Where can L&D leaders make a huge impact on their company’s financial results? A survey Vantage Point Performance conducted with the Sales Management Association asked organizations to select the top sales management priority from a list of 17 topics. The winner? Coaching sales reps. Research found a 39-point revenue difference between sales managers in the top quartile and those in the bottom quartile. It is common knowledge that coaching impacts sales performance, and although sales organizations provide coaching training to their managers, the result is not always more coaching by those managers. Here are some guidelines to make coaching training more impactful.
Provide Targeted Training
In many instances, the training offered to managers is too generic. For example, training that concentrates on performance gaps does not target specific sales issues related to seller performance. Consequently, sales managers receive no guidance on coaching to help reps mine territories, close sales, prioritize prospects, etc.
Don’t Overcomplicate Training
Many training programs are over-engineered with little relevance to the real-world situations managers experience. Adam Rapp of Ohio State University has shown that sales managers spend no more than 32 percent of their time managing their sales team. The balance is occupied with managing information, customer interaction and administration. In the real world, a manager can only coach each rep for two hours per month, so a multi-step coaching program that demands double that time will likely fail.
Provide Multifaceted Training
When coaching training is too narrowly focused, it has a high chance of failure. For instance, a training program that focuses on how to conduct sales calls, and manager training on how to coach that skill, will not address the many additional activities sellers need to accomplish to be successful. This program results in a lower-than-expected boost in sales results and runs the risk of overemphasizing one specific type of coaching. Contrary to popular belief, effective coaching is far more multifaceted than mere sales call observation.
Integrate Sales Coaching into Sales Management Practices
When organizations view sales coaching by managers as an isolated behavior, the results are less than stellar. For coaching training to be used after the event, it must be part of a larger set of management practices and integrated into the reality of the sales manager’s day-to-day job.
Forecasting is a good example. It is a mandatory management activity, and sales managers often use pipeline review conversations to gather required information. In contrast to low-performing managers, who simply scrub the data with reps, top-performing managers use these interactions as an opportunity for coaching. They examine individual deals, particularly early-stage deals, resulting in improved performance across their entire sales team. Sales coaching works in this context, because the coaching conversations are integrated into the reality of the manager’s job and into a conversation he or she would be having anyway; the manager simply needs to be trained to leverage those conversations into a more meaningful coaching interaction.
Coaching training will only be fully utilized by managers if it aligns with key rep activities, such as retaining and growing a few large accounts or prioritizing whom to call on. It must have the capacity to target whatever a rep needs to do well, not concentrate on a single, discreet activity. Coaching must be targeted, simple and relevant to sales managers and their reps to elevate sales teams to their next level. Otherwise, those scarce training dollars will be frittered away with little impact.