Coaching the Coaches
Leadership/Management Development – By Jon Madden
Sales reps aren’t the only ones who had to brush up their skills
Everyone knows the events of the past year created a seismic shift in the way life sciences sales teams engaged their customers. For most, sales engagement slowed significantly and hasn’t returned to levels previously seen. Now that most U.S. adults have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccination, the pressure is on for sales results to increase.
Since early last year, life sciences companies took a multitude of steps to engage their customers leveraging new and multichannel approaches. No two companies took precisely the same actions.
Some placed more emphasis on novel technologies, and others invested in building out legacy software. Some innovated selling models. Some restructured sales teams. All leveraged training in various ways. Throughout this entire journey, most of the training has focused on the sales representative, whose role is evolving.
Now we must also turn our attention to training their coaches, or sales managers. Few companies have designed a curriculum specifically to sharpen managers’ skills to coach reps in engaging customers in this omnipresent universe.
At this point, sales reps are conducting as many live engagements as possible and continuing hybrid calls where needed. As of summer 2021, live calls accounted for most engagements, while some providers still prefer telephonic and virtual calls.
To ensure reps are developing and honing the new skills to succeed today, managers’ roles must also evolve. Investing in manager training and coaching has the greatest opportunity to boost sales team efforts since managers conduct the most interactions with these customer-facing associates.
Due to office protocols over almost the past two years, managers couldn’t observe many of the reps’ customer interactions during field rides. So, managers have little insight into their reps’ performance during that time. This is another good reason to level set and maximize rep field time through coaching.
Training for this model must begin with a commitment from senior leadership to support new coaching techniques, technology and the education required to pull them through. Any effort to support coaches at this juncture involves equipping them with tools to increase their company’s agility within a multichannel sales and marketing environment.
Managers must become experts in the varied tools at their disposal, whether virtual, live, telephonic or a combination of these. The former model of daily call averages for measuring productivity and success must evolve.
The most effective manager coaching happens throughout the day and not at the end of a six-month or annual period. Using their own expertise, managers can help their reps effectively leverage the right resources to make as great an impact as possible within fewer and perhaps shorter customer engagements.
Managers must now remember how to deliver live coaching sessions, provide constructive face-to-face feedback and frame sales performance, all while setting clear expectations on development opportunities and following up in the field coaching report.
Building a performance-based culture should be a key area of focus for manager training. The manager’s role is to help maximize individual strengths. To do that, they must first gauge where their team’s strengths reside and create structured opportunities to provide frequent feedback on performance.
During this resurgence of performance-based coaching, new coaching standards adopted during the virtual timeframe — specifically around call continuity — must continue enhancing their approach. In short, as we emerge from mostly virtual to mainly live engagements, as the old adage goes, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. While no one wishes to turn the clock back a year, some good came out of pandemic-era engagements, one being the collaboration between sales and marketing on the customer engagement continuum.
Coaching should be broad enough to discuss what happens after the call too — and through what media. Reps must execute the next best action. What is the digital or live engagement that happens between calls to follow up on any commitments? What activities does that engagement trigger? For managers to coach to this, they must know which levers to pull themselves.
Managers must coach reps to meet customers where they want to be met. One thing is clear. After the pandemic, providers and their staff have new modes of operation. The front-line sales leader needs to coach to improve performance across all engagement modalities.
Let’s also remember that most managers likely never called on customers during an era such as the one their reps are experiencing today. Thus, while training on engagement and coaching approaches is critical, so is educating managers to demonstrate empathy.
This involves the ability to listen, consider what’s happening and see the situation
from the rep’s perspective. Reps are likely worried about how their performance is impacting their compensation and careers.
During this time, leadership could create the trust and cooperation around their sales teams to reduce an inevitable sense of internal threat. In doing so, this may allow reps to gain the confidence to learn new ways of working that will eventually reduce external threats for the entire organization.
Managers must coach reps to use the right tool at the right time. Companies that invest in coaching the coaches for the future of life sciences training can strengthen entire teams, gaining exponential positive results in return.
Jon Madden is managing partner and chief financial officer for Encompass Communications and Learning. Email Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.