The evidence for the benefits of coaching is compelling. It’s amazing how even some of the best-managed corporations in the world have little or no official training for managers. Most corporate promotions are made based on taking a leap of faith on someone and hoping that things will turn out well. The issue with that business model is these incapable accountable managers feel miserably and hopelessly abandoned. Coach Aggressively or Perish Slowly
According to a study conducted by Manchester Inc, that targeted executives from Fortune 1,000 companies. Coaching increased productivity by 53%, Quality of delivery by 48%, Organizational strength by 48%, customer service by 39%, executive retention increased by 32%, bottom-line profitability increase by 22%, teamwork by 67% and job satisfaction by 61% and working relationships with clients by 37%.
We expect that the newly-promoted sales manager will project a positive attitude, be responsible, committed, accountable, creative, and compassionate. We also expect them to motivate, inspire, lead, develop, delegate, communicate reward, provide feedback and serve their team members while meeting company objectives.
The above attributes represent a tiny portion of a long list of capabilities that sales managers need to possess to do their job. However, how do you expect the newly promoted manager to master these attributes from day one?
This above list of attributes requires years of experiences, training, and coaching. Most corporations provide little or no formal training to develop their managers.
A good sales manager is always checking his salespeople’s vitals to ensure performance while sensing mood changes and frustration and addressing hidden and unspoken issues that may affect productivity.
Sales management is like parenting; parents know when things are not right, even when the child doesn’t show signs or complain. Most parents will approach the child with empathy and care to gain trust and help. In many ways, good sales managers act the same way; they become intimate with their sales reps to the point where they can instinctively sense when their assistance is needed.
Managers Formal Training.
I have witnessed several companies sending their newly promoted sales managers and even senior vice-presidents to the same training created for new sales reps. It may be an excellent way to provide a good understanding of how salespeople are being trained, but it’s not a senior managers’ tailored training.
Most sales managers are not provided with continuous training methodologies that will help them grow as sales leaders who can affect positively their teams and company performances.
You probably know that not all sales managers are effective coaches. My company conducted a survey where we interviewed 30 new sales managers in diverse B2B industries.
We asked the following simple 3 questions:
- Did your company train you on the tasks that are most vital to you getting results? Seventy-five percent of the participants were told that these tasks are to be gradually learned on the job.
- Do you believe that your tenured peers master these critical skills? Eighty-one percent of the participants stated that their tenured peers continue to struggle as they learn through the common process of trial and error.
- Did your organization provide you with any formal management education related to problem-solving and decision-making skills? Seventy-three percent of the participants stated that they struggle with finding and exploiting available opportunities. Furthermore, most of these managers believed that they are unprepared to deal with any severe problems or sudden catastrophic events.
Cost of no Training
Across industries, there is a group of sales managers that feels unprepared to spend time in the field with their salespeople because they worry that their gifted sales reps will discover that they are not well equipped to handle tough customers and situations.
Some managers experience severe anxiety meeting customers along with their experienced sales reps, knowing that their poor skills and awkwardness may be discernible during these client interactions. To avoid losing face, many sale managers will bury themselves in administrative tasks to circumvent revealing their incompetence’s.
” I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum capabilities.”—Bob Nardelli
You are probably saying that this type of sales manager should not be on the job. Many sales managers prefer to spend their time doing administrative tasks and helping with technicalities to advance the sale rather than spend time in the field with their sales reps; many sales managers go through stretches lasting several weeks and even months without a face-to-face with a client.
It’s easier to spend time with a sales rep over lunch, discuss business rather than face tough clients where the sales manager, along with the sales rep, are put to the test.
To make things worse, many companies bury their managers in non-revenue driven tasks, giving the non-competent sales manager the perfect alibi to avoid face time with customers.
The best sales managers accept that they will be put to the test often, and despite their best efforts, they will occasionally fail.
They accept defeat graciously because they learn from it. Failure is a common denominator in the selling game. These managers hide nothing from their sales reps and admit that they are learning as well and that they are far from being perfect. Salespeople respect and admire humble sales leaders who are authentic under pressure.
Great sales managers love to spend field time with their sales rep, as it allows them to observe the sales rep’s strengths and weaknesses, and get the opportunity to coach the sales rep on their specific deficient areas. Sales managers’ impact is vast in most sales organizations.
A sales manager can only teach what he knows. Sales management is all about coaching. Wait! Coaching? Yes, coaching is the only activity that the sales manager can leverage to drive exceptional performance. As a sales manager, you can achieve your quota by driving your team performance up. The way to do it is by ensuring that every individual in your team fulfills their obligations.
“Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.”—Fast Company
How can you ensure that all your sales reps achieve their respective goals? Coaching your sales reps can get you there faster than you think.
The dictionary definition of coaching is “A method of directing, instructing and training a person or group of people, with the aim to achieve some goal or develop specific skills. There are many ways to coach, types of coaching, and methods of coaching. A direction may include motivational speaking and training may include seminars, workshops, and supervised practice.” — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The purpose of coaching is to improve the performance and skillset of sales reps by providing one-on-one training to develop performances. Coaching,
- Allows the sales manager to observe the sales rep’s behaviors and approaches and, when necessary, offer feedback and best practices to enhance one’s performance.
- Empowers the sales rep to achieve progress. Personal performance dramatically improves with coaching; behavioral awareness under supervision can eliminate mistakes and improve one area’s strengths.
- Maximizes people’s performances on the job. According to several studies, 71% of C-level executives in sales organizations believe that driving sale productivity is a top priority over competing and growing. In addition, 74% of leading sales organizations cite that the most crucial role of a front-line sales manager is to coach and mentor sales reps to achieve their potential.
Sales productivity drives results and revenue.
To drive sales productivity up requires focusing on the following areas:
- Improving sales rep’s efficiency
- Improving sales rep’s effectiveness
- Efficiency x effectiveness = productivity
Sales efficiency is defined as the smart allocation of company resources to get the job done well. The most important resource is time; how one chooses to spend one’s time makes the difference between achieving high sales efficiency or not.
The more productive you are per hour, the more efficient you are. Good sales managers educate their teams to focus on high-value activities while reducing low-value activities. For example, a sales rep can increase his efficiency ratio by increasing the number of sales calls per hour, increase customer contact frequency, or improve close rate ratio. Greater efficiency, coupled with better effectiveness, yields higher productivity.
Sales effectiveness is about how you utilize your sales force’s resources to achieve your team goals. If you manage to have your team to place 30 additional calls per hour, you would have improved your team efficiency by a good margin.
If your team members manage to close 50% more of these calls, you would have yielded higher output from the same level of effort and potentially improved your team’s close rate and margin. Efficiency is about the willingness to use economic and human resources to get things done better. Effectiveness is about how skillful you are in getting the most out of the opportunity in front of you.
To improve your sales productivity, you will need to improve both efficiency and effectiveness. It is much easier to upgrade sales efficiency, as it requires primarily better management of one’s time and resources. Improving effectiveness requires planning, reflection, and continual adjustment. It often involves training and coaching to develop one’s skill to mastery.
Sales productivity improvement depends on the development of the following areas:
- Sales productivity increases according to the evolution of efficiency and effectiveness.
- Efficiency is easier to achieve, as it depends primarily on the allocation of resources and effort.
- Effectiveness requires improving the sales reps’ skills and capability.
Coaching and Performances
According to ICF studies, 80% of people who received coaching report increased self-confidence, and 70% experienced work performance and relationships enhancement. The sales managers who continuously coach their sales reps can expect a 20% increase in total performance.
Despite the importance of coaching, the average sales manager only spends 5%-10% of their time developing their sales reps. When asked, most sales managers cite that lack of time is among the most significant obstacle that leads to failure. Sales managers are pulled in many directions throughout the day, and they often have little control over their agenda, allowing multi-directional distraction to sway their focus.
According to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adams, who wrote an article in Harvard Business Review in 2011, “even world-class coaching can be wasted on the lowest performers, more likely because they are a bad fit for the role altogether.” Star reps often do not benefit much from coaching, so it’s best to leave them doing what works best for them. Their research concluded that the greatest beneficiaries from coaching are the core middle group that represents 60% of the team. Focused, targeted coaching can improve that specific group’s performance by as much as 20%. This kind of improvement can generate a 6% to 8% performance increase across the board. This kind of development means hitting your goals rather than missing it.
Many large corporations have an established policy about their sales force training, but only a few address the importance of coaching. Surprisingly, most managers do not know that coaching is part of their job description because they never receive any formal training themselves.
Countless sales managers feel that their daily routine interactions with their sales reps constituted coaching sessions. Others have difficulty providing feedback to their sales reps, feeling that their job is to help their sales reps close the business to meet their quota, not radically change their way of selling even when it yields poor or no results.
Coaching Yield Results
It takes self-confidence, tactical courage, observational finesse, and psychological diplomacy to coach. These attributes are not necessarily found in abundance in the pool of sales managers
Many managers confuse occasional training, performance review, and occasional guidance with coaching. Others deliberately avoid coaching, mostly because they feel inadequately trained to coach. Coaching is among the most impactful activity that elevates sales reps’ selling skills.
Military pilots prepare for combat with intensive training and simulation. Intense close observation and coaching go into the process to ensure the elimination of potential errors because even the smallest miscalculation in the battlefield means destruction and probable death.
Civil pilots are trained to deal with engine failures, engine fires, cabin fire, cabin decompression, jammed controls, and unreliable flight instruments. Problems can happen, but when they occur, the pilot’s flying skills and sound judgment will be put to the test. Great pilots are all about security, and they work hard to improve their system knowledge, vigilance, deviation tolerance, overall skills, and capability to ensure the safety of their passengers.
Sales management is similar in many ways to being a pilot, constant preparation is key to competence. Using the wrong word, the wrong approach or wrong behavior can potentially mean losing the opportunity forever. Decision-makers across industries are often experienced, shrewd, cautious buyers.
They watch the sales rep’s behavior, sales methods, word usage, mannerism, and tone and they pass emotional and mental judgment on what they see and perceive. An unsophisticated salesperson will inadvertently make errors of assumption, which leads to losing the customer interest. Professional sales reps understand that sales is all about control, and you keep control over the conversation by asking relevant questions.
Smart selling is often a dialogue where the customers do most of the talking, and the sales rep does most of the listening, knowing that every chosen word can either advance the sale, stall it, or kill.
“Constant, gentle pressure is my preferred technique for leadership, guidance, and coaching.” —Danny Meyer
The sales manager’s coaching session has everything to do with observing closely his sales reps’ interactions with their customers. Then, describing the area where the sales rep has done an exceptional job and the areas that require improvement.
Providing honest feedback creates awareness, sensitivity, and focus. The idea behind coaching is to minimize errors, grow new capability, enhance existing skills, test and support new approaches, and get feedback from a trained professional. Coaching is all about learning, discovering, and sharing ideas and principles to improve both the salesperson and the sales manager.
Coaching is not telling someone what to do; it’s a collaboration, where both parties share their thoughts, insights, ask questions, learn, and apply what works based on field testing. Effective coaching requires mental openness, good listening, and amendment skills.
The coach and the coachee may possess deeply entrenched ideas, beliefs, and philosophies that are hard to change, but, coaching works only when both parties are open, willing to evolve and let go of the deep-rooted established belief. The sales manager cannot dictate what needs to be done; instead, they should facilitate and inspire their sales reps to accept gradual changes that will have a positive long-lasting impact on productivity and the sales rep career.
Coaching is a dialogue that analyzes field behavioral observations with the intent to create progress by replacing areas of weakness with strength.
Coaching Versus Training
Training is a requirement to develop one skills, knowledge, and capability. Training should be an ongoing process to ensure the absorption, stickiness and the application of the newly acquired methods in real life. However, training is not a substitute for coaching. Instead, they complement one another and do not replace one another. They are both vitals and serve complementary purposes.
Many sales managers prefer to train their sales reps rather than coach them because most managers are more familiar with training than coaching. Coaching tends to happen in live settings, where the stakes are high, and mutual scrutiny is heightened.
In a field ride, a manager may have to assist the sales rep occasionally. It’s common that the sales rep and manager may have to work in tandem to overcome tough customer’s objections to win the deal.
In large organizations, company trainers often facilitate training, while in a small organization, it’s usually conducted by the sales manager. Training is all about concept education, partaking new knowledge, and improving existing sales expertise and capabilities.
A trainer can tell you how to do things from a theoretical standpoint, knowing that your knowledge and skills will be tested during your customer-facing interactions. You can learn swimming theory and concept, but unless you jump into the water, you will never know if your swimming theoretical skills will keep you afloat.
Training can educate sales reps on building rapport with prospects, questioning techniques, identifying, prospects, planning, overcoming objections, getting out of comfort zone, setting goals, and enhancing closing skills. The trainer and the sales reps can roleplay different scenarios to learn how to deliver a flawless presentation and how to lead decision-makers to accept their business proposal.
Coaching turns training sessions into field practices that enhance the sales rep’s overall sales capability. Coaching is the precise art of saying the right thing at the right time to trigger strong emotions or advance the sale. Coaching is all about close observation, discussion, and enhancement of one capability.
When and Where to Coach?
Coaching happens everywhere. The sales manager may observe that a sales rep struggles with some aspect of the sales process, so the manager can dig deep to find out the source of struggle and suggest ideas and best practices to help the sales rep to overcome their inadequacies. Good feedback has more to do with guided self-discovery than telling the sales rep what to do.
The sales managers can ask questions such as:
- At what point did you realize your sales techniques were not working with this customer?
- What could you have done differently to persuade the customer that your customized business solution was superior to your competitor’s offer?
- What better questions could you have asked your customer to handle their price objection?
These types of questions will allow the sales rep to reflect on their selling behavior and make the necessary adjustments to improve.
Coaching deal with observable behaviors and communications skills to affect the delivery and impact on the customer. Coaching works best in a one-on-one setting, as it focuses on improving one skill at the time, while training can be delivered in a group setting or individual setting. The training impact has everything to do with the individual’s willingness to absorb and apply the information learned.
The one-on-one weekly meeting that occurs between the sales rep and the sales manager is the most impactful time that leads to transformative changes. During these meeting, critical KPIs get discussed, gaps get uncovered, awareness is heightened, solutions and action plans get drafted, and commitment to execution gets done.
One-on-one weekly or monthly meetings are impactful because they are opportunities to discuss the salesperson’s performance and current trends. The sales manager uses these opportunities to listen and coach the salesperson to make tactical and strategic changes that will improve performance.
During these one-on-one meetings, the conversation should focus on the following KPIs:
- Volume achieved and type
- Profitability and margin
- Performance against objectives
- Portfolio management and growth
- The net new acquired business
- Ranking against peers regionally and nationally
These one-on-one meetings provide the following values:
- Keeps salespeople focused on results
- Creates accountability and responsibility cadence
- Promotes sales proactivity and initiative
- Builds on historical data but stay future-oriented
- Builds trust and promotes awareness
- Focuses on results by adjusting tactics and sales approaches
- Stimulates growth by affecting mindsets
- Improves honest communication
- Allocates adequate resources to complex issues
Coaching Shared Accountability
Consistent one-on-one sessions with the sales managers drive performance and morale up. The best managers take pride in passionately mentoring and developing their salespeople’s skills during these sessions. They provide constructive feedback based on observations derived from customer meetings and discuss things that went well versus what went wrong. These one-on-ones are a great time to give credit, acknowledge the salesperson’s efforts and progress while laying out shared goals and responsibility to achieve results.
If a team member fails to achieve results because of lack of effort, then discuss and generate a shared accountability plan to turn the situation around. These meetings are an opportunity to understand your sales reps’ struggles and challenges and draft a shared responsibility plan that will get them back on track.
As a sales manager, you cannot afford not to coach your people. Coaching requires that the coach and the coachee trust one another and believe in the value of these sessions. Both the sales manager and the trainee must be all in to get the information to stick.
“As coaches, we equip people to be in touch with their best selves.”—Clyde Lowstuter
I witnessed sales reps on several occasions go through tedious new training while the sales manager was either absent, chatting, disengaged, or busy responding to emails and texts in the back of the room. That kind of management behavior sends a clear message to the sales rep that training is not taken seriously and has little or no value.
Many sales managers speak highly of the importance and impact of training, yet when they are subjected to one, they often show total disinterest. Sales managers’ lack of engagement during corporate sales training is rampant, and this reality is usually evident when the sales manager cannot perform basic tasks that most sales reps can easily perform.
It is also apparent when the sales manager cannot answer standard questions that have been covered by the training department on multiple occasions.
During these corporate training, it is always clear to see people who were fully engaged and committed to learning versus those that were not. You cannot pretend to care, you either do or not, and if you do, as a sales manager you should participate and lead the training.
As a sales leader, you cannot expect people to show interest in the training when you are not interested. People follow their leaders’ examples. If you are engaged, involved, and hungry to learn, they will do the same.
The purpose of training is to develop skilled sales reps who are capable of higher performances to achieve their personal goals along with corporate objectives.
Corporations invest a lot of money and resources in training their sales reps to generate higher profits and productivity. When the sales managers are not engaged in reinforcing the process, the investment gets wasted, the knowledge gets lost, and the sales reps do not benefit.
CSO Insights conducted a study to measure the effectiveness and impact of several companies’ training programs. They include a question where the participants got to rate the quality of their company’s sales skills training program and reported 10.7% of participants estimated their company had exceeded expectations, 42.5% met expectations and 43.5% percent needed improvement.
The data showed that companies with sales skills training programs that exceeded expectations averaged spending $2,870 per sales rep, while the company that met expectations invested on average $2,196 per sales rep, and the companies that need improvements invested on average $1,815 per sales rep. This data reflects a direct correlation between the quality of the training and the level of employee satisfaction. The higher the investment on the employee, the higher the level of satisfaction.
The same research has shown that the respondents who ranked their sales training as exceeding expectations scored 54% of forecast deals won, compared to 44% in the needs-improvement group.
Furthermore, participants who rated their sales training as exceeding expectations had 5% fewer losses than the counterpart in the needs-improvement group. Finally, the group that ranked their skills training as exceeding expectations achieved sales 69.4% of the time in comparison with their counterparts 60.5% who ranked as a needed improvement.
This study also revealed that higher investment on better programs yielded better results as the salesperson was better equipped to tell a compelling story that highlighted the company’s competitive advantages while aligning business solutions to the customers’ needs.
Areas of coaching are broad, and the key is to focus on one aspect of coaching at the time until mastery before you move to the next,
- Conflict management skills
- Listening skill
- Sharing leadership/delegation skills
- Planning skills
- Mentoring skills/developing internal talent
- Communication skills
- Team-building skills
- Decision-making skills
- Persuasion skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Motivational skills
Is there a correlation between coaching field reps and performance?
Studies have shown that most sales managers state that time is often the primary barrier to coaching. The clear majority of sales managers who have teams of fewer than twelve sales reps indicate that they spend on average about one hour with each sales rep per week. However, most sales manager find it hard to stick to that schedule as they must deal with other priorities.
Time is always a significant barrier. For example, a manager who was short-handed was interviewing prolifically to find the right candidates, and while she understood the value of coaching, she had no choice but to focus on hiring new candidates. She and her team were stretched way too thin to shift focus from recruiting and training new folks.
Most managers confuse training with coaching and performance planning. When an organization has a loose approach to coaching, then no coaching takes place. Several sales managers stated that most coaching happens during the first three to six months of hiring new candidates. Rather than increasing coaching going forward, it decreases dramatically from that point on as sales managers feel that their time should be best utilized with newer hires.
Some sales managers stated that they are stretched so thin that they provide no coaching at all. Many sales organizations have no coaching programs on place or evaluations measurement to ensure that their sales managers are doing a good job coaching their teams.
Junior sales managers are not comfortable conducting coaching sessions with their sales reps. Many struggles with it, as it takes some level of experience to observe the behavior and describe the area where the sales reps can improve their skills. Smart sales managers create coaching cadences to ensure that every sales rep is developed according to their skill set and needs. Some sales reps may require one hour of coaching per week, and others may require several hours to build confidence.
Coaching requires the coach to be open to coaching as well. It’s an exchange of values that needs the coach and the coachee to be aligned to permeate lessons learned into actionable behaviors.
Some of the best-managed corporations in the world have little or no official training for managers, and that is a grave mistake. A platoon commander should be better equipped, better trained, and better educated than his soldiers; the same should apply to a sales manager and his team. Sales management by osmosis and trial and error is costly, outdated, time-consuming, and often ineffective.
You cannot bury your sales managers in non-revenue driven operational tasks and expect the manager to spend time in the field driving performance and putting out fires. Coaching requires extreme focus, observation, and orientation via dialogue. Coaching is a time-consuming activity that yields substantial financial gain in the long run.
A relaxed approach to coaching will create tremendous opportunity lost and poor performances. Coaching hones salespeople and the sales manager’s ability to observe and tackle complicated situations when they arise.
The sales manager would probably generate a higher return-on-effort by coaching their middle and top performers rather than unwilling underperforms.
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