When coaching someone, The Gap is the space that exists between where the client or coachee is today and where he or she wants or needs to be. It’s the void that exists between the person and their goal. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to identify and fill in this Gap. The question is, what exactly do you use to fill in this Gap?
Part of the reason why identifying The Gap is such a critical starting point in coaching is this: You must first determine whether the issue at hand is in fact a training issue, a coaching issue, or an advising or consulting issue. If you have a salesperson who has never been trained in the art and discipline of selling, how can you coach them? In essence, The Gap in this scenario is the lack or absence of a personal selling foundation and core ideology that training would provide this person.
As such, a solution to this situation and what you would fill into this Gap initially would call for a training component first before coaching can come into play. After all, there’s a clear difference between training, coaching, and consulting. For example, training and consulting often provide solutions, offer answers, or show you how to play the game. Coaching is then used to refine your game, challenge your thinking, and remove any obstacles. That’s why it’s so critical to be able to identify when it’s suitable to use each of these distinct approaches to professional development, continuous learning, and ultimately building an exceptional team.
In the following three scenarios, I’ve identified when each competency and approach would be appropriate by first recognizing The Gap that you need to uncover and assess in every coaching situation.
Situation: Tim, a new rookie salesperson, has been hired to generate appointments on the phone for the outside sales team.
The Gap: Since this is Tim’s first sales job, he’s never cold called before, nor has Tim ever been trained in how to cold call effectively. Therefore The Gap is the training, skills, knowledge, as well as a step-by-step tactical approach and dialogue needed to perform his job effectively.
Training solution: This is a training issue, as this person first needs to develop some strong habits to solidify a healthy foundation to build upon. Learning how to do something such as how to sell or cold call, a new discipline, skill, or task, is not coaching but more training, consulting, or advising. They need to be shown best practices, the “how-to’s,” and the mechanics as well as the philosophy behind effective appointment setting.
Situation: Nine months into the training, Samantha’s boss is questioning whether she would make the cut for the long haul. Out of the initial 10 new recruits who completed the week-long training, practically nine months to the date, Samantha was one of the only two that has made it this far. When it comes to being an executive recruiter, one message that was continually being reinforced into Sam’s head was that if you can make it a year and build up your book of business, you can survive the initial hurdle and start developing a successful career.
But nine months into her new career, what started as a strong and promising leap right out of the gate, securing three top accounts that she has been relying too heavily on to make her numbers each month, is now appearing to come to a slow and painful halt. One of the three large clients left her, and the other two are slowing down their recruiting efforts. Here’s the thing, though. Samantha was on the phone practically every day making the calls she knew she needed to make in order to survive this first year.
The Gap: Samantha proved early on she could be successful at cold calling for new clients. She also had the evidence behind her to support this claim. Her initial four month’s book of business provided her with the volume to make her monthly sales quota. While Samantha was still making her daily number of cold calls, she was no longer getting the strong results she was when she first started out. Moreover, her boss noticed how stressed out Sam was as a result of all this. For these reasons, The Gap is actually a combination of training and coaching.
Training and coaching solution: In a case like this with Samantha, the solution may be more of a multifaceted one that approaches her situation from a few different angles. Here are just four approaches to explore, diagnose, and uncover different ways that you can coach and support Sam.
First, if Sam’s approach was working when she started nine months ago and it’s no longer working today, something changed. Her boss noticed Sam didn’t have a templated process that she following and more or less winged her calls, shooting proverbially from the hip. Consequently she was moving farther away from what had initially worked for her. Thus having Sam work off a proven template that’s documented and in front of her so that she can create a level of consistency in her selling efforts is one part of this solution.
Second, this fine-tuning of her approach and putting it in an actionable step-by-step process will eliminate any inconsistency and allow her to best manage what approach works best.
Third, Samantha appears to be fueled and driven by fear and consequence, that is, the loss of her job. Being driven by consequence and scarcity, what you don’t want to happen, is a negative source of energy that dilutes not only the impact of your selling efforts but the quality of your life.
Here, Sam needs to be coached on developing a new way of thinking, one that empowers her, lifts her spirits, and focuses on her goals and dreams more than her fears and consequences.
Finally, is Samantha in need of some new resources? That is, where is Sam mining for new business? Does she need to look at alternative ways to prospect? Does she need a revised call list? Is she maximizing the lifetime value of every client she’s working with through upselling opportunities and referrals? These are just a few of the components of her sales engine that you can put a magnifying glass over to take a look at a deeper level in order to diagnose exactly what is going on.
Situation: Bob, a successful, established, and well-seasoned insurance salesperson had been a long-time top producer for his company. Since a company merger, restructuring, policy changes, and compensation plan revisions, Bob needed to start generating new clients to fill up his sales funnel again. While Bob used to spend half his days cold calling, he hasn’t done it in a while, relying more on referrals and the income he generated from renewal business. Yes, Bob was great on the phone and generated a significant amount of new prospects as a result of his recent cold-calling efforts. However, it seems that Bob was not able to close these prospects the way he would a referral or an existing client. He was used to people saying yes without even asking for the sale. Objections? The only one Bob was used to hearing among his clientele was whether they should write him a check or hand him their credit card.
Now it seems that every time Bob met with one of these new prospects, he was walking out with a time to follow up with them rather than a sale. Bob wasn’t used to hearing, “Thanks, let us think about it,” or “You’re the first person we’ve spoken with regarding a policy,” and he was especially not used to hearing, “Wow, that sounds awfully expensive.” While Bob did his best to try and convince these people to buy from him, he felt his rebuttals were falling upon deaf ears. To make matters worse, Bob forgot how to actually ask for the sale.
The Gap: Have you noticed The Gap here? The Gap in this situation is in Bob’s closing technique and in his attitude or philosophy toward closing. Bob is holding on to some limiting beliefs. More so, his tactical selling approach and natural selling acumen need to be polished to address the new selling situations that he has not had to face in a while.
Training and coaching solution: This is a coaching and training issue. We’ve identified that there are some limiting beliefs getting in his way of taking action. Specifically, salespeople don’t overcome objections, prospects do. Rather than convince someone, which it sounds like Bob was attempting to do, he needs to respond with questions rather than statements so that the prospect can overcome their concern. As such, the coach needs to use well-crafted questions and a process of inquiry to explore deeper into his perception of closing and asking for the sale. Does closing mean dumping more information? Is he not asking for the sale for fear of rejection? Finally, Bob needs some hands-on tactical responses ready the next time he hears these objections. The training will take care of this, providing Bob with the dialogue and the steps to defusing objections that will turn more of his prospects into customers.
As you’ve probably encountered yourself, handling employee issues typically requires more of a hybrid approach to management. That is, the utilization of all the disciplines we’ve discussed, including coaching, training, and consulting. This eclectic blend of philosophy and strategy is what today’s leaders need to embrace when developing tomorrow’s champions.
Keith Rosen is an executive sales coach, speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. He was named one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country by Inc. magazine and Fast Company. He can be contacted at 516-771-1444, email@example.com, or his Web site.