Does it really matter if your salespeople are being coached? The simple answer is yes, and probably more than you think. Analysis of the results of a multi-year sales academy delivered at a leading multinational telecoms company spoke volumes about the value of sales coaching:

  • When managers met or exceeded the standards for coaching, the average sales performance of their teams was 95 percent of stretch targets.
  • When managers achieved between 50 and 100 percent of their coaching target, average sales performance was 56 percent.
  • When managers achieved less than 50 percent of their coaching target, the average sales performance was 47 percent.

Clearly, the quality and frequency of sales coaching interventions has a significant impact on sales. Interestingly, however, the impact of sales coaching may not be uniform across all salespeople. According to research by the Sales Executive Council, both the bottom 10 percent and the top 10 percent of sales forces demonstrate minimal performance gains from coaching. The real benefit is in the middle, where effective coaching can improve results by up to 19 percent.

If sales coaching works, why doesn’t everyone do it?

According to the Sales Management Association, 73 percent of sales managers spend less than 5 percent of their time coaching. Given the impact on sales performance, the fact that nearly three-quarters of sales managers are failing to coach should be a major concern to today’s sales organizations.

But why don’t they do it? Nearly half told the Sales Management Association that they don’t know how to coach. More than a quarter said they don’t have enough time, and another 23 percent said they don’t value coaching.

What about your sales managers? Are they among the few who coach consistently and effectively? Or are they avoiding it due to a lack of skills or an inability or unwillingness to make the time for it? Considering the strong connection between coaching and sales results, training your sales managers in effective coaching skills and behaviors should be a priority.

Even when sales managers receive training on how to coach, it doesn’t always solve the problem. There are four key areas that you need to address to gain long-term results from the training:

1. Don’t treat training and coaching as isolated events.

If you aren’t evaluating and holding sales managers accountable for applying what they’ve learned and for adhering to coaching standards and expectations, they’re likely not going to do it. To make coaching part of managers’ daily behavior, use real-time survey and reporting tools to measure the frequency and quality of coaching, and incentivize your sales managers to hit quality and frequency targets. It’s also a good idea to have an experienced coach observe managers early on to provide feedback and support.

2. Make sure the training is sales-focused.

Generic training will leave managers ill-equipped to help their team members solve the kinds of sales challenges they face on a daily basis. Effective sales coaching training focuses on coaching in the sales context. It should integrate the coaching techniques with your sales methodology and apply your key sales tools and processes to client situations.

3. Start with the sales leaders.

Most sales managers will replicate the behaviors of their leaders, so if the managers themselves receive no coaching, they are unlikely to provide it to their teams. Likewise, if leaders deprioritize or cancel coaching sessions, managers will feel encouraged to do the same. Sales leaders need to lead by example, knowing that their own coaching behaviors will have a ripple effect on performance throughout the sales organization.

4.Emphasize both formal and informal coaching.

Coaching needs to be part of the flow of manager/team member meetings and interactions, not just limited to scheduled (e.g., monthly) coaching sessions. Therefore, the training should focus on developing sales managers who are looking for and taking advantage of every opportunity to coach. Coaching shouldn’t always be about finding an hour to sit down with a team member for a detailed coaching conversation. Every time managers speak to their salespeople, they have the opportunity to coach them.

Over time, good sales coaching has a multiplier effect on each team member’s sales performance. There is nothing else you can do that is so low-cost and makes such a sustainable impact on a sales team and business results.