The Edge That Will Help Sales Leaders Get Ahead


The best sales leaders know that sales coaching is an investment of time that ultimately creates time on the back end.

Firms that coach their salespeople effectively rack up 9% higher sales than the rest. What’s more, the ones that are ineffective at coaching fall 6% below the average when it comes to achieving sales objectives.

That’s a 15% gap. And it’s a huge issue for many businesses today.

In fact, fewer than half (46%) of the firms we surveyed as part of our 2018 Sales Coaching Research study believe they are effective at coaching salespeople. Although 76% see coaching as important, the exact same number (76%) say that there is too little coaching happening.

Clearly effective sales coaching yields results. We know it’s important. We just don’t do it. Why?

Our research revealed a few reasons:

  • Lack of senior executive sponsorship: “Managers not held accountable for coaching” was one of the top obstacles to providing more coaching. The more attention senior leaders place on something, the more it gets done. If it’s not on senior leadership’s radar, chances are, it’s not getting done.
  • Sales managers’ perspectives: “Managers are too busy” (67%) and “Managers don’t know how to coach” (55%) were other top obstacles. But if managers say they’re “too busy,” that’s a symptom of something else. Either they don’t know how to coach or they’re not being held accountable.

The best 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 outcomes save the sales manager time in the long run.

Current Development and Coaching Solutions (and why they fall short)

To close this gap, we need to understand what’s wrong with current approaches to improve salesforce performance. Most organizations emphasize training for their salespeople. But our study shows that only 50% of firms include training for coaches. And only 44% of coaches themselves receive follow-on coaching.

The firms where managers do receive coaching, however, outperform the mean in terms of sales objective achievement by 10%. Firms that don’t provide managers with coaching perform 13% below the mean. That’s a 23% difference! This is probably the most glaring stat from our study.

Simply put, if you want to improve sales performance, coach your coaches! Other aspects of a robust L&D system — e.g., providing effective coaching tools, peer practice-sharing — create slight bumps in sales objective achievement, but nothing comes close to matching the increase you get from coaching the coaches.

Coaching the coaches may also help them understand where to focus in their coaching sessions. For example, many coaches focus on product knowledge or developing selling skills. Our research found that sales managers view improving motivation to be the least effective aspect of coaching. This is ironic, because when coaching to improve motivation is likely to happen, organizations see a 7% increase in sales objective attainment, versus an 8% decrease when it’s unlikely to happen. Our data showed that high performing coaches blend a review of current performance, skill development and improving motivation. (For more on this, check out our 2017 research, Turbo-Charging Passion to Drive Sales Performance.)

How Robust Is Your Organization’s Coaching Model?

These are not the only reasons coaches fall short, though. An effective coaching approach is part of a broader talent management system in which:

  • A definition of sales coaching is published.
  • Coaching is supported and modeled by senior leadership.
  • Managers are selected based on their coaching abilities.
  • Managers are assessed and rewarded, in part, on their success in developing people.

It’s worth noting that these systems are rare. In fact, almost two-thirds of firms allow their managers to decide what activities are considered “coaching.” Only 38% set specific objectives for coaches. And only 27% assess coaching effectiveness or even have a published definition of what constitutes sales coaching.

Of course, that means the few organizations that are doing it right can claim a huge competitive advantage.

Where Can You Start?

When looking at our sales coaching data from a birds’ eye view across the organization, certain firms are much more “mature,” or proficient, in their approach. These organizations take a more holistic and systematic approach to ensuring that sales coaching succeeds.

To see where your organization compares to peer organizations, start with our quick, 10-question quiz. You’ll get a profile of your organization’s level in the “Sales Coaching Maturity Model” — Novice, Beginner, Mature or Advanced — and information about how to move your organization to the next stage. Most organizations can target at least one or two specific things they can do to improve their sales coaching and take their sales revenues up a notch.


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