Given the endless data supporting the need for sales coaching, many organisations resolve to make it a priority but, like the mere 8% of people who keep their New Year’s resolutions, few companies achieve that goal. There are many reasons why sales coaching falls by the wayside despite its ability to drive revenue: managers are busy preparing reports for senior leadership, the pressure to make the quarter preempts scheduled coaching sessions, and a majority of sales managers simply lack the knowledge and skills to coach effectively. Coaching that does occur tends to focus on specific deals rather than core competencies. By addressing each of these challenges head on, organizations can integrate coaching into the company culture. And data-driven insights make it possible at scale. Take these three steps to successfully use data to drive a coaching culture in an organisation.
Make sales coaching a priority for sales leadership
According to a new study of over 100 sales leaders by the Sales Management Association, less than a third of those surveyed have defined development programs for their sales managers, and many on the leadership level are not incentivised to promote a coaching culture, making it a low priority. But this lack of commitment is a high price to pay given the consequences: high customer dissatisfaction, lost sales, low morale and high turnover within the sales ranks. Yet, those with a formal coaching process generate much stronger results (54% win rate) in comparison to informal coaching processes (46% win rate) or discretionary coaching (45% win rate), where the process is left up to the individual sales manager.
Coaching is a leadership imperative that requires a long-term commitment and its reach must extend beyond supporting onboarding phases. Executives need to lay out a plan with goals, execution strategies, and a timeline for a coaching program that includes mechanisms for accountability and rewards for those who promote a coaching culture. With data-driven technology that provides clear insights into the capabilities of the sales force, a customised coaching framework can more easily be developed and scaled. Leadership must also define what good coaching looks like and ensure that it’s a collaborative effort. Beyond introducing, launching and socialising this framework, leadership should encourage a culture that ensures all employees, at all levels, live up to their abilities. Once the vision and strategy are defined, the execution phase can begin.
Support the coaching efforts of front-line sales managers
With leadership buy-in and support, front-line managers will have the necessary mandate to devote time and resources to coach their reps. Still, sales enablement leaders reveal that there’s no shortage of sales managers out there fearful of admitting what they don’t know. A SiriusDecisions study last year showed that only 6% of sales managers were ready to coach and mentor new hires. This is where the cultural shift comes into play, requiring an open, honest environment where managers can readily learn who, how and what to coach.
Using data-driven insights to understand the real-time capabilities of their reps, inexperienced coaches can rest assured that a baseline for onboarding and a proficiency measurement for sales skills can efficiently be set. The data makes it clear where a rep is faltering (perhaps it’s negotiation skills or pipeline accuracy) and provides recommended coaching actions, tips, and a timeline to help improve productivity. Data insights can help front-line managers tailor the actions to an individual’s skills gap, leading to higher quality engagement. Another benefit of a data-driven approach is that it removes personal judgment from the equation, making it easier on the coach to deliver and for the rep to accept. Of course, to be successful, coaching needs to be viewed as not just for underperformers, but rather as an ongoing initiative that benefits everyone from the newest sales recruit to the established superstar. And a data-driven approach allows for that level of scalability.
Move Beyond Deal-based Coaching to Skills and Competency Coaching
The urgency to meet forecast finds many sales managers coaching the deal versus coaching competencies. While both approaches have their place, coaching defined competencies such as competitive positioning, negotiation skills, etc., can have the greatest long-term impact on sales team effectiveness. The addition of data insights can help a manager understand which competencies a rep is struggling with, thereby ensuring that they’re giving their reps the coaching they need to succeed, in the time they have available.
The result: a more knowledgeable, confident rep equipped to handle today’s evolving business environment where new products are rolled out at a fast and furious clip, regulations change, and new competitive threats emerge daily. Sales reps must be adaptable and armed with the right skill set to drive business amidst all this change. Data-driven coaching solutions that help reps keep pace are invaluable to not only meeting forecast, but also keeping them engaged and motivated – a key factor in retaining top talent.
Transparency is an important aspect of a successful corporate culture. Having set the tone, leadership will want to see the data that reflects which managers are coaching effectively and how revenue and sales rep satisfaction is impacted. Those who are actively contributing to the coaching culture should be rewarded, while those who are not should be held responsible. At its best, a data-driven coaching culture with commitment from all levels cultivates a sales force that is adaptable, aligned and accountable.
By Lisa Clark, Vice President of Marketing, Qstream. She has 20 years of experience building high-value software companies, brands and market share. Connect with Qstream, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+.