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Sales Effectiveness Often Starts by Understanding Why Your Sales Managers Still Aren’t Coaching Their Teams

Ask a roomful of people to raise their hands if they know that regular exercise delivers health benefits, and without fail, every hand will go up. Ask if they know that there are health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and most of those hands will stay up. And yet despite this awareness, 80% of American adults don’t meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle strengthening. About 45% of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve any health benefits. Around $117 billion in healthcare costs are associated with inadequate physical activity.

But this isn’t an article about exercise.

It’s about sales coaching- and sales effectiveness.

Sales managers have a stressful job. The business is on the line, and you’re responsible for your team’s performance. The pressure is on as demands come from all sides: Get more deals closed, faster. Meet aggressive new targets. Deal with challenging customers — and sometimes even more challenging salespeople. You need the team to be highly skilled, highly energized and firing on all cylinders. It’s the only way to hit those numbers consistently, quarter after quarter.

When we recently surveyed sales leaders in over 200 organizations for a research study conducted in partnership with the Sales Management Association, the respondents recognized these challenges and said coaching plays an important role in dealing with them. Seventy-six percent of the respondents told us that coaching their salespeople is strategically important to achieving their targets this year.

But here’s where things get a little strange: Despite that high level of awareness, that same percentage told us that they’re doing little — if any — sales coaching.

So we asked them, why the discrepancy? If it’s so important, why aren’t more sales managers in your organization coaching their people? The top answers: (1) managers aren’t skilled at coaching and/or don’t have the confidence to do it, and (2) managers don’t receive any training on how to coach.

But then we asked the question a little differently. We wanted to know, why aren’t you coaching? When managers are asked to reflect on their own reasons for not coaching (as opposed to why they think other managers in their organization aren’t coaching), the issues of lack of skills or confidence were curiously down the list. Instead, the number one response was: I’m too busy.

But are they, really?

In any area of life, if there are things that we know we need to do but either we haven’t been trained in it, aren’t confident in our ability to do it or are in any way skeptical that it works, we’re probably going to find creative ways to not to have do it — especially if we know that no one’s going to hold our feet to the fire or pay attention if we don’t. Consciously or unconsciously, we’ll find all sorts of other important activities to do that just seem to take priority.

It’s not surprising, then, that sales managers decide to do something they know they’re good at instead of coaching, even if they believe in the value of coaching and its impact on sales effectiveness. Whether they choose to address client issues, respond to leadership’s demands for updated forecasts, tackle sales rep performance challenges, juggle paperwork, attend internal meetings or scrutinize the CRM, any of these will seem a lot more attractive than coaching if they lack the confidence and skills and aren’t being held accountable for it. In many ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: These managers do indeed become too busy to coach. And that’s a serious problem.

The Risks of Being Too Busy To Coach

Research by CEB indicates that employees who receive coaching are more engaged (25%), apply more discretionary effort (18%) and are less likely to leave (25%). We also know that without an effective coaching culture, managers usually end up dealing with more turnover than they should, either because their people aren’t getting the support to develop their skills and stay motivated when things get tough, or because high performers feel like they need to go elsewhere to take their game to the next level. Or maybe they’re just sick of picking up the slack for the rest of the team.

At the same time, sales managers may have to deal with performance issues or be forced to step in and take over when salespeople aren’t equipped to handle challenging situations or get deals closed. They may also have to invest additional time dealing with morale issues.

Sales Coaching Isn’t Necessarily What They Think It Is

But there’s another reason sales managers might think they’re too busy to coach: They don’t understand what it means to coach and, just as important, what it doesn’t mean. Effective sales coaches aren’t micro-managers who hover nearby at all times, solving the salesperson’s problems and providing a non-stop stream of feedback. In fact, a recent Gartner study found that those “always-on managers” can do more harm than good.

Coaching also isn’t the same thing as leading a performance review or a deal strategy session. These are important, but they’re not a substitute for coaching.

Effective coaching is broader and focuses on the person, not just their performance. It’s about:

  • Participating in engaging coaching conversations so that salespeople can resolve their own problems and take ownership of the solution.
  • Capitalizing on the real power of observation and providing feedback that results in positive behavioral changes.
  • Successfully motivating and developing sales teams to improve faster.

If you’re finding that you are too strapped for time to coach your salespeople, take a step back and think about it in the context of the three conversations that effective coaching requires:

  1. The conversation that you have with your sales reps. Coaching is building and developing people, not opportunity planning or numbers review. A simple, structured approach, consistently applied, will yield concrete results. It doesn’t have to be time consuming to be highly effective.
  2. The conversation that you have with yourself. Do some serious self-scrutiny about your reasons for not coaching as often as you should. Of course you’re busy — but too busy? Is it really, deep-down, a time-management or a confidence issue? Be honest with yourself. Is it that you have too many reports to write or too little training and practice at coaching?
  3. The conversation you have with your coach. Are you getting the organizational support that you need? For example, is your manager asking you about how you are coaching your people? Are you receiving training and tools? Are you being held accountable? Talk with your manager about this and come up with a plan together to maximize your team’s performance through coaching.

Whether it’s coaching salespeople or getting sufficient exercise, there are always things that we tell ourselves that hinder our performance. Sometime those things are right. Many times, we just want them to be right. Embrace the three conversations concept and challenge yourself to get better at each. Your team’s improved sales effectiveness will be the reward.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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