In a survey we recently conducted with the Sales Management Association, we asked organizations to select their top priority for sales manager activity from a list of 17 categories.
The answer? Sales Coaching.
These results weren’t surprising considering the significant impact sales coaching has on performance. We found there is a 39% revenue difference between the top quartile and bottom quartile of sales managers—and coaching was a key contributor to that gap.
Understanding that coaching is important, many companies offer their managers training to coach more effectively. However, more training on coaching does not result in more coaching by managers, for three principal reasons.
1. Over-Engineered Training
Many training programs are over-engineered, with so many steps and sequences, their chances of success in the real world are slim. A sales manager’s reality is never ideal: there is an incessant barrage of demands. If a manager only has two hours per month for sales coaching then a 12-step program that focuses on “behavioral gaps” and demands five hours per month to be successful will never be implemented.
2. Sales Reps Needs Are Ignored
Much of the coaching training available today does not align with the kind of coaching that managers need to provide because it is too generic. For instance, there is a popular coaching methodology that aims to close performance gaps. While this seems to be a great way to improve performance, it doesn’t help a seller improve sales-specific performance. Although managers could use this kind of coaching in a general performance-evaluation situation, they find it irrelevant when it comes to helping reps mine territories, close sales, prioritize prospects and other key selling activities.
3. Too Narrow a Focus
Coaching training is too narrowly focused with the result that execution gaps occur. For example, if a company implements a selling methodology focused on how to conduct sales calls, it is often accompanied by manager training on how to coach that skill. Sellers have myriad additional activities to tend to in order to reach quota. If coaching training is about just one of those, the manager may be ill-equipped to coach in all the other areas that are necessary for sales success. Overemphasis on just one coaching area may also result. Frequently, when we ask about coaching, sales managers interpret the question as, “How much time do you spend in the field observing sales calls and providing feedback?” Obviously, effective coaching is more multi-faceted than mere sales call observation.
Sales Coaching Best Practices
Coaching training will only become sticky and embedded when it is part of a larger set of management practices and integrated with the reality of the sales manager’s day-to-day job. For example, top-performing managers will use a mandatory management activity such as forecasting and pipeline reviews as an opportunity for coaching. They dig into individual deals and, in particular, they examine early-stage deals. The result is improved performance across the entire sales team. Low-to-average-performing managers, on the other hand, have quick conversations simply scrubbing the pipeline data with reps before moving on. This is an excellent example of how good managers integrate coaching with everyday life in sales. Less skilled managers need to be trained to leverage conversations on sales issues into deeper coaching interactions. Furthermore, many modern sales organizations are reinforcing their sales manager training by investing in sales management systems that have built-in coaching workflows.
Coaching training will only be applied consistently when it aligns with reps’ key activities. Coaching must have the breadth to target the leading indicators of success. For example, if a rep needs work on retaining and growing a few large accounts, then her activity metrics and coaching need to align with that. If a rep needs help prioritizing who to call on, then his activity metrics and coaching should align with that. Without these guiding principles, as many companies have learned the hard way, the many hours of training and the thousands of dollars spent will be for naught.