Virtual Field Coaching: Obstacles or Opportunities?
To engage with your teams, you may need to rethink creatively.
Feature Story – By Simon Mormen
Although we have now firmly closed (and double-bolted) the door to 2020, there is no doubt that the challenges that emerged last year are still top-of-mind. As organizations adjust to remote training and update their selling and coaching models, it is crucial that the quality (and quantity) of the learning reinforcement is not neglected due to a lack of face-to-face time.
In the face of adversity, how did you and your managers’ coaching time compare from 2019 to 2020? If you failed to transition to more virtual coaching interactions with shorter durations, then you may have missed a trick, but there is still time to correct the curve.
As you can see from the anonymized actual data extract in Figures 1 and 2, a large proportion of our clients are monitoring interactions in detail. This allows them to take full advantage of the current opportunity and encourage their field trainers and managers to reduce the duration of their coaching sessions while increasing the frequency (by up to three times in some cases).
“I can’t coach my team if I can’t be in the field with them!” is not the correct answer.
The undisputed truth is that it will be some time, before we return to the volume of faceto-face interactions that we used to enjoy back in 2019, if we ever do. To continue to engage effectively with your teams, you will need to take a step back and re-engineer virtual interactions to maximize impact.
Below are some questions we have heard from field trainers over the past year and some ideas for you to incorporate into your own organization.
Q: Without a full day face-to-face in the field, I don’t have time to discuss all the different aspects that I need to give effective direction.
A: You’re right, there definitely won’t be time for such in-depth discussion as you move from eight-hour to 90-minute sessions. The frequency of your coaching catchups should see an increase – although the duration will decrease dramatically.
In a shorter call, you’ll need to make sure to eliminate the fluff, addressing the most important topics first and providing clarity where necessary. The more succinct your coaching, the more likely your coachee will understand and resonate with it. Take this as an opportunity to tighten up your own coaching skills, especially around planning, delivery, and presentation and listening.
- Set up shorter frequent check-in sessions.
- Create more concise and digestible content.
- Be clear about the actions you want your coachee to take between sessions.
- Send pre-work where necessary.
Q: I’m suffering from “virtual meeting overload” and I am sure the teams are too. How can I generate motivation and eliminate negativity?
A: Generating engagement will always be harder in a virtual environment. It is also crucial. With most suffering from screen fatigue, it’s essential that you are able to consistently reengage your coachee by providing value in your content. Also remember the art of “projection and reflection” – if you project a tired, bored persona, that’s exactly the attitude you will get back.
Try a multi-modal approach, changing themes or presentation styles every 15 to 20 minutes, or when you feel attention waning. Adopting a 90-minute session with alternating stimuli, i.e., videos and virtual whiteboards etc., will maximize engagement and enhance learning retention.
- Ensure your coaching is specific to the needs of the individual and not just a “hit the numbers” touch point.
- Grab a coffee and some fresh air before the call.
- Be flexible on time slots to accommodate work-life schedules.
- Think about what you hate in virtual calls – and don’t do that.
Q: How can I best prepare the sales team to thrive in the new normal?
A: Although nobody can accurately predict the future at this point, there is no doubt that existing skills may need to change and new skills will need to be assimilated, and all in a short space of time.
Ideally, you and your training team have already brainstormed at least a few of the new omnichannel skills required and created the relevant training and backup materials for pullthrough. Remember to start thinking not only about the necessary skills, but how to ensure that the new skill-related training resources are instantly accessible for both you, the coachee and their manager during and between coaching sessions.
So often we hear that effective resources are nonexistent or difficult to locate in the learning management system (LMS), and don’t get utilized — that’s a lot of wasted dollars.
- Integrate the learning resources into the platform you use to capture your coaching and development.
- Make it easy for your teams to locate training – then classify the resources by skill.
- Ensure your LMS is updated regularly.
- Flag new materials frequently and consistently to your teams.
Q: How do I maintain call continuity between sessions so we can rapidly pick up where we left off?
A: Greater all-around coaching visibility is now essential. With less time to coach and the need to deliver goals and actions more succinctly, you must be able to rapidly set the scene and remind your coachee of where you left off last time, the actions that were set and the reasoning behind them.
To accomplish this, you will need to allow adequate review time presession to get up to speed with any ancillary training or coaching related interactions that have occurred in the interim to avoid repetition and coaching overload. The endgame is to achieve perfect synergy between manager and trainer interactions to provide the coachee a single clear path to skill development.
- Review the last session in detail and the status of any goals or actions.
- Review the latest self-assessment of skill levels.
- Review your or the managers’ assessment of skill levels and any new coaching notes.
- Review current sales performance.
Q: How can I raise accountability for self-development within my teams?
A: Spoon-feeding your representatives creates a level of dependency on you as their problem-solver. Better coaches are better listeners. Drive conversation that stimulates your coachee to reflect on their own self-development.
Always give constructive feedback on their plan and ensure a supportive structure exists for them to achieve it. Encouraging feedback and recognition of their self-development success can be the pivotal difference in maintaining motivation and future accountability – people who are motivated will thrive by themselves.
- Empower your coachee by putting them in the hot seat as often as possible.
- Provide clear definitions of success for each skillset so they can benchmark themselves.
- Ask them to set self-development targets, as well as the targets assigned by you and their manager.
- Make your coachee aware of online rehearsal and role-play technology that you and their manager can provide feedback on, even between coaching sessions.
With so many new skills to be mastered in a short space of time, we owe it to our teams and our ourselves to ensure we have taken advantage of this hiatus to enhance training, coaching and learning retention.
Forward-thinking organizations are now, more than ever, utilizing technology to ensure that their field trainers and managers have a multitude of digital tools at their fingertips to ensure sales teams are prepared for re-emergence into the new post-COVID sales environment.
Simon Mormen is managing director for Atomus. Email Simon at email@example.com.