
  • Team conference calls or webinars:  These should occur in some regular fashion, just not at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (not if you want to rate high on the popularity scale).  This forum is useful, but limited. After all, the distance and format allow for multi-tasking, so you only have your team’s partial attention. Calling on folks and mixing up the format does help some.  Most important, try not to use this forum to announce bad news, punitive decisions, or big changes.  Plan the team’s conference calls or webinars with a consistent agenda so that everyone knows what’s expected of them.

Your journey from the leader you are today to the greatest coach a rep ever had can begin right now.   These proven and practical methods will help drive great returns for your people and your sales goals.  Good luck in the field as you change the lives of your sales reps day-by-day!

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