Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Many organizations are stuck in a pattern of delivering the same training but hoping for or expecting better outcomes. The goal of most sales training is to kick off change or develop new behaviors, such as a new sales approach, process or methodology. But often, training fails to make a sustainable change in sales behavior.

Industry data shows us that training alone cannot achieve the goal of engaging, equipping and empowering sales professionals to be valuable, relevant and differentiating in every buyer interaction. Research illustrates that a single training event will not result in behavior change.

Studies show that we retain less than half of the information presented one hour after training. After one day, people forget more than 70% of what was taught in training, and in a week, the number jumps to 90%. Without proper reinforcement, sales training can be a wasted investment.

The Importance of Sales Coaching

While sales training alone may not achieve the business outcomes desired, industry statistics show that sales coaching seems to have a positive effect on business performance. Sales coaching is commonly defined as a formal process that uses one-on-one meetings to help salespeople achieve new levels of success by discovering hidden issues that inhibit their performance and identifying actions to move forward.

But what impact does sales coaching have on performance and business results?

  • Sales coaching has had the greatest impact on win rates and quota attainment over the past five years, according to CSO Insights.
  • According to Aberdeen Research, companies that provide real-time, deal-specific sales coaching increased revenue by 8.4% year-over-year – a 95% improvement over companies that don’t provide that level of coaching.
  • A recent Harvard Business Review report illustrates that sales coaching is both growing and proving its value in businesses today. The report shows that, in the past five years, top businesses have focused more on developing coaches to work with sales reps than has been done in the last 50 years.

The biggest benefit from sales coaching is boosting performance of the middle group of sales reps. The HBR report further finds that top quality coaching will improve the results of the middle 60% of a workforce by up to 19%.

However, the HBR research also found that the bottom 10% of the sales force and the top performers have minimal gains in production with coaching. This is not a surprise as the top performers are already high achievers, and the bottom performers may simply not be on the right career path.

One factor in determining the success of a sales coaching program is the level of formality and regularity enforced by the organization. Some organizations have a more informal or random approach to sales coaching – coaching happens whenever the opportunity arises.

A best practice is adopting a more formalized process and coaching schedule. The strongest results come from integrating dynamic coaching components that tailor the coaching practices to individual or segment-specific needs. Dynamic sales coaching showed double digit improvements in sales performance on both quota attainment (21.3%) and win rates (19.0%) over the study’s average.

How Sales Coaching Can Enhance Sales Training

So how can we utilize the performance results from sales coaching to improve retention rates and impact from sales training initiatives? Sales coaching can build on sales training efforts to drive sustainable performance improvements.

Here are some best practices on how to incorporate sales coaching practices into a sales training plan to drive success:

  1. Get early sales manager buy-in

Training only pays off when sales managers are invested and actively engaged in helping achieve business objectives. Organizations need to ensure that managers not only buy into the vision but are committed to the ultimate success of the training initiative.

The first step is to build relationships with them and make sure that they understand the business goals the training seeks to achieve. How will this help them in their role as a sales leader? How will this benefit the organization as a whole?

A key success factor is getting the managers involved early on in the process, especially for new initiatives. A successful practice is to get them to provide input and help shape the program. Listen to their feedback, integrate their suggestions and ask them what they would need to make this initiative a success.

Managers are more likely to buy into a program that they helped design. This partnership and buy-in will be critical during the execution and evaluation stages of the training initiative.

2. Train the managers on how to coach

Not every sales manager was promoted based on their ability to coach others but rather on their ability to sell and drive revenue. And many managers don’t receive the training they need, because organizations overlook the importance of sales manager training.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are two main reasons why organizations overlook sales manager training. First, some sales leaders believe that, because sales managers were once successful salespeople, they should be able to manage salespeople effectively based on natural instinct. Second, some sales leaders lack the business justification to warrant a formal program because of the expense.

Many sales managers believe that if they are meeting with and managing their team members, they are coaching them. But managing is typically a one-way street while coaching relies on open communication by both parties. The key element of success in any coaching practice is the manager’s ability to listen and guide rather than direct.

Manager training should include learning how to coach. One of the world’s most popular coaching models is the GROW model. This model is often used for problem solving, goal setting and performance improvement. GROW is comprised of four elements:

  • Goal – What do you want to achieve?
  • Reality – What is the current reality?
  • Options – What are the available options?
  • Will – What action will you take?

Sales managers need to understand the key elements of coaching in order to help reinforce a change or drive new behavior that is meant to result from a training program. Organizations should invest in coaching training around acknowledged coaching methodologies, such as GROW.

3. Incorporate managers in training

Too often managers require their teams to attend a training session, but fail to attend it themselves. Or the managers attend but are not paying attention or actively engaged.

Salespeople need their leaders to model success for them. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that when employees view their leaders as empowering and capable, they work more proactively.

The same findings hold true for sales training and behavior change. If the manager does not appear engaged in the initiative, the team will sense this and check out of the training.  The manager not only must learn what the training is asking employees to do but become a model of how it should change their sales behavior.

  1. Follow-up and refresh

The key success factor for any initiative is to have the managers coach their reps after the training is completed. They need to work with them to not only refresh the training content but also help them make the behavior change. This engagement will help the knowledge retention issues discussed earlier in this article.

During the process, the sales managers should be coached by expert coaches. Expert coaches can be external consultants or internal employees that are skilled and well-versed in coaching best practices.

These expert coaches should regularly touch base with managers and help them work through any issues or roadblocks they may hit along the way. This will also ensure the sales managers are holding up their promise to coach their teams.

  1. Track and share results

Managers need to be made aware of the program’s success. Data should be based on program objectives, collected and reported at the appropriate evaluation level to assess the initiative’s success.

If it is a success, they are more likely to continue coaching and be an active participant in future training initiatives. If it is not, they need to own some of the outcome and try to correct the mistakes.

Top sales leaders will look to their sales teams to tell them if a program is a success or not. Making sure the sales managers are well-versed in the program results and statistics will help them win over top management.

Putting it in to Action

As we have discussed in this article, training alone does not result in long-term behavior change within a sales organization. Organizations need to ensure that managers are involved early on in the training initiative and serve as a key component in refresh training.

Too often, sales managers do not receive the training they need to be effective coaches. Organizations that hope to transform and progress forward need to ensure they have a consistent sales coaching practice, and this coaching practice needs to be an integral part of every training initiative.