The best sales coaching opportunity is going to be whenever you are riding with a rep for a few days or are talking with them on the phone.
On the phone it's just taking a few extra minutes to ask them about any specific account plans or what they are working on with their most important (or exposed) accounts. Think of the ‘drip, drip, drip,’ of the Chinese water torture. Try to at least ask that one extra "future focused" question on every call with a rep. In the 1970's & 80's that was called "The Colombo Close" after the TV detective show.
Several days before riding with a rep ask them for an agenda/outline of your planned "ride-with" days.
This will help make sure they have a plan for your ride-time and give you some think-time in advance to help you prepare for your coaching opportunities. Some of the questions I think you should ask them to answer in their "pre-travel" outline:
- Whom will we be calling on at that account?
- What are your goals/objectives for this call?
- What are the future opportunities you see for more business from them?
- What would you like me to do, as your sales manager, to help with this call?
- While we are there is there anyone else we can drop in on at that company to help you get "higher, wider, and deeper" or to introduce new opportunities to discuss?
Do whatever you can to avoid the reps giving you the "Property Philosophy of Account Briefing" we talked about on the phone. Take control of the agenda/time-frame of at least some of the driving time between calls to talk and ask about the reps selling efforts and plans.
Have a couple of your drive times, between calls or any meal (without customers), be coaching times where you will keep them focused on coaching and not just chatting. That means agreeing to answer only your cell phones for emergencies or critical account situations during that discussion time.
Keep your focus and language "Strategic," "Tactical," and "Future Focused."
Those areas will have the most positive impact on your reps, because they will always want to spend their time reviewing the history of what they did and how great they were, or how what happened wasn't really their fault. They will also want to walk you through all the Operational details of what happened. Keep control of the conversation so they don't revert to those history/detail discussions that won't change anything and won't help your company move forward with that account.
Consider taking notes of your conversations on 3-ring paper so you can insert your dated notes into your private 3-ring binder (with one section for each rep). Taking notes allows you to refer back to any action promises that a rep makes during future coaching sessions.
There is probably a lot going on within your company and customers, but so what? There always will be. Just because you are in the middle of a battle does not mean you still don't take time to plan what to do next. There will always be issues or crises going on within your company, so if you're waiting for a slower time, with no crisis, to start coaching - then you will never start coaching!
Your job as a sales manager is to carve out time between all the crisis and chaos to be a leader to your sales team, to help them get even better.
Everyone else is so reactive allowing the environment and culture to control them and their actions, you need to be the leader that reminds them of your company’s ‘Best Practices’ and that their job is to sell, even as they deal with all the other problems. No matter how crazy the week was, they should have still been able to accomplish several specific selling actions or efforts. You do not need your reps acting as service people handling service problems, you need them functioning as sales pros handling service problems. Their job is still to sell and improve, not just to maintain, and support.
We’re know you’re good, the question is…are you good enough to get better by not being just a sales manager but being a sales leader and coach to your sales reps?