Let’s consider the world’s top performers, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Bjorn Borg, The Three Tenors and so on. What do they have in common? They all have a coach. The Executive Coaching industry is booming. Top performers in industry, sports, and music have a coach and realize the value. So, why is coaching so neglected by Sales Managers?
Should Sales Managers coach?
There are many reasons sales coaching is virtually ignored by sales managers. Sales coaching is difficult. Sales reps, and especially top performers, can be Divas and not open to feedback. There is also the misconception shared by sales managers that if it isn't broke, don’t fix it. Since we tend to promote the top performers into the manager role, they are managers that have not been trained on how to effectively coach their new team. Additionally, when does the busy manager find time to coach? Sales coaching is seen as something sales managers do when they find the time. The “time” reason can be alleviated by identifying how much time you spend with Low, Medium and Top Performers. We will discuss the reasons why sales coaching is important, but first let’s look a little closer at what coaching looks like in the sales organization.
The Sales Executive Council defines sales coaching as an ongoing and dynamic series of job-embedded interactions between a sales manager and sales rep, designed to diagnose and correct or reinforce behaviors, specific to that individual. Sales coaching is structured, planned, tailored to the individual, and behavioral in nature. This means sales managers should have a consistent time each month dedicated to coaching their reps either through conference calls, ride-alongs or face-to-face meetings. They should gather feedback through surveys, observation, and their metrics (drivers and results) and tailor the development conversation to the sales rep. The sales coaching conversation will center around behaviors the sales rep should reinforce or even change. This could look like how to effectively plan for sales in their territory or prepare for the sales call. It may even be coaching on how to build strong relationships with their customers or how to articulate the company’s value proposition to the customer. The important thing to remember as a sales manager is to coach behaviors and not numbers.
Why should Sales Managers Focus on Sales Coaching?
Sales coaching can and will lead to better results at all levels of the sales organization. Individuals do not typically take the time to self assess. We don’t see that our golf swing is off or that our back-hand is rusty. We need someone to create a secure environment so they can help raise the self-awareness and point us in the right direction. Studies indicate that sales coaching can, and will, increase sales rep performance by up to 20%. This increase will vary depending on the whether the sales rep in question is one of our low, medium, or top performers and will also vary depending on the coaching effectiveness of the sales manager. As the sales manager’s coaching effectiveness increases, you will also see additional improvement on performance. The 20% performance gain you can achieve can be impacted by an additional 19% based on this coaching effectiveness increase. Just imagine if your top performers, let alone your entire team, was able to achieve a 20% improvement in their sales numbers.
Another good reason for sales managers to become effective coaches is team morale and job satisfaction. The more effective the coach is, the higher the probability there will be lower attrition rates, particularly for top performers.
In addition, when sales reps receive skills training, the effectiveness of their coach plays a large role in their retention of the information. A recent gallop study indicated that 87% of sales rep training is lost without good follow-up and coaching by their manager. Think about how much time and money can be gained or lost here. The coach’s ability to reinforce their learning's not only ensures constant performance improvement, but also realizes the return on the training investment.
As you can see, changing the focus of Sales Managers and instituting sales coaching as a core job responsibility will have far reaching effects. It’s a wonder today with ever increasing territory sizes and sales targets, that more sales managers are not placing an emphasis on sales coaching as a means to achieve success.