Sales managers are some of the busiest people I know. And most I talk to claim that they are doing “sales coaching.” When I ask them to describe what that means, they say they try to talk with reps at least once a month to review the previous month’s activities and results. If they get too busy, they admit, sometimes these 1-on-1s are scheduled only when a rep has had a bad month.
In my mind, this kind of activity is better called performance management than sales coaching. Both are needed for effective management, but sales managers cannot substitute one for the other. Here are four pitfalls that explain why performance management is not a good basis for coaching salespeople.
Pitfall #1: A scorecard is about the past
When you play golf you write your score for each hole on the scorecard. At the end of the round the scorecard will tell you on which holes you did well and which ones you didn’t. But the scorecard doesn’t tell you why. Your performance is not just the number you wrote down for how many strokes you made—it is the result of the good and bad swings (and decisions) you made while playing. If you gave somebody your scorecard and asked them to get your game back on track they can’t really help you.
Holding a 1-on-1 meeting where we evaluate a rep’s metrics — their activity level and (lack of) sales results — is the same as looking at a scorecard after the game is over. This approach does not help improve results any more than criticizing someone’s golfing based on the final score.
Pitfall #2: Activity metrics only measure quantity not quality
As the products and services that our salespeople are selling become more and more complex, sales effectiveness is less about the quantity of sales calls made and more about the quality of each interaction with a customer.
Think of it this way: Does your #1 sales rep make substantially more sales calls than everybody else? Most often, the answer is “no.” That’s because top reps have fewer but higher-quality meetings with customers and prospects. As they get further into a sales process, the meetings get longer and often require follow-up actions. That takes time.
If you propose a quantitative “activity solution” (such as “make more calls”) to solve a rep’s quality of meetings problem, then the solution won’t work.
Pitfall #3: Scores can’t tell you why or what to fix
Too often, we sales managers can fall into the trap of equating “monitoring metrics” with “actively managing.” We get trapped in an illusion that we can solve performance problems when a rep’s “score” goes south. In the worst cases, looking at activity metrics becomes an excuse to not be doing more to engage with our salespeople in meaningful ways every day.
Pitfall #4: “Monitoring” is not “coaching”
If you were ever on a sports team, you know that effective coaching doesn’t happen after the game as much as before the game.
In the same way, effective, strategic sales coaching cannot be based on a monthly 1-on-1 sit down. It cannot be calendar-driven.
Effective sales coaching is something you must do every day. It must be based on in-depth observation of your players in action. That enables you to do a better assessment of their skills and wills, their strengths and challenges, and work with them in such a way that you help them get better.
Here’s my simple suggestion: Keep doing the monthly 1-on-1s so your salespeople know where they stand. But if you want to see improvement in their results, you’ll need to coach somebody every day. Do it first thing in the morning — or at least before noon — before the immediate demands on your time get in the way.