May 2003

A Coach's Guide to Field Days

Tiger Woods may be the greatest golfer of all time, but even Tiger attributes much of his success to having a great coach. Butch Harmon has been Tiger's coach for more than ten years and has helped Tiger to consistently improve his performance on the course. In many sales organizations, District Sales Managers (DSMs) spend two to four days a week in the field "coaching" their sales team. They can learn a lot about the art of coaching from Butch and Tiger's process.

As in golf, professional success in sales requires a mastery of many skills. In golf, these skills include putting, chipping, getting out of sand traps and choosing the right club. In order to succeed, golfers must become highly competent in all of the fundamentals and achieve mastery in many. In sales, the key skills include account strategy, pre-call planning, relationship building, product knowledge, message delivery, probing, closing and follow through. Success comes to sales people who not only master sales basics, but who excel.

During a competitive round of golf, Tiger isn't allowed to ask Butch for advice or suggestions. Instead, during competitions, Butch observes Tiger, noting his strengths and weaknesses. He collects statistics that identify both shortfalls and areas in which Tiger excels. Based on observation, statistics and the player's own concerns and opinions, Tiger and Butch map out target areas for improvement.

The Coach's Responsibility
A key point for District Sales Managers to understand is that, much like Tiger during a tournament, a sales rep is competing during a sales call. The best DSMs observe sales calls—they don't participate in them. Once Butch and Tiger agree on the skills that need to be targeted for improvement, Butch maps out the improvement process. The following six-step process would work to maximize Butch's coaching impact, as well as the coaching impact of most district sales managers:

  • Set the agenda for improvement
  • Observe, document and playback
  • Establish a vision of success
  • Create interesting practice sessions
  • Monitor performance and impact
  • Make adjustments to enhance results

Set the Agenda - Sales reps are expected to be prepared for all of their calls. Similarly, sales managers should be prepared for their field day with the rep, though unfortunately many district managers do little to prepare. At a minimum, District Sales Managers should prepare by:

  • Reviewing notes, feedback and action plans from previous field travel
  • Analyzing key metrics and trends (sales, calls, changes in targets, etc.)
  • Reviewing relevant materials like recent e-mails or voice mails from the rep

Ideally, the District Sales Manager will know which accounts will be visited and will be able to review a recent call history for these customers.

Based on the preparation, managers should start the day with a discussion of the day's goals. These goals should include an understanding of the call objectives for the day, the rep's needs and the District Sales Manager's focus for the day.

It is the DSM's responsibility to make sure that all of the reps' core skills improve over time. To make certain this happens, a District Sales Manager needs a shift in the observation and coaching focus. Many District Sales Managers focus coaching only on the "call". The best coaches observe and coach on all the skills: account strategy, targeting, frequency, pre-call planning, relationship building, product knowledge, message delivery, probing, closing and follow through.

Observe, Document and Playback - A primary reason for spending time in the field is to observe. We encourage District Sales Managers to use a structured observation guide that helps ensure appropriate focus. If the focus of the day is "pre-call planning" the DSM guide should be focused on attributes of "pre-call planning". Observation will then be focused on how the rep plans calls, what information he or she uses, and how he or she organizes materials likely to be used in the call.

Butch doesn't give Tiger feedback after watching only one swing. Similarly, District Sales Managers shouldn't give feedback after seeing a skill (or lack of skill) demonstrated only once. Managers should set the expectation that they will be simply observing, providing very little feedback for at least the first half of the day.

By documenting observations and saving feedback for lunch or even the end of the day, the District Sales Manager can act as a "video recorder." During feedback time, the DSM can "play back" the rep's effort. In this environment, the DSM can point out the rep's strengths as well as identify weaknesses that need attention.

Establish a Vision of Success - People are most likely to change their behavior when they understand the benefit, importance and urgency of making the change. Early in his career, Tiger Woods had difficulty controlling the distance of his shots. This weakness caused his game to be erratic, with many shots finishing well past or falling far short of the hole. Tiger was convinced that the only way to increase his consistency was to make major changes to his swing. He accepted his coach's swing suggestions and has become the world's best and most consistent player.

Similarly, District Sales Managers can help even high performing reps to visualize how to "take their sales game" to the next level. A good DSM can effectively coach his or her reps, facilitating more consistent sales performance.

Create Interesting Practice - Tiger doesn't wait for a major championship game to try out a new shot for the first time. Likewise, the preferred place to try a new selling skill is not in front of a key customer. Great DSMs hold "practice", role playing a new message or probing strategy at the start of the day or while driving between accounts. The District Sales Manager can easily adopt several customer personas, providing the rep with practice for both friendly and more challenging customers.

Monitor Performance and Impact - Ultimately both rep and DSM are measured by performance. If the District Sales Manager has correctly identified improvement opportunities and helped the rep advance, performance will increase.

With all of the statistics tracked in professional golf, it's easy for Tiger and Butch to track improvement. Most sales organizations collect a significant amount of information that can be used to create similar key statistics. The District Sales Manager and rep should both monitor the key statistics that will reflect the results of their work. These may include increased sales, increased access or calls, higher frequency on target accounts or higher message recall. Click here to learn more about the key metrics that should be monitored.

Make adjustments to enhance results - No one is perfect -- even Tiger Woods shoots above par some rounds, and even very skilled reps can continually improve. The challenge for the sales manager or coach is to continually identify opportunities for improvement. Through good documentation, planning and observation, a good coach will be able to recognize, encourage and facilitate progress, assuring the rep that significant opportunities still abound.

Tiger recognizes that the competition is hot on his heels, and that all of his competitors are working with coaches every day in order to get just a little bit closer. Are your District Sales Managers successfully coaching your reps to become as effective and consistent as Tiger? Review our checklist to determine your DSMs' coaching effectiveness.

  • Are your District Sales Managers focusing and coaching on all aspects of the sales process?
  • Are your District Sales Managers preparing for each travel day with a thorough review of the rep's recent performance and action plans from prior field travel?
  • Are your District Sales Managers observing the sales process as opposed to running the sales process?
  • Are your District Sales Managers routinely practicing key messages and situations with the rep over the course of the day?
  • Are your District Sales Managers using a structured field travel observation guides to ensure comprehensive and consistent coaching?
  • Are your District Sales Managers effectively documenting observations, opportunities, improvements and results?

By consistently following these guides to good coaching, district managers will significantly improve their own performance and the performance of their reps.



If you have questions or would like to discuss the contents of this article, please send us an e-mail and a senior consultant will respond to you.

Other Newsletter Articles This Quarter

Measuring Sales Force Effectiveness -- This month we conclude our four-part series on Sales Force Effectiveness (SFE) with an article on measuring effectiveness and monitoring performance.  Prior articles in the series described a process to diagnose and identify improvement opportunities, prioritize opportunities and develop solutions, and implement change.  Measuring and monitoring performance is a critical component of this process that helps sustain effectiveness gains.

Targeting Higher Sales -- Anyone familiar with the game of darts knows how difficult it is to hit the bull's-eye -- even from a short distance.  Now imagine trying to hit the bull's-eye while blindfolded.  In the US, pharmaceutical sales reps and managers have extensive customer information on which to base customer targeting decisions.  In many overseas markets, however, regulatory and market restrictions limit the information available to firms to assist the customer selection process.  The article outlines a process for developing the information you need to effectively target customers when "perfect information" just isn't available.

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