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Effective sales coaching yields results, and sales leaders intuitively seem to understand this. So where’s the disconnect? Why isn’t everyone putting their energy and attention behind something they know will deliver results?

You don’t have to look far to find another article or blog post talking about the importance of coaching in the workplace. Productivity, retention, engagement, adaptability and performance are just a few of the benefits coaching has been shown to deliver. In the world of sales, coaching is seen as critical for driving growth and developing excellence within sales teams. What’s more, sales managers who coach, and especially those who are effective at it and coach consistently, see measurable performance increases with their teams. 

Why, then, is coaching so often ignored, practiced unevenly, misunderstood or simply pushed to the back burner?

Despite high levels of awareness that they should be doing it, the vast majority of sales managers either don’t coach or don’t do it well. In fact, most managers devote the majority of their time managing processes and numbers, not developing their people. Forecasts, spreadsheets, CRM reports and territory reviews always seem to dominate their calendars. No matter how aware they are of the importance of coaching, they’re still not making it a priority.

With this paradox in mind, you may recall we conducted a study with the Sales Management Association to survey sales leaders from roughly 200 companies to learn more about sales coaching and, specifically, how top performing companies approach sales coaching differently than lower performing companies. 

The Sales Coaching Paradox

Our research confirmed this conflict between what managers and companies know and what they actually do in practice. While 76% of firms see coaching as important, that exact same number (76%) say that there is too little coaching. Less than half (46%) of firms believe they are effective at delivering sales coaching.

As for the impact of coaching, those firms in our survey that are effective at coaching salespeople reported 9% higher achievement of sales objectives than average, while those that are ineffective report 6% lower than average achievement (a considerable 15% gap). 

Clearly, effective sales coaching yields results, and sales leaders intuitively seem to understand this. So where’s the disconnect? Why isn’t everyone putting their energy and attention behind something they know will deliver results?

What the High Performers Do Differently

One way to understand why sales coaching isn’t happening in most companies — at least to the degree and effectiveness it needs to be — is to look at the key areas where high performers differ from low performers. Here are just three of the pivotal differences that showed up in our research:

  • The sales manager’s view of coaching: An accurate view of how sales managers view coaching is quite simply how much time they spend on it.  When we asked what’s keeping their sales managers from doing more coaching, the top 3 obstacles were: “too busy” (67%), managers not held accountable for coaching (63%) and managers don’t know how to coach (55%). 

“Too busy” is, in reality, just a symptom of something else. Either they don’t know how, or it’s not a critical part of their job as viewed by senior leadership (i.e., they’re not held accountable). The most advanced sales leaders know that sales coaching is an investment of time that ultimately creates time on the back end. This is because salespeople are more likely to be able to handle sales situations in the future, and because coached salespeople are more likely to feel supported and stay loyal to the company. Both of these results of coaching save the sales manager time in the long run. 

  • The topics emphasized in sales coaching sessions: If you want to emulate the high performers, your coaching emphasis needs to move away from basic product and service knowledge — and even beyond skill development — to motivation. When coaching to improve motivation is likely to happen, organizations see a 7% increase in sales objective attainment over the mean, versus an 8% decrease when it’s unlikely to happen. That 7% bump is the second highest bump in terms of a coaching topic, behind only current performance. 

Ironically, our survey found that sales managers view improving motivation be the least ineffective coaching aspect of coaching. They don’t seem to grasp the importance of motivation as an outcome of coaching. But this question of skill vs. will comes up again and again, and the results are always the same: Motivation, attitudes, beliefs and values are critical drivers of sales performance. Nothing impacts sales success more.

  • Resources provided to managers to help them coach: Only 50% of the firms in our study said they provide sales coaching training to managers. And only 44% of coaches themselves receive coaching. However, the firms that do provide sales managers with coaching outperform the mean in terms of sales objective achievement by 10%. Those firms that don’t provide managers with coaching perform 13% below the mean. That’s a 23% gap!

This is perhaps the most glaring stat. If you want to improve sales performance, the message is obvious: Coach your sales leaders. The other elements —effective coaching tools, peer-sharing of practices — provide slight bumps in sales objective achievement, but none come close to the benefit of providing coaching for sales managers.   

The Sales Coaching Maturity Model: Find Out How Your Firm Stacks Up

These are just a few of the significant differentiators we uncovered. But what about you? To make this research more applicable, we created a brief 10 question assessment comprised of questions centered around the areas top performers clearly took a different approach than their peers. Take the quiz to find out where your company falls within the “Sales Coaching Maturity Model” and what steps you might need to take to start getting the full benefits of sales coaching.

About the Author
Donna Horrigan

Vice President of Client Development

For more than six years Donna Horrigan has been partnering with our clients to drive business outcomes through performance improvement...
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