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Ring up more sales with a telecoach
Sales managers lack the time to motivate staff

Laura Pratt, Financial Post
May 10, 2004

Salespeople no longer have time for week-long retreats with a sales coach. But there might be time to squeeze in a phone call en route to the next pitch.

More and more, the corporate world is coming around to the concept of telecoaching," where a sales coach shares wisdom with clients using telecommunication, rather than through a personal appearance.

There are many advantages to going this route, says Jerome Shore, an executive coach with The Coaching Clinic in Toronto. "Sales managers, whose primary role should be to drive and motivate the sales people they manage, don't have enough time to do what they did in the old days. They have their own sales targets and customer base, and there's too much bureaucracy to deal with." As a result, he says, appropriate coaching takes a back seat.

Mr. Shore says telecoaching is a possible solution. He has clients whom he has never met, and he predicts this will become increasingly common in coming years.

One reason is that telecoaching is a much more practical option. "A telephone coaching episode can go shorter or longer. There's no traffic, no highways, no makeup."

Coaching by phone is also more economical. With no travel time, a half an hour of coaching takes just a half an hour. A telephone call is also less formal. "If you've gone to the trouble of getting all dressed up and you see someone live only to discover that they haven't done anything since the last meeting, you're going to still feel compelled to fill in the full hour," Mr. Shore says. "On a telephone call, you can say, 'There's no reason to talk right now -- let's chat another time.' "

What's more, Mr. Shore has discovered that a telecoaching session can be a more intimate experience than consulting in person. "It's always nice to meet a person face-to-face, but once you've built the rapport, telecoaching can sometimes be more effective than live coaching, because a lot of things that can get in the way won't. Like body language: If you don't see the way a person is reacting, you don't back off. Sometimes, when you can't see the expression on a person's face, you can push them further. And that's a good thing."

Libby McCready, president of Toronto-based Front & Center Communications, says telecoaching also offers absolute confidentiality. "[Salespeople] have a private place to share their thoughts and create a concrete action plan to help them get past a challenge. So the fact that nobody else needs to know that they're feeling challenged is a great opportunity for them." Ms. McCready does almost all of her coaching by telephone.

Rob Nihill, president of Performance Associates International, says telecoaching is an integral part of the process at his Toronto-based sales-effectiveness training firm. Indeed, he says, it is what makes the company unique.

"With most training, you bring people in for two days, heal them and send them forth into the world. We say, 'Let's take one aspect of your selling, such as how to find new customers. Then, before you leave, you must commit to a very measurable activity, like promising to call 20 new prospects in the next week.' "

A week or two later, a PAI coach will engage the participants, a half dozen at a time, in a telecoaching call to check in on their progress. Over the course of the half-hour or 45-minute-long call, the coach walks through each salesperson's commitments and asks them to reflect on their how they did.

"Some people say, 'I had an unbelievable success, and here's what happened.' Others say, 'That's a great idea. I'm going to try it myself.' Or, 'It didn't work at all. Honestly, I didn't make the calls I said I would.' The coach brings them back on track and creates possibility for them because they've become resigned and cynical."

As they are leaving the call, the coach asks each salesperson to make a commitment for the period before the next call.

Mr. Nihill says the system works on many levels. "Salespeople not only compete against the competition, but when they know they're going to come on a call and share how they did with others, there's a natural competition going on between them, and it really ups the ante of their performance."

On top of that, the telephone call promises recognition for a job well done. "With this [telecoaching] approach, they come in, and the people who are already good at building prospects, identifying needs, whatever, get to share their secrets, and everybody says, 'Ooh. Thank you.' Salespeople love recognition. And they're learning from some of the other people in the room, as well."

It seems to work. A car dealership conglomerate whose 16 salespeople have been telecoached by Mr. Nihill for three years increased their sales by an average of 21% in one year. In another case, a group of 12 junior insurance representatives increased their income by 22% during the eight-month period they worked with PAI.