Research Shows: Coaching Makes a Difference

Guest blog contribution
By Tamara Schenk
Research Director, CSO Insights

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.” 
― Tommy Lasorda

Even world-class salespeople don’t win every deal. In fact, the best of the best are willing to walk away from deals that aren’t win/win—the solution doesn’t address the challenge, for example, or the buyer is demanding price concessions but offering nothing in return. They understand that their time is better spent focusing on the remaining one-third that are both winnable and winning.

In sales, just as in baseball, coaches make all the difference. In my last post, I talked about how coaches need to have the skills and mentality to coach the whole salesperson: body and mind. It may sound like a relatively easy thing to do, but as anyone who has ever been a front-line manager in a dynamic sales or service environment and/or a highly competitive market knows, it’s not. However, one thing I can tell you that we’ve learned from both anecdotal evidence and our research: This kind of sales coaching works!

Let’s take a closer look at what it all means for your sales coaching and leadership development strategies—particularly if improving win rates and quota attainment are important goals for you in 2017.

4 Levels of Coaching

Before we get into the results from our research, it’s important to have a common understanding of the different levels of coaching. To set the stage, I’ll use sports as an example again, but this time, I will focus on the sport’s youngest players and how they are coached and developed.

In youth sports, every team has a coach, but what that coach does varies widely between teams—even teams in the same city and at the same age level. Some coaches operate as though their role is nothing more than an overseer, there to make sure the kids play nice and don’t get hurt. Others make a sincere attempt at teaching the kids to play the sport, but since they don’t have real-life experience playing the game themselves, their efforts are relatively ineffectual. A few lucky teams have coaches who know both how to coach children and how to play the sport.

Almost every sales team has coaches as well: typically, the frontline sales managers. Like the youth coaches, their experience and skillset varies widely. So, too, does the level of guidance they get from sales leadership. We’ve formalized this into a coaching model that covers four levels:

Ad-hoc coaching: At this level, the approach to coaching, including whether it happens or not, is up to the individual managers. Left to their own skills and devices, the quality of coaching at this level varies widely. If the managers were never coached well themselves, their efforts will reflect that. It’s at this level that we most often see managers trying to “coach” results—“How will you make quota this month?”, instead of coaching the behaviors and activities that lead to results.

Informal coaching: At this level, the organization recognizes that coaching is vital to success, but it is probably still struggling with what works. There is no formal coaching process defined. Tools to support coaching efforts are few and far between, and there are no established best practices.

Formal coaching: A formal coaching process exists at this level, ideally derived from the customer’s journey. The frontline managers have been trained and educated, and they are required to use the coaching approach to improve performance. Enablement produces coaching guidelines and tools and provides related training sessions to develop the managers and to support their efforts. Best practices are documented and formalized.

Dynamic coaching: The ultimate goal, dynamic coaching, only happens when the formal coaching approach is also tightly aligned with the enablement approach, ensuring that coaching reinforces the enablement investments. At this level, there are principles and best practices, and frontline managers have developed a coaching fluency that allows them to adapt their approach to a dynamic selling and buying environment. Ideally, frontline managers are measured and compensated in part based on how they coach and their commitment to consistent and effective coaching practices.

 Sales Coaching: The Results Are In

With an understanding of the four levels of coaching, let’s look at what our research tells us. Our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study uncovered a clear improvement in both win rate and quota attainment as organizations moved from ad-hoc coaching to dynamic coaching. Win rate jumps to an astounding 17.4%.

Amazingly, the study also found that 72% of sales organizations have only an ad-hoc or informal coaching approach. Another 21.7% said they have a formal approach, but only 5.3% said it is aligned with their sales enablement programs.

For organizations looking to create a sustainable competitive advantage, a formal coaching program may be just the ticket.



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