Sales Managers: How to Coach Your Sales Force – Part 1

Many of the examples I will be using in this article deal with outside sales people selling to builders, but the principles of selling are universal. Adapt these suggestions to your industry and let us know what worked.


One of the most important daily questions you can ask a sales person is: Who are you calling on today? The answer to this one question will tell you:

  • If your sales person is prospecting for new business.
  • If your sales person has planning and time management skills.
  • If your sales person is “in a rut.” Look out for repetitive answers!

Just like a coach brings out the best in an athlete, you must bring out the best in your sales force. By the same token, just like a coach points out an athlete’s weaknesses with the intent to improve performance, your criticisms should have the same goal. Until a sales person has reached a certain maturity level, he or she needs you to steer their progress, to make sure he or she is staying “between the ditches.” Quick jerks on the wheel can get you out of one bad situation and then into another, so make sure you don’t over-correct.

Every salesperson and manager MUST have a “can do” attitude when dealing with customers. Never allow yourself or your sales personnel to say to a customer, “We can’t do that.” As long as the request is somewhat reasonable, we can. The customer knows that and when he or she hears “We can’t” it gets interpreted as “We won’t.” Even if a customer makes what appears at first to be an unreasonable request, the salesperson has to ask more questions. The customer is trying to solve a problem and our mission is to help solve it. Questions should focus on the nature of the problem and then the salesperson should make suggestions that solve that problem.

Outside salespeople should be “pseudo-employees” of the customers they are servicing. What that means is the customer should become so dependent on his “expediter” that he or she wouldn’t think of buying from the competition. It would be too much of a hassle. Salespeople should anticipate the customer’s need so effectively that he or she almost never has to place an order. There will always be exceptions, but overall, if a customer has to phone in orders, it’s an indication the account isn’t being serviced properly. The customer should rarely have to place order. His or her sales person should handle this, asking the appropriate questions to make sure all bases are covered.

Teach outside salespeople how to close a sale. One effective way is ask the customer who requests a special price or service, “If I can get my manager to agree to this price, can I ship the material? Do I have the order?” Then make sure the sales person has all the pertinent information to needed to ship the job without any wrinkles.

The outside sales person should treat the potential customer he or she ISN’T servicing the sames as the customer he or she IS servicing. Assume you are servicing that account. Go ahead and do the takeoff, go ahead and run a box of nails to the job-site. Show the customer what service means. By doing so you are putting credits in your column when the time comes to bid another project.

Make sure your salespeople aren’t just bidding the next project, but are bidding the next phase of that project. For example, if a builder is installing the windows and exterior doors, submit a bid for the drywall, interior doors, trim, floor-coverings, cabinets, and deck materials. If the builder is framing the house, bid the roofing and siding materials. Bid the next phase. Bid everything that is left to do on the house. Create doubt in his mind about whether he is making the right choice by buying from your competitor.

Muddy the water wherever possible. Tie certain phases together. Have the sales person tell the builder, “Let me ship your framing material and, I’ll give you up to 20 squares of roofing for $10 per square.” (This only costs the company $200 to $400 with the potential to sell $25,000) Or, “Let me ship your interior doors and trim, and I’ll give you XX brand of door knobs for $3 each.” Notice the wording – “Let me ship” tells the customer that you recognize who is in control.” “I’ll give you X” implies that it is getting a gift. Don’t use the words deal, buy, sell, purchase, invoice, or pay. Those words have a negative effect on negotiations.

Don’t allow salespeople to give out 1 item quotes. This is nothing more than a price list, and price lists wind up in the hands of the competition. This automatically puts you behind the 8 ball and encourages cherry pickers who will only buy those items where you are the lowest bidder. Cherry pickers are not what we are trying to cultivate. We want long term package buyers. Quote the entire package. This gives the sales person an excuse to go back to the job site.

Remember the Critical Success Factors for Sales People

  1. Prospecting
  2. Establishing a relationship
  3. Correctly identifying problems
  4. Skillfully presenting solutions
  5. Handling objections
  6. Closing the sale
  7. Following up

These factors create a chain and the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Help your salespeople identify where they are weak, and then focus on gaining strength in that area.

Above all: Do not have a doughnut shop mentality. Don’t allow your sales force to just hang out and let the business come to them. Make them go out and get it. Find a way to obtain customer lists. Be creative. Develop a strategy to get more business by finding out where building is going on then go get it. Get it all. Be greedy. We are a “one stop shop.” Take no chances in making your sales force better. Force it.

Join any trade associations and participate with the intent to develop more business. Make the salespeople attend these meetings as well as any workshops or training that is offered. Ask them when they return from the meeting, “What new people did you meet? What new business did you find out about? What do you plan to do tomorrow morning as a result of finding out this information?”

Make sure the customer likes his sales person. Even the best sales people have certain personality types with whom they do not mix very well. A customer is never more vulnerable to the competition than when an unliked sales person is soliciting his or her business. It is a fact of life that not everyone gets along with everyone else. If this is the case, change that sales person to one he or she likes! You’re spinning your wheels if you don’t.

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