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The Ghosts of Christmas Coach

As we race into the festive period, a Christmas classic reminded me how important it is to apply the right perspective with your sales team.

I was watching the film A Christmas Carol with my kids. Ebeneezer Scrooge demonstrates that, no matter how bad you are, it is possible to change if you have the desire to do so. This time around though, it was the three visiting ghosts that bring an important lesson for sales managers.

Scrooge is visited by three ghosts, each representing a different period of time. The past, present and the future and with learning to be taken at each stage.


Why does this matter for sales managers?

The answer lies in a sales managers approach to coaching, one of the most important competencies for sales managers. The best performers spend about half of their time doing this with their team but in reality only 15% of managers spend more than a quarter of their time coaching (Source: Objective Management Group).


Ghost #1. Christmas past.

Scrooge is first taken by the ghost of Christmas past. These are not events that he can control as they have happened already. As it’s too late to change the outcome and this leads to regret over actions that could and should have been different. He finds excuses for the events that unfold and struggles to take responsibility for things he didn’t do.

Manager lesson from ghost #1
“You didn’t hit the forecast revenue or orders last month” or “You only did two customer meetings last week”. Digging deeper, the sales person offers up excuses for the failures, often focused on things other people failed to do – customer delays meant it slipped, lack of business support or the volume of meetings/emails left me no time to prospect…. etc etc.

Conversations like these are very common in B2B teams as managers spend [too much] time in spreadsheet driven pipeline and forecasting reviews. These inspection orientated discussions are peppered with excuses and blame and the reality is that ‘lagging measures’ such as revenue or booked orders come too late for a manager to coach performance. They are required for performance management but too often inspection takes over and coaching doesn’t happen.

This doesn’t mean that the past isn’t useful for coaching though, there’s value in reviewing the past for development coaching. Taking time to reflect on lessons learned and using this information to focus improvement effort is hugely beneficial. Sadly though this development focused reflection seldom happens as spreadsheets take the lead.


Ghost #2. Christmas present.

Scrooge is able to observe what is happening right now with key people in his life. Through this he builds empathy, he is able to understand a little more about activities happening in the moment, even if he cannot change things there and then.

Manager lesson from ghost #2
Christmas present is like a ‘ride along’ day with a sales person. As a sales manager you are able to observe the sales person’s performance in key situations such as customer meetings. But these observations quickly become lagging measures of the very recent past.

This post call feedback is hugely important for development coaching, as managers give structured feedback based on the observed performance against the expected standard. These situations offer valuable insight for the sales manager too. They can understand each person’s current performance level and together agree a plan for doing things differently [and better] in the future to develop weaknesses.



Ghost #3 Christmas future.

Scrooge gets a glimpse of the future. What the ghost is able to show is a prediction of what will happen if things don’t change. Here Scrooge is able to think about how he could change this future.

Manager Lesson from ghost #3
Changing the future performance of the team is a key part of a sales managers role. Experience helps to visualise the potential future outcomes and the best managers are able to transfer this perspective to their team so they can see it too.

Account, deal and pre-call plans are the foundations of day to day sales performance coaching. Leading indicators and structured plans inform forward looking conversations with each sales person. Understanding the current situation and planned activity for a key deal or key account, means the manager is able to coach on the activities that can influence the future result. They are able to challenge, role-play and guide the sales person to prepare pre-call plans for key customer meetings and help them to advance faster in each of these engagements.


In summary

Using three different lenses on sales performance will support better sales coaching. The purpose of coaching is to improve performance, and you should take a past, present and future perspective. Are you doing this?

How will you place less emphasis on inspecting spreadsheets and make the time to reflect on past experiences and present actions to learn valuable lessons?

Are you making time to look to the future and prepare the team for better performance in those key engagements?

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