When discussing sales performance, sports analogies may be cliché`, they may be sexist (less so these days), they may even get old for some, but they are generally spot on.
Let’s face reality, the duties and behaviors of a sales manager are not nearly as visible as the duties and behaviors of a coach in athletics (just ask Nebraska football head coach Bo Pelini who’s tirade of 2011 was recently blasted throughout the social media world). Although, when compared to business an athletic coach’s success is measured similarly, wins/losses. A sales manager is held accountable to performance against plan, hitting a number—a sales coaching version of wins/losses. Beyond this is where the parity begins to collapse.
The purpose of this blog is to bring attention to how advanced athletic teams are versus sales teams when it comes to coaching and performance.
In athletics, there is a huge emphasis on practice, where coaches continually exercise precise execution. The practice to game ratio in athletics differs from high school to college and then professional, but the point is still the same—way more practice time versus game time. In collegiate football, during the football season, there is approx. a 10:1 ratio of practice time versus game time and the spread becomes greater in professional football.
In sales, there is very little time spent practicing or preparing for sales appointments with prospects and customers. There may be “sales training” when one begins their role with a company that educates on products, services, markets and perhaps a specific sales methodology, but the tendency is to then act like a finished product with little on-going skill development.
In athletics, both practice and game time performance is filmed, analyzed and objectively graded by coaches.
In sales, practice and game time performance by sales people (sales calls) are infrequently analyzed and rarely graded objectively.
In athletics, each player has an individual development plan that identifies areas for growth with measurements of progress that coaches are held accountable for executing.
In sales, selling activities are the typical measurement with little development of the skills or progress measurements that lead to sales effectiveness, and only a small percentage of sales departments hold coaches accountable for execution of development plans.
In athletics, there is a documented plan/strategy for every game.
In sales, not often is there even a documented “pre-call” plan or strategy when going into a sales setting.
In athletics, coaches can’t “play the game”, and by default must only coach.
In sales, our research shows that too often managers take over a sales call, thereby continue to “play the game” as opposed to teaching sales people “how to fish”.
In athletics, the coach is not just one who helps players improve a skill-set, they are accountable for strategy, recruiting, training/development, and much more. Their ability to execute the above is very transparent to not only the team, but to all those who witness the team perform.
In sales, coaching is typically viewed as a verb—an action to help one improve their skills. The reality is most “sales managers” have responsibilities similar to an athletic coach, yet are not held accountable to the activities, tools and behaviors that lead to success—they are only accountable to an end number without even knowing how what they do impacts that number. There is no visibility into effectiveness.
I’ve had many deliberate conversations with our executive members lately. During these informal conversations I show them what our research shows as the high pay-off coaching activities front line sales managers should execute against, with their sales people, that will consistently lead to more sales. I then ask them what percent of the time they would expect their managers to be spending in these activities, and with a couple exceptions the universal response is "70%-80%". I then asked what percent of the time their managers actually spent executing against these critical activities, again with a couple exceptions, the universal response was now "20%-35%". In athletics this would be unacceptable, yet in sales it is tolerated.
Which of the following three characteristics do your managers display to their team:
- A compliance officer making sure sales people execute against activities
- A super sales person who comes in and helps close deals
- A coach that perpetuates talent, recruits, strategizes, leads, employs the catalytic factor, develops skills and helps those on their team make progress to their goals
Anything other than the third response will produce a smaller number. That, I will guarantee.
Authored by: Bill Eckstrom, President, EcSell Institute