“Research shows that coaching Sales Reps increases their performance and win rates.” Duh. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine how receiving guidance from a seasoned pro can up your game. Look no further than personal trainers, dieticians, life coaches, business coaches, speaking coaches, sports coaches, acting coaches… you get the picture. Virtually every professional at the top of their game today – CEOs, investors, politicians, athletes, celebrities, etc. – will have at least one of these experts on their payroll, pushing them to conceive and achieve the next level of their success.
Few business leaders need convincing on the merits of coaching. But when it comes to assuming the role of coach, the problem is knowing exactly how to go about coaching. Or more precisely, how can you ensure your Managers are investing their time… in the right coaching methods… in a consistent and scalable manner… for predictable outcomes that result in direct improvements on performance and revenue?
The problem with sales coaching
So, what makes for effective coaching in sales? Is it delivering shoulders back, chest-out Tony Robbins-style mantras that challenge the individual to strive towards greater success through commitment, purpose and self-belief, the Dr Phil method in helping your team overcome self-limiting beliefs and destructive habits, or Sir Alex Ferguson’s approach to tackling weakness through authoritative leadership and straight talk?
When it comes to Sales Rep coaching, the Sales Manager will typically review the Rep’s sales figures, pipeline activity, and recent performance (good and bad). They’ll ask the Rep for their input on where they feel they can improve, and where they need help? The Manager will then channel their inner Robbins, Dr Phil or Ferguson and offer their advice on how to tackle tricky client situations and pending deals, along with making recommendations for remedial steps to up activities, revise call scripts, tweak client approaches, and the like. The Sales Rep will then be sent on their way to execute until the next pipeline review session.
While this approach may lead to improvement – be it boosted self-confidence, higher morale and/or improved deal progression – it’s definitely not the formula for a scalable coaching programme or predictable results – and therein lies the problem.
Picture a mid- to large-sized company that employs a team of 3-10 Sales Managers. Each Manager will bring their own flavour (Robbins, Dr Phil, Ferguson… or other) and cadence to coaching interactions. The Managers will likely select their own criteria for what to focus on with each individual, and in our experience in working with over 500 clients, the formality, content and regularity of coaching sessions will differ wildly from Manager to Manager.
On one end of the spectrum, Manager A will diligently prepare for each session, using scientific criteria to identify, coach and monitor development areas. At the other end of the gamut, Manager Z will opt for sporadic, informal coaching preferring to ‘coach on the fly,’ by offering up their advice on what they would do in that situation, with no accompanying documentation, no concrete outcomes, and little if any follow up.
The result? A mixed bag with diluted impact. At best, a measure of improvement in the sales team under the eye of diligent Manager A. At worst, unfocused efforts that fail to move the needle, wasting the time and opportunities available to Manager Z and their team.
Building a scalable coaching process
There is no doubt that sales is part art and (a lot of) science. The ‘science’ principle leverages best-practice, process and continuous optimisation. It outlines the formulas and frameworks that lead to predictable outcomes and superior performance, that can be scaled across teams, territories, and continents.
The ‘art’ speaks to that extra ‘something special’ – the dynamic combination of intelligence, experience, and charisma that an individual brings, in executing on the process.
Not everyone is equally gifted with the talents that rise to the level of ‘art’, but everyone can follow a process.
When it comes to improving sales revenue through coaching, the formula lies in building a formal, metrics-driven coaching process and equipping Managers with the hard skills (science) and soft skills (art) necessary to execute impactful coaching interventions – that result in real revenue improvement.
Let’s look at what this entails.
If the contribution of Ford’s assembly line and McDonald’s world domination have taught us anything, it’s the principle that exponential success is achieved by following a defined formula with repeatable actions, executed in a precise order, without deviation.
A formalised coaching structure demands the same discipline.
You want Manager A and Manager Z following exactly the same process. This means developing a standard coaching agenda, a standard framework to determine who to coach, standard management training for how to coach, a standard procedure for documenting development plans, and a standard process for monitoring improvement and reporting on the results.
Cadence is key. Consistency can only be established and maintained through setting regular meetings, for instance the first Friday of each month.
These meetings should allow time for the Manager to review the outcomes of each Rep’s previous session along with their current performance (qualitative) and metrics (quantitative) – and reflect on skills development plans.
This should be followed by the review meeting itself where the skills development plan will be co-created with the Sales Rep and the actual coaching session will be scheduled for a later date.
Finally, to ensure accountability, commitment and – most importantly – results, Sales Managers should be required to report on their reviews, skills development plans and performance outcomes to senior-level management at regular intervals.
A metrics-driven approach to coaching removes subjectivity, clearly illuminates improvement areas, enables precise monitoring and tracking of performance and ultimately saves Managers’ time.
Metrics monitored will typically include:
- Activities metrics: Calls, emails, appointments, presentations
- Pipeline metrics: Number of new leads, number of prospects in the pipeline, progression and drop-off rates per stage, stalled deals, lost deals
- Performance metrics: Velocity, pipeline value, quota attainment, win rate, revenue, average deal size, etc.
If you are evaluating the performance of a Sales Rep responsible for new business development, you may begin with number of calls and connects. But if the conversion rate is low, the answer in improvement does not necessarily lie in increasing the level of activity (in this case the number of dials) there may be a root-problem that needs to be identified and dealt with.
Is the Sales Rep investing too much time and effort in unqualified leads? Is it a time management problem? Does the Rep lack confidence on the phone? Is it a problem with the script? Are they calling at the wrong times of the day? Or do they have low motivation, or a bad attitude?
Once you have the individual’s metrics, track their performance against the group’s numbers, paying particular attention to where an individual’s numbers are lower than group averages.
Problem areas in metrics should inform the coaching agenda, in which Managers answer these three questions:
- What is the one skill you will work on this month with this Sales Rep?
- How did you decide on that skill?
- What is the customised coaching plan to develop that skill?
When it comes to identifying the appropriate coaching response, consider the composition of a typical Sales Force: Star performers, core performers and laggards. Overlay this with other factors such as tenure in present role, differing levels of experience, capability, knowledge, attitude, and motivation.
It’s clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach won’t cut it. Managers need a framework to know who to coach, when to coach and when not to coach.
In certain instances, coaching is not the appropriate solution – some Reps need training, empowering or performance management instead.
Managers also require the hard skills to lead purposeful and impactful coaching conversations, along with the ability to know how and when to employ a directive (instructing the individual) versus non-directive (empowering the individual) approach to problem-solving.
When it comes to soft skills, a metrics-driven coaching approach does not require Robbins, Dr Phil, or Ferguson. It’s not the responsibility of the Sales Manager to help Reps overcome emotional burdens or cheer-lead them to success. To be an effective coach however, Managers must obtain buy-in.
This means they must earn the respect and trust of the Sales Reps. This requires essential soft skills including self-awareness, listening ability, EQ and leading by example.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the best coaching plans are collaborative. Empower your Sales Reps by co-creating skills development plans, and foster engagement by encouraging them to set their own goals. n
How we assist
- Our Coaching Pro for Sales Managers workshop provides a complete framework for sales coaching that drives revenue growth.
- The workshop encompasses the skills training and tools (agendas, coaching conversations cheat-sheets, matrix to identify who to coach and metrics-based coaching scorecards) for efficient knowledge transfer and immediate implementation.
- Additional support services include assistance with rollout and adoption in the form of Deployment, Refreshers and 30-Day Management Reviews.