Laying the Foundation for a Great 2020

Believe it or not, it’s already the fourth quarter of 2019. With the end of the year approaching, sales professionals in every industry are eager to lay a solid foundation for success in 2020. One of the most common business-related New Year’s resolutions among managers is this: “I will hold more one-on-one coaching sessions with the members of my team.”  That’s fine as far as it goes but is it enough?

There are at least two scenarios in which you think you’ve fulfilled that goal but might actually fall short.

The first is all too common:  the manager defines “coaching” as “telling the salesperson how to do it.”  These one-on-one “what you did wrong” sessions always seem to follow unexpected emergencies, major oversights and lost deals. So, yes, the manager might hold more such sessions this year than last year. But the result, in all likelihood, will be the salesperson equating a trip to the manager’s office with an unpleasant childhood memory: getting in trouble and being lectured by the teacher. Is it at all  surprising that these “what you did wrong” meetings usually don’t improve the numbers?

Almost as universal is the case of the sales manager who sets up a schedule for monthly one-on-one coaching sessions with each sales representative without connecting those discussions to any goal or setting any agenda ahead of time. These informal meetings might begin with the manager smiling broadly and asking something along the lines of, “So, how’s it going?” Although this approach usually avoids the issue of evoking negative memories it still has inherent problems. The meeting is a terrific waste of everyone’s time and typically results in a recurrence of the same basic conversation month after month. These meetings also don’t generally result in any sustainable improvement.

If you’re responsible for managing a sales team one of the very best ways to lay a great foundation for the coming year is to conduct well-planned coaching sessions that avoid both of these common maladies. How?

Plan one-on-one meetings to occur at strategically relevant times for the company and the salesperson, not during or immediately after a short-term crisis. Schedule the meetings in support of a unique goal that has personal significance or importance to this salesperson and schedule the meetings with a clear agenda—one that includes measurable accountabilities and metrics for getting the salesperson closer to his or her goal.

For instance, assume you’re working with a salesperson, Mike, who wants to be able to afford to buy his fiancée an expensive diamond engagement ring by the middle of June. And also suppose your company has planned a big first-quarter market expansion initiative. The next coaching session with Mike should not be about “what you did wrong last time.” Nor should it begin by inviting Mike to deliver a monologue on a topic of his choice. Instead, it should reinforce and confirm the importance of getting Mike enough money in his bank account by June 1 to propose marriage.

Then you can identify—together—the specific behavioral benchmarks Mike wants to hit each month in order to meet that goal and exceed the targets for the expansion campaign. Before your session concludes you should determine mutually acceptable agreements on measurable goals for which Mike is willing to assume responsibility to deliver by the next month. Those commitments can then serve as the starting point for your next one-on-one meeting.

That’s what a good coaching session looks like—and a foundation for success for your team in the coming year.

Jim Marshall is owner and president of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or

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