A research report from the Sales Management Association (SMA) published in late 2015 concluded that coaching improvement is high-yield. The firms included in the research that were able to help their managers deliver high-quality coaching to salespeople realized annual revenue growth nearly 17% higher than those that did not provide good support for managers.
The SMA report also confirms that effective sales coaching is a matter of both time (quantity) and quality. Overall, less than 8% of a sales manager’s workload in the studied firms was allocated to coaching.
We also have to question how that 8% is being used. While sales managers often tell me they are doing a lot of “coaching,” it turns out they are only reviewing past performance and activity, and discussing impending deals. That kind of activity is what I label performance management. And yes, a review of outcomes is an important aspect of managing a sales team. But to have a team that continually improves, you also need to do developmental coaching, work that helps your reps improve their sales skills and mental attitude.
Here are three techniques for improving the use of your coaching time:
1) Ask for more
If you want salespeople to perform at a higher level, you must ask them to get better. Your job is not to be simply a caretaker of a team. Your job is to inspire them to a higher level of performance.
The place to start is to look at what performance standards you have in place. Have you defined only the minimum standards—the “at least I won’t get fired” levels of performance? Or have you looked at what the best reps can achieve and set those kinds of results as expectations for your team?
Next, think about how often and in what ways you communicate your expectations to your team members. Are they only discussed during semi-annual performance reviews? If so, that’s not enough. You should regularly talk with your reps about the expectations you have for them—and not just around the numbers you want them to meet, but the kinds of contributions you want them to make to the team, the sales steps you want them to use, and so on.
2) Do more early-cycle sales coaching
Unfortunately, too many sales managers don’t pay much attention to deals until they are about to close.
However, if you look at an opportunity from the customer’s perspective, a deal’s size is largely determined very early on in the sales process, when the customer is recognizing the extent of their needs and determining their buying requirements. When you coaches your reps in the early stage of a deal, you can help them ensure that the customer recognizes big, urgent needs and that their buying requirements are slanted in your company’s favor. This kind of early-sales-cycle intervention will have the biggest impact on sales reps’ results in both the short- and long-term.
3) Identify skill deficiencies
Another study from the Sales Management Association looked at how often 13 specific topics were discussed in typical coaching conversations. The topic that had the single biggest positive influence on revenue growth was “Identifying skill deficiencies.”
Now, can you guess how often that topic was discussed out the 13 topics? It ranked 12th! That means managers talking with reps about their skill deficiencies far less often than about things like “advancing a sales opportunity” and “crafting proposals” and even the 11th-ranked item, “instruction on administrative processes.”
In my mind, if you are not having regular conversations with your reps around their skill deficiencies—and I would add attitude or will deficiencies as well—then you’re not really coaching. At least you’re not providing the kind of coaching that will have the biggest impact on your team’s results and your company’s revenue. To help your reps be more successful, you have to make the time to identify each rep’s skill and will shortfalls. And you have to coach them on how to improve in those specific areas.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.