The WHY Behind Sales Coaching
Sales coaching empowers sales reps to improve selling skills and close more business. In a recent study we conducted with Selling Power, Sales Management Research Report: 5 Hallmarks of High-Impact Sales Organizations, we found that managers at high-impact sales organizations (defined as organizations where more than 75% of the sales reps achieve quota) are more proficient at sales coaching and spend more time coaching their teams than managers at average (25% - 75% of reps achieve quota) and low performing (less than 25% or reps achieve quota) sales organizations.
Despite the compelling research, most managers spend the bulk of their time on other activities (e.g., selling, preparing forecasts, attending meetings) and neglect the importance of developing the one skill that can have the biggest impact on sales.
At Sales Readiness Group, we’ve typically found that managers have four responses when we ask why they’re not investing more time in this area.
1. Don’t understand the benefits of sales coaching
2. Don’t feel they have enough time
3. Concern about hurting sales rep’s confidence
4. Not sure how to coach
Here are my thoughts on these very legitimate concerns.
Response #1: “Don’t Understand the Benefits of Sales Coaching”
As compelling as industry data is, it’s clearly not enough to prove the impact of this method. Sales managers need to understand why coaching has such a high ROI.
As a starting point, let’s define sales coaching clearly.
This skill focuses on helping reps develop the skills, knowledge, and use of strategies that improve sales results.
Based on this definition, it’s pretty straightforward why reps benefit from this method. Those who get it have better selling skills and strong industry and product knowledge. They also know how to think about sales opportunities strategically to generate higher, more profitable sales.
Response #2: “Don’t Feel They Have Enough Time”
Sales managers work extremely long hours. Especially when you take into account business travel, preparing forecasts, and attending internal meetings.
In most cases, however, a significant amount of their time is spent on their role as chief problem-solver as opposed to sales-enabler. Throughout their days, they find themselves responding to sales reps' requests for assistance to resolve client issues and opportunities.
While this may have great short-term benefit in terms of closing more business, it undermines what should be their longer-term objective, which is to help their sales reps learn to solve many of these problems on their own.
As an example, a sales manager may be able to tell a sales rep what he or she should do to advance a stuck opportunity. In doing so, however, that manager is losing a different opportunity: Having the sales rep explain what he or she thinks are the best options, considering other options, and discussing how to best proceed given the alternatives.
While coaching will require more of the sales manager’s time in the short term, it ultimately leads to a more productive, empowered, and motivated sales team. In turn, that frees up the sales manager’s time.
Response #3: “Hurting Sales Rep’s Confidence”
This is a legitimate concern if their company lacks a coaching culture and uses coaching as a way to critique bottom performers.
First and foremost, coaching needs to be seen as genuinely helpful and focused on sales rep development. Secondly, coaching is rarely successful with reps who have a history of poor performance. Instead, sales coaching is best focused on middle and even higher-performing reps who have the capacity and desire to improve. The following chart illustrates where coaching can have the greatest impact and where other management actions are required.
Coaching is About Moving the Middle
Coaching is about moving the middle. Ultimately, the goal of sales coaching is to improve sales rep performance and increase confidence levels as they develop even better-selling skills.
Response #4: “Don’t Know How to Coach”
While some sales managers may have natural coaching instincts (i.e., a desire to teach and help others succeed), there is no reason to expect that a manager will know how to coach without coaching skills and a coaching process. Fortunately, there are a number of great programs that sales managers can take advantage of including SRG’s High Impact Sales Coaching program.
Becoming a great sales coach requires time and dedication. It is, however, not only worthwhile in terms of business impact but also the satisfaction you experience as you see your reps selling skills and confidence grow.
About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Chairman and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience, and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.