Sales performance coaching is getting a lot of attention lately—for a lot of good reasons. At the top of the list is the simple fact that, when taken seriously and done well, coaching works. Research shows that coaching is the wisest productivity investment when it comes to improving reps' performance. In fact, it was found to boost rep performance by nearly 20% in one study.
Clearly, coaching is a good thing and, by extending and multiplying benefits, virtual coaching makes a good thing even better. Virtual coaching is simply using technology to enable the coaching function when the coach and rep are in different locations or when schedules just don't line up. Virtual coaching immediately eliminates all the costs, inconveniences and frustrations of arranging face-to-face sessions for participants who are physically separated.
There are a number of software tools available to enhance and facilitate the coaching relationship. Most of them allow for self-directed activities the rep does on his own as well as interactive features allowing direct contact and involvement with the coach.
In reality, coaching is coaching, and putting virtual in front of it doesn't really alter what makes good coaching good. Let's remember that successful coaches cut through the clutter and confusion to define goals and strategies and link them to a seller's sense of purpose and motivation. They execute and follow through, turning words into actions. Good coaches ask more than they tell.
Winning coaches also develop reps by helping them get where they can't go on their own. Good coaches create win/win scenarios by helping reps gain a clearer picture of their own capabilities. Moving forward will depend on a rep's willingness to first own the current-state reality and then shoulder the real work of making changes. This calls for a specific development plan, often incorporating learn-practice-perform exercises, role-plays and even additional formal training to shore up weak areas in skills and knowledge.
So the best practices of face-to-face coaching are really little different than those of virtual coaching. What is different, however, is that in virtual coaching the best practices are at greater risk of compromise and short cuts. The real challenge in virtual coaching is to prevent out of sight from becoming truly out of mind. You may find these guidelines helpful in doing that.
- Formalize the coaching session. Integrate virtual coaching into your schedule just as you would if you were setting up a face-to-face meeting. There is nothing like real-life expectations from another human being across the table to hold you accountable. Virtual coaching weakens the power of expectations so schedule a dedicated time to connect, close the door, and minimize distractions and interruptions.
- Respect the process. Since your activities and demeanor as a remote coach may be hidden (depending on the technology used), it is easy to succumb to the temptation to multi-task during time earmarked for coaching activities. Reviewing paperwork or sifting through emails may seem harmless, but such activities steal focused attention away from the task at hand. Trust and respect are the twin pillars that underpin the rep-coach relationship.
- Use the right technology. Choose tools that permit a high degree of personalization and allow you to mirror as closely as possible the practices you've developed in face-to-face sessions. Create a clear set of objectives of what you want to accomplish in virtual coaching before you choose the technological tools.
- Put greater emphasis on development plans. Collaborating with reps at the outset to build a no-surprises development plan will provide a strong thread of continuity. A well understood plan is your first line of defense against the ambiguity and unpredictability that may creep into virtual coaching relationships.
- Remain flexible. Since you may be exploring uncharted territory with virtual coaching initiatives, stay flexible and open to changes and adjustments. Above all, be open to what you can learn from a rep who may be more tech-savvy than you.
- Relax and smile. Video is a key component in many virtual coaching tools. Don't allow the technology to be a distraction. Get comfortable with having the camera pointed at you and allow the technology to enhance not hinder the coaching process. Get your selfie on!
Virtual or face-to-face, sales performance coaching is an idea whose time has come, and it's here to stay. So stay focused on what makes good coaching good, regardless of the time, place or technology.
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