In a recent global survey by The Forum Corporation in association with The Sales Management Association coaching came out top of the list of investments that impact sales performance the most. The survey of 200 companies representing 500,000 sales people, found that high-performing companies coach around 20% more than under-achieving organisations.
Coaching improves skills, motivation and engagement, which in turn drives productivity. Yet, despite this, our research also found that sales managers are still poor at coaching, either not bothering or only doing it when they have to. To be a great coach however, you need to be proactive and strategic in your approach, supported by a strong coaching culture.
Here are four steps to improving your sales coaching techniques:
1. Teach leaders to be great coaches
Our global findings found that one of the top challenges to sales coaching is that managers don't know how to coach. Coaching shouldn't be assumed as something that comes naturally. Sales managers must be coached as well as taught how to coach their own team effectively; a trait commonly found among high performing companies.
2. Build a coaching culture
You may have trained your salespeople to be the best coaches in the world but unless you have a culture that expects and encourages coaching, soon managers will revert their attention to the tasks that they're incentivised for. To ensure that managers coach, it must be built into the core values of the business and become part of the performance appraisal process. Leaders at all levels should be measured and rewarded for their coaching success whilst executives should lead by example and make it part and parcel of everyday management.
3. Quality coaching versus 'just coaching'
Companies that 'just coach' coach with little structure or purpose. They only coach when they have to such as to address a poor performer or a new starter, rather than using it proactively to elevate the entire team's performance. Further, coaching reactively means coaching of upstream processes - those farthest from the point of sale - are less likely to occur. Instead, coaching remains focused on immediate sales opportunities rather than also on those opportunities that will have long-term, sustained impact on the overall team's performance such as improving overall territory management or enhancing sales qualifying opportunities
Quality coaching is strategic and proactive and links back to culture. It's embedded into everyday management and aligned against the long-term developmental goals of the individual and the sales division. Taking a long lens approach to coaching means it can be used to constantly develop a pipeline of talent that the business needs to drive forward performance.
4. Coach everyone
We found from our global study that high performing sales people were only coached approximately once every three months compared to new starters, poor performers and those that ask for help who were coached every few weeks or every month. Only coaching when there's a problem or a need means a large proportion of the team are forgotten, mainly the over achievers. Such managers are only raising performance from poor to acceptable levels instead of developing their team's full potential which, in turn, leave many disengaged, de-motivated and therefore affecting their output.
A great sales coach invests in everyone - high achievers as well as underachievers - to get the best return on their leadership investment.
Coaching carried out properly brings huge development, motivational and financial rewards for individuals, leaders and the overall sales division. But coaching requires the right culture in which to flourish. Build a culture where coaching is taught and encouraged, is consistent and rewarded, and is incorporated into the overall strategic business plan and you will soon see the performance of your sales team grow.
By Graham Scrivener, EMEA Managing Director of The Forum Corporation, a global leader in sales performance and leadership development.