How to Coach Your Sales Team: The Effective Follow-Up Process.

Build & Manage a Top-Performing Sales Team — Post #6

Introduction.

Amazing! From the previous posts, we know how to approach everything in the coaching process from preparation, over discussion to active coaching as suggested in the Four-Step Coaching Process by the Harvard Business Review. Let’s recap them real quick!

Preparation: Preparation is oftentimes neglected but super crucial to successful coaching. Both coaches and coachees need to be clear about development goals, limitations of coaching, and their personal relationship. To do so:

Discussion: After both have prepared, both need to have an open and brutally honest conversation to ensure that they’re on the same page. Goals and needs and limitations need to be addressed and aligned. The outcome of the discussion should be a mutually agreed-upon plan that assures systematic attention to performance improvement.

Active Coaching: Only when both the coach and coachee are very clear about the desired coaching outcome, the active coaching can begin. The most crucial part of the active coaching process is to find a systematic approach that ensures that the coachee can improve, the coach can evaluate, the coach can provide feedback, and the coachee is truly heard.

Follow-Up: All effective coaching needs follow-ups to ensure that the coachee stays on track. Just analyzing the situation once and providing feedback on how to deal with it won’t do much. Without any follow-ups the coachee won’t have the necessary guidance and feedback to stay on track with their development.

In the last post, we discussed in detail how to prepare for your coaching sessions. Now, that you know how to get yourself and your sales team started, let’s take a look at how you should approach the first real coaching meeting: the discussion.

Okay, now that we remember, let’s take a deep dive into how to do effective follow-ups!

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What Is the Follow-Up Process All About?

You’re already in the middle of it. You most likely already had a few meetings with your employee to help them achieve their goals. But, after all the planning, and the initial “hype to get things done,” reality kicks in and it’s gonna be crucial that you help your employee to stay on track with their plans.

So, what’s the purpose of the Follow-Up Process?

The purpose of the Follow-Up Process is to:

1. Track and ensure your employee’s progress towars growth,

2. Identify and provide your employee with the necessary resources to achieve the growth over time, and

3. Ensure that your employee feels secure and supported.

And, the Follow-Up Process is NOT about:

1. Telling your employee what to do (in your opinion),

2. Only pointing towards mistkaes, and

3. Taking follow ups passively.

Photo by Qijin Xu on Unsplash

What Should You Consider to Do the Follow-Up Process Right?

Most of these things will be common sense. But, the important part is that you need to make them common practice as well.

  1. Follow Up In Regular Intervals: You should ensure that follow-ups become a habit and something that your employee know will happen so that they take coaching seriously.
  2. Help to Follow the Plan: You made a plan together. It’s part of your job as a coach to help your employee to stick to what’s important or make necessary and well-thought-through alterations.
  3. Be Prepared: You can’t help your employee if you don’t know what’s going on. Have you followed up on all your duties since the last sessions? Have you ensured to observe your coachee’s progress?
  4. Ensure Your Employee Is Prepared: The same goes for your employee. If they haven’t worked on making progress, summarizing what was going on, and reflecting on it, there’s no point in speaking.
  5. Guide, Don’t Tell: You’re to provide resources, open doors, help to think through things, you’re not here to say, “I think you should do that.” Sometimes, you can, sometimes, it’s necessary. But, if you do this most of the time, you’re not coaching
  6. Listen: We talked about this one a few times. Just as with active coaching. It’s not primarily about what you think but how your employee perceives what’s going on.
  7. Stay Fact/Observation-Based: When addressing progress (or lack of it), only ever speak about things that you observed or know for a fact. The same goes for sharing expertise by the way. Don’t give advice about things that you don’t know anything about.
  8. Don’t Take Ownership: Don’t ever end up doing things that are your employee’s responsibility. Yes, you need to help them figure it out when they struggle, but if you do the work for them, they won’t learn.
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Follow Up In Regular Intervals.

You should follow up in regular intervals for the following reasons:

  1. It Signals Commitment: When it’s on your calendars and when it becomes a regular part of your schedules, it’s gonna be easier for both of you to commit to it. On top of it, commitments create habits. And habits ensure that we change and get the job done. We spend 70 % of our days executing habits. Think about it.
  2. It Motivates: Knowing that you take it seriously and are there for your employee will motivate them. Also, they don’t want to disappoint you multiple times a year or even every fortnight.
  3. It Ensures Quick Progress: Being able to do micro-adjustment fairly regularly will make do three things. They’ll make change easier on your employee easier; it’ll help that bad behavior won’t manifest themselves; and the time your employee will struggle can be reduced.
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Help to Follow the Plan.

Okay, remind yourself:

You’re not coaching your employee only to help them. You also have a responsibility towards your company.

Many people forget that. You made a plan for a reason. One, because your employee wanted that progress for whatever reason you identified together. Two, because your company needs or would significantly benefit from that progress.

So, it’s your job to not only ensure that progress is made but that progress is made towards the right goals.

Things to consider here are:

  1. Continuously Remind Them Of Their Goals and The Importance of Those: Always start follow-ups by reflection remind both of you of the goals. Make sure the meetings always discuss those goals. Of course, you need to give time for other topics as well, but there can not be one follow-up meeting where you’re not following up on the agreed-upon goals. In this context, make sure that your employee continues to understand and internalize the importance of achieving those goals.
  2. Track the Progress Based on the KPIs You Agree On: Make it concrete and understandable. You need KPIs and there are KPIs for almost everything. So, evaluate progress and discuss it based on clear non-negotiable numbers.
  3. Help Your Employee Make Adjustments in Goals Only If It’s the Right Choice: Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you need to alter goals and directions, but don’t allow your employee to make them themselves. The risk might be that they don’t follow the plan for some reason, that they find it too hard, and that they get off course. But, if the original direction is still the right one, they need to get back on track.
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Be Prepared & Ensure Your Employee Is Prepared.

We discussed the significance and benefits of preparation in our post on preparation. So, here, I just want to remind you that following up is more than the meeting that’s on your calendar.

  1. Schedule Time to Prepare for the Follow-Up.
  2. Get Input from Your Employee Before the Meeting.
  3. Get Your Observations Organized and Form Hypotheses, Conclusions, and Actions.
  4. Verify Those with Colleagues.

If those sound familiar, you’re right, this framework is very similar to the one we’ve seen in the preparation post. So, make sure to revisit it before your follow-up meetings.

The same goes for your employee.

  1. Make Sure to Remind them to Prepare.
  2. Offer Support If They Need Any in Their Preparation.
  3. Remind Them That the Meeting is About Reflection and Continuous Action Steps.
  4. Remind Them That Honest and Open Reflection is Key.
Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

Guide, Don’t Tell; & Listen.

A lot of the topics here are more of a reminder of concepts that you already learned in the previous posts. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely crucial that you reflect on them again in the process of the follow-ups because it’s the follow-ups where you’ll spend the most time and it’s the follow-ups where your behavior and success as a coach will manifest.

So, view this as a quick reminder that you’re not there to tell your employee what to do. You’re here to help your employees with their progress. You’re not here for them to listen to your smarts and be impressed by you.

So, it’s absolutely crucial that you listen and facilitate a learning environment where your employee can figure out what to do themselves. And you, you just give slight guidance if you get the feeling that your employee might get stuck or fall off a good path towards an objective.

And, the word “objective” is key. It’s not about what exactly your employee will do it. It’s about the question:

“Will their behavior allow them to most effectively and efficiently achieve an objective?”

And, in helping them with this, they might choose approaches that are vastly different from what you think would be the right thing (for you).

You need to find agreement that whatever both of you decide will be the best way for them.

And, in this context, it’s absolutely crucial that you practice active listening. Here are the core concepts again:

  • Maintain Eye Contact With Your Lead.
  • Pay Attention to Your Internal Judgments.
  • Don’t Interrupt.
  • Ask Questions Rather Than Stating Views.
  • Let Yourself Be Drawn Into Their Stories.
  • Avoid Distractions.
  • Visualize Their Word in Your Head.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions.
  • Don’t Evaluate in the Moment.
  • Don’t Be A Listening Robot.

For more make sure to re-read concept 2 in the discussion meeting post.

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Stay Fact/Observation-Based.

Your employee might get emotional will struggle personally with their development. But you need to maintain a good relationship with them and ensure that you’re their personable but objective force that helps them to achieve their goals.

So, only make statements based on:

  • Things That Have a Highly Likelihood of Being Perceived as Facts By Others.
  • Repeated Behavior.
  • Things You Can Support with Concrete Evidence and Examples.

And, avoid:

  • Personal Judgment of Your Employee’s Behavior.
  • Personal Bias in Your Observations.
Photo by Daniel Herron on Unsplash

Don’t Take Ownership.

And, make sure that you never take ownership of your employee’s tasks. Yes, you are responsible for their progress and that they deliver but they’re responsible to do their work and acquire the necessary skills their work requires of them.

If you end up doing your employee’s work for them, you’ll create more problems:

  1. Your Employee Won’t Learn What They Need to Learn: If you always jump in and actually do their work, you’ll deprive them of the opportunity to learn. Tough love is needed to overcome the fear of not knowing how to do something. If they knew, you wouldn’t be coaching them.
  2. Your Employee Won’t Take Ownership: If you jump in and do it, your employee won’t ever feel the responsibility for a task. They’ll know that worst case, you’ll do it.
  3. Your Employee Will Repeat the Behavior: No matter if it’s a laziness thing or if your employee might just be afraid of the progress they need, humans are creatures of habit. If you allow your employee to stay in their comfort zone, they won’t get out of it and they won’t grow.
  4. Your Coaching Will Be Useless: With all of the above, if you jump in too often, what’s the point of your coaching?
  5. Your Coaching Will Create More Work for You: In the end, you coach your employees to make sure that they can take on more responsibility so you can focus on the important things and won’t need to do their work. If you spend time coaching and your employee doesn’t develop, guess what’ll happen: you’ll waste time coaching and you’ll still need to do the work yourself.

Of course, don’t be a jerk about it. It might be that you have failed to provide the right resources for your employee to actually tackle the challenge or that something happened in their personal lives. But, overall, your employees need the challenge to grow. So, just because something is above their skill level doesn’t mean that you need to do it for them. Quite the opposite: It means they need to do it to make mistakes and to eventually develop the skills.

Photo by Eden Constantino on Unsplash

Conclusion.

Wow, you’ve done it. You learned how to effectively and efficiently coach your employees! Congrats! 🎉 If I could give you a certificate, I would!

Now, make sure to go through all the notes that you have taken and continue to reflect on your skills as a coach.

And, most importantly, practice your coaching skills. You were not born as a perfect coach. But, you can become a great coach through dedication to doing it right and through deliberate and reflective practice!

Now go and help your employees do and be great! I believe in you!

About the Author.

Teddy Lange is a co-founder at Resonaid and is responsible for business development and customer experience. Before joining Resonaid, he’s been a negotiation coach at the Harvard Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Collaboratory, a Sales Rep and Junior Sales Manager, and co-founded various companies. He has just finished his graduate degree in Public Policy with a focus on communication at Harvard University. Feel free to reach out to him at teddy@resonaid.co.

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