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As the end of the year is approaching, sales professionals in every industry are eager to lay a solid foundation for success in 2019. One of the most common business-related New Year’s resolutions among managers is this one: “I will hold more one-on-one coaching sessions with the members of my team this year.” It’s fine as far as it goes … but is it enough?

There are at least two scenarios under which you could imagine you’ve fulfilled that goal … and still end up letting down both the team and the organization!

The first situation is the common one where the manager defines “coaching” as “telling the salesperson how to do it.” These one-on-one “what you did wrong” sessions always seem to follow unexpected emergencies, major oversights, and lost deals. So yes, the manager may hold more such sessions this year than last year. But the result, in all likelihood, will be that the salesperson comes to associate a trip to the manager’s office more firmly with two childhood experiences that aren’t at the top of anyone’s list of positive memories: getting in trouble and being lectured by the teacher. Is it really all that surprising that these “what you did wrong” meetings usually don’t improve the numbers?

Almost as universal is the case of the sales manager who sets up a schedule for monthly one-on-one coaching sessions with each sales rep … without connecting those discussions to any goal or setting any agenda ahead of time. These “informal” meetings may begin with the manager smiling broadly and asking something along the lines of “So – how’s it going?” Although this approach usually avoids the problem of evoking negative memories, it still brings with it major problems. The meeting is a terrific waste of everyone’s time, and it tends to result in the same basic conversation happening over and over again, month after month. These meetings don’t generally result in any sustainable improvement, either.

If you’re responsible for managing a sales team, one of the very best ways to lay a great foundation for the coming year is to conduct well-planned coaching sessions that avoid both of these common mistakes.

How? Schedule one-on-one meetings so they’re being held at strategically relevant times for the company and the salesperson – not during or immediately after a short-term crisis. Schedule the meetings in support of a unique goal that’s personally important to this salesperson. And schedule the meetings with a clear agenda, one that includes measurable accountabilities for getting the salesperson closer to that goal.

For instance, let’s assume you’re working with a salesperson, Mike, who wants to be able to afford to buy his fiancée an expensive diamond engagement ring by the middle of June. And let’s also suppose your company has planned a big first-quarter market expansion initiative. The next coaching session with Mike shouldn’t be all about “Here’s what you did wrong last time.” Nor should it open by inviting Mike to deliver a monologue on a topic of his choice. Instead, it should reinforce and confirm the importance of getting Mike enough money in his bank account by the first of June to propose marriage!

Then you can move on to identifying the specific behavioral benchmarks Mike wants to hit each month in order to meet that goal and, at the same time, exceed the targets for the expansion campaign.  Before your session concludes, it should deliver clear, mutually acceptable agreements on two or three measurable activity goals that Mike is willing to assume personal responsibility for delivering on by this time next month. Those commitments can serve as the starting point for next month’s meeting.

That’s what a good coaching session looks like. That’s a foundation for success in the coming year!

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Posted October 4, 2018

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