Coaching Your Team to Stunning Wins (Business Planning Series, Part 3)


Whether you are a solopreneur or manage a team of salespeople, how do you do business planning that becomes more than wishful thinking? How do we make real growth happen? In this series on business planning, we’ll walk through how to make plans actionable by creating both “bottom-up” and “top-down” business goals!

In this series, we talked about the fastest way to plan growth by dramatically increasing your sales with existing customers as well as three quenching tactics to inspire your clients to buy more. In this post, we’ll discuss ways you can help your team achieve their individual goals as well as solidify your company goals.

Most salespeople start their year with hopes: They hope their client will spend more, they hope they can sell more, they hope they make more money. But very few salespeople sit down and plan to grow.

It’s year-end and, as we all know in this business, every year starts over January 1st with new client budgets which means new opportunities, there is very little residual business in this industry, there are residual clients and residual projects sometimes, but very little exact repeat business, so we must remain vigilant to explore every opportunity. And to ensure we don’t leave ourselves simply at the mercy of a client’s buying habits, we must set goals to guarantee growth.

How do we, as leaders, help our team get the most out of their year and help them tap their true sales potential?

First: understand the power of shared goals. Dictating growth goals is rarely an effective strategy, it is fear driven rather than opportunity driven. Moreover, cultivating shared goals alongside your employees activates their initiative, real progress occurs when we have a vested interest in the outcome and when you establish your own goals, you are setting standards for yourself. The intrinsic reward that comes from meeting your own goal is far greater than meeting a goal set by others.

In a recent skucast interview with Memo Kahan, President of Top 40 Distributor PromoShop, said this about sales ambition, “It really has to be a self-motivating endeavor for it to last and be successful.”

Second, understand that your role in the relationship is to challenge and inspire your colleague to do their best work and to develop, professionally, into the best version of themselves they can be, and to act as a sounding board as you work through the goal-setting process. We use the word coach a lot in business, but in reality, that’s what a manager is, a coach. Phil Dixon once said that “my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer.”

There is a bit of a dance between leadership and the sales team when it comes to setting their goals because there are two mistakes salespeople make: aiming too high and aiming too low. Some salespeople aim too low, but this isn’t because they are pessimistic but because they are setting their goals from a subjective experience: the business is fast-paced and demanding and deadline driven, and they sometimes can’t fathom a dramatic increase in business due to being currently swamped with work. It’s your job to help them see accounts they should spend less time on to make room for more, or to help spot opportunities they can’t quite see.Some salespeople aim too high, making largely unrealistic goals that have no basis in reality. These goals become merely wishes, easily made, easily forgotten. They are not active goals and rarely surface again throughout the year and are therefore DOA.

How does one go about both setting individual sales goals and also coaching your team toward stronger goals? I asked Samantha Kates, commonsku’s Vice President of Sales, whose extensive experience in both distributor sales and supplier sales gives her a unique perspective on goal setting.Like a good coach, Sam replied, “I like to sit down with a rep and ask them, ‘Out of the accounts that you work with, who are the top accounts that are the most important and/or the accounts you enjoy working with the most?’”

Similar to our last article on quenching (targeting your top ten accounts), Sam focuses on exploring these key accounts through investigation.Sam insists that each rep use the end of the year season to try and visit with each account, either on the phone or (preferably) face-to-face. “There are two indicators for sales growth, lagging indicators -like your previous year’s sales history with that client- and leading indicators, signs that will indicate where a client is going, either growth, stagnation, or decline.”

“There are two primary ways to determine leading indicators,” said Sam, “and the first one starts by asking the client questions.” But going back to our strategy on quenching to educate and explore more opportunities, you have to think beyond asking the client general questions about their promo budget or spend, that’s a short-sighted viewpoint, what you’ll miss is a massive opportunity to sight real opportunities for growth. Questions that have to do with a client’s purpose and initiative will not only reveal spend beyond the promo budget but will also carve spend away from poorer performing advertising categories (like digital ad spending), questions that reveal intent, like:

  • What strategic initiatives are you looking at launching next year? What is the most important one?
  • Are you adding new employees? New divisions? Are there any mergers or acquisitions on the horizon?
  • Are you expanding your service offering (product line,
  • How do you see your company and your department changing?
These are just examples. Asking strategic questions will shed light on growth challenges ahead, challenges that you could find a solution for.

The other leading indicator would be by industry and by your experience. What industries are your clients in? Automotive? Healthcare? Finance? It’s fairly easy to do a quick google search and determine the expected growth by industry. And your experience is the most important part as you explore where there are opportunities for growth with your clients: you are doing imaginative work that produces results for customers all the time, but are you cross-pollinating these ideas? Are you taking success stories from one account and sharing those with others? Are you cross-selling successful projects across the same industries or even across different industries?

For example, if you have an amazing on-boarding kit program for a client, have you shared this stories with your other clients? Your experience is vast, and your clients need you to inform and delight them with your expertise and lead them to solutions to real problems, quenching their thirst for more strategic uses for promotional products.

Ultimately, as a coach, what we’re trying to do is help our reps eliminate guesswork about a client’s growth and discover real potential, not imagined, so that we can come up with smarter goals that are specific and not guesswork.Sam continued, “Once you do this type of investigative work with your key accounts and determine your best estimate on growth based on their responses, you can come up with an average percentage growth for your total book of business.” “For example, if you determine that out of 30 accounts, 20 will grow and 10 will likely stagnate, but the average growth of the 30 clients is a projected 12%, you can parlay that 12% across the entire 300 accounts and come up with a general growth number.”

In her previous work with RIGHTSLEEVE, Catherine Graham worked with individual reps to create goals based on leading indicators, what Catherine calls “looking out the windshield,” versus lagging indicators (“looking in the rearview mirror at where you’ve been”). A client’s previous 12-month history is a lagging indicator, it will give you a baseline, a starting point, but from there, once you determine the baseline, you can project growth. Catherine then challenges reps to reach beyond their initial goals to establish reach goals and to help fuel those goals, incentivizes reps with bonuses if they hit a set stretch goal.

As a coach, one of the best things we can do is to work with the reps to break down big audacious goals into smaller segments so that the rep can focus. One person put it this way, that when an archer is just shooting, they have all their skill, they are in full possession of their capabilities. But when the archer suddenly starts to shoot for a prize, the archer gets nervous. The archer’s skill has not changed but the prize divides her, and she thinks more of winning than of shooting. But all coaches know that the better we are at shooting, the more we will win. This is why coaches always work on fundamentals even with seasoned pros. The break the big win down into smaller tasks. The goal of the coach is to ensure the “player” is performing at the top of their game and focusing on the fundamentals. And one way to focus on the fundamentals, in this business, is to break down the big win (annual goal reached) into smaller, obtainable goals.

“Once you establish your annual projected growth for your entire book of business, it’s easy to then reverse engineer success,” said Catherine. “From your annual gross sales number, look at patterns from previous years to average your monthly goal and then divide that to create your weekly goal. Use that weekly goal to keep the team on track.” Reviewing weekly goals brings the future into the present. When you can see that a client is 15% behind goal, the conversation with your sales rep becomes actionable: ‘What can we do to inspire this client to buy more?’ ‘Are there projects in the pipeline that we need to follow up on?’” This also, obviously, prevents surprise.

Often, in this business, you won’t know you’ve taken a hit with a client until the end of a quarter or six months, or worse, at the end of the year. By that time, it’s too late to change course, what you need is an active view into the current pipeline, where they are at in their growth YTD and how this compares against the goals.”

In our previous posts, we wrote about analyzing your top ten accounts and mining these accounts for more information to double your sales, we then discussed tactics that would get your clients to buy more. And in this post, we discussed analyzing your top 30 accounts to determine your growth goals. But whichever tactics you deploy with your team, one of the most important activities that you, the coach, can do, is to help unlock their potential “to maximize their performance and help them to learn rather than teach them.”* 

“The goal of coaching is the goal of good management: the make the most out of an organization’s valuable resources.” - Harvard Business Review

commonsku is an effortless business management platform that empowers you to process more orders and handle more business. Learn more at commonsku.comQuote by Tim Gallwey