Does Your Sales Coaching Strategy Need a Reality Check?
To develop your sales coaching strategy, you first need to understand where your organization’s level of coaching is right now.
Figuring out your sales coaching strategy has become a hot topic in business today, and for good reason. Many organizations now recognize that coaching is critical for building skills and capacity. In fact, it’s often cited as one of the top levers for improving performance and driving growth, and it’s an important tool for developing excellence with sales teams.
Yet despite the fact that most sales leaders recognize the importance of coaching and its impact on performance, many still don’t place a priority on developing and implementing an effective sales coaching strategy. As a result, a vast majority of sales managers don’t coach—or don’t do it well.
To get the benefits of coaching, today’s sales leaders need to take a hard look at the level of coaching maturity in their organizations and put action behind their words. If you’re not making effective coaching a priority and an expectation—and equipping your managers to take on that role—then your organization is going to struggle to meet ever-more aggressive sales targets and retain top talent in today’s competitive marketplace.
Sales Coaching Strategy Step 1: Know Your Proficiency
To develop your sales coaching strategy, you first need to understand where your organization’s level of coaching is right now. Coaching proficiency is best understood across a spectrum—most organizations fall somewhere between novice and advanced. How can you know where you are, and how can you shift your organization to greater effectiveness with coaching? Take a look at the four levels of coaching maturity, and think about where you’d place your organization within them.
NOVICE: Organizations at this level do bare-bones coaching, if they do it at all. Mostly, coaching is not on the radar screen of senior leadership at novice organizations. In fact, leaders at these organizations see coaching as a waste of time, holding the view that salespeople need to “be out there” selling, pure and simple. Managers decide whether or not to coach. It is not a part of the talent management strategy or practice. What’s more, salespeople don’t want anyone telling them what to do, which is how coaching is often misperceived at novice organizations.
In terms of time and scheduling, if coaching happens at all, it’s mostly ad hoc, with managers providing two or fewer hours of coaching a week. Coaching is not systemic or recurring: Almost no one receives coaching in an ongoing, structured way at novice firms. When it does happen, coaching typically is focused around company information and administrative requirements.
BEGINNER: At this level, senior leadership is aware that coaching happens in scattered pockets, but they do not see it as critical to personal or firm success. Managers consider themselves too busy to coach more than quarterly. If salespeople ask for coaching, they may or may not get it. If managers are required to coach their people, they decide what “coaching” is and go from there.
New employees receive the most coaching, though this is mostly training (with some coaching). Coaching will often include extensive reviews of product/service knowledge. As for time spent, too little coaching is provided—managers typically allow for 2-5 hours/week of coaching. Coaching is ad hoc, though also mostly centered around quarterly reviews.
MATURE: Senior leadership in organizations at this level typically see coaching as important. They encourage it and hold managers accountable to coach. Managers see coaching as a good use of time, though sometimes they are so busy that coaching sessions get canceled. Salespeople see coaching as important to their development. All salespeople are provided coaching, sometimes with a special focus on those involved in a big opportunity.
The amount of time spent coaching at this level is the right amount: Each manager provides 5-10 hours/week of coaching. Coaching is a blend of scheduled and ad hoc. What’s more, coaching sessions focus specifically on building and developing people, not just on their numbers, and managers improve their coaching skills with ongoing training and tools.
ADVANCED: Organizations at this level see the benefits of coaching across the board. Senior leadership views sales coaching as critical to success. They hold managers accountable and put them in a position to succeed at coaching. Additionally, managers have a high degree of coaching confidence. They know that coaching delivers results and frees up more time for them to focus strategically. An added plus is that managers look proactively for coaching opportunities in real-time. For their part, salespeople welcome coaching in these organizations. They know it’s tailored to them, and they feel understood, supported and inspired in their experience with coaching.
Coaching is abundant at this level: Each manager provides 10+ hours/week of coaching. Coaching sessions are mostly scheduled and held sacred; very rarely are they canceled.
Everyone is coached, including high performers, who sometimes get priority. Managers are coached at advanced organizations. What’s more, coaching is available regardless of size of opportunities. Coaching sessions feature a review of current performance, motivational work and skill development.
The bottom line for advanced organizations: Coaching is built in to the talent management system. Often, managers are selected based on their coaching abilities, and they’re rewarded, in part, on their success in developing people.
The reality is, most managers today spend most of their time managing processes, not developing their people. But the ones who do coach, especially those managers who are effective at it and coach consistently, see measurable performance increases in their teams. It’s up to leaders to develop an effective sales coaching strategy and then hold their managers accountable for it.