Editor's Note: This blog has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on August 11, 2020. Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography.
It is happening. More and more I read about coaching on LinkedIn, articles in periodicals such as Forbes, other industry publications along with a plethora of sales consultants who scribe the virtues and benefits of coaching’s impact on sales.
This is a positive series of actions for the authors who are bringing attention to what we all know— nothing elevates sales performance more than effective coaching.
However, considering everything I’ve read there is nothing that defines coaching in sales, little promoting research based (not opinion) coaching activities and behaviors that are proven to correlate to sales increases, and absolutely nothing that promotes measurement of coaching inputs and outcomes.
Justifiably, everyone is saying “we need to coach more,” but are left with words that have no meaningful definition or measurable outcome. Everyone knows managers impact performance, but sales leaders need to know what managers specifically do that most positively impacts sales results.
Given that need, let’s do a quick research-based, sales coaching review.
What is a High Performance Coach?
First, we define a high performance coach as one whose sales team is in the top 20% compared to their sales management peers. The top 20% average 110% of plan, while the bottom 80% of coaches average 91% of plan. We have analyzed thousands of sales leaders and surveyed thousands of sales people to get a robust view of what drives performance of individuals and teams.
Why "Coach" vs. "Manager"?
Next, the term “coach” is a strategic role and not just a series of actions or behaviors executed by a “manager." A manager is an archaic title still used to describe a modern day position, whose role is to maximize the performance of individuals and teams.
The science and study of management came about in the industrial era in our country, and though sound managerial processes are foundational to performance, we have discovered they can also be performance prohibiting if all one does is manage.
Our research also shows that the tools, activities and behaviors of athletic coaches are more in line with how sales leaders need to behave, which is why we like to use the term “coach” as opposed to "manager". We don’t consider this a play on words, but more literal and reflective of the role. So, the highest performing managers don’t coach, the highest performing coaches have strong management acumen--they manage well. My marketing director made me talk about this exact subject in the video below.
What's the Role of a Front-Line Coach?
And now let’s consider the role of the front line coach, or manager in simplistic terms, and how their value to a sales team equates to the additional amount sold because of them. Think about it, without a coach sales people will still sell, so the economic value a coach brings is the delta in sales.
So as a result of our research here at EcSell Institute, we've discovered three business/coaching variables which are inextricably linked to a team’s performance and are always affected by the way one coaches.
RELATIONSHIP + ORDER + COMPLEXITY
Knowingly or unknowingly, a manager has a relationship with each team member who reports to him or her. The strength of which affects the discretionary effort that manager receives. Order and Complexity, which exist in many different forms, are created, perpetuated, or minimized by what that manager does, again resulting in an increase or decrease in team performance.
And as our research continues to evolve we have identified eight sub-themes of high performing sales coaches. You'll get to read about these themes in The Coaching Effect book.
To break things down even further would then be to understand the coaching activities that most strongly correlate to the above themes. In other words, what do the highest performing coaches do (activities) that rank them so highly in the relationship, order and complexity themes along with the sub-themes?
Well, they do a lot of these high payoff coaching activities at a high level. High performance coaches do these activities with greater consistency and effectiveness than all other coaches (though we find other coaching activity correlations, the above five correlate most strongly to high performance). This should not be a surprise to most sales leaders for they often promote these coaching activities, but the challenge all sales leaders have not yet overcome is the ability to answer the following questions:
- Are coaches spending 70% of their time with the bottom 30% of their producers?
- Are tenured or top producers being ignored?
- Are high pay-off coaching activities being done with new reps?
- Are coaches actively coaching with reps while working key accounts?
- Should 1:1 coaching meetings be held weekly, monthly?
- How often does it make sense to do ride-a-longs?
- Is the preponderance of a coaches time spent helping reps try and close deals (the back end of the sales process) or is more coaching being done helping understand the needs of clients?
- Are coaches playing “super salesperson” or truly coaching?
- How well are the coaching activities being done?
Just because a coach does the above doesn’t mean they do them well. In our research we see a huge gap in the quality of the above activities between high and low performing coaches. To fully understand this gap check out this this white paper.
The inability to answer the above coaching questions (and many others) would be analogous to not knowing sales rep metrics. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — having data on inputs and outcomes is Business Management 101.
So, coaching is a fun topic to discuss, write about, pontificate and share with anyone willing to listen. However, if executive sales leaders believe a coach truly impacts team performance - IT IS TIME TO MEASURE IT!
Let’s quit talking and writing about coaching as if it is a soft skill, for it no longer needs to be. Quality and quantity of coaching can now be measured, or said another way, we can finally quantify the impact today’s managers (tomorrow’s coaches) are having on sales results. And the wonderful part of being able to measure coaching effectiveness is that we can then help them improve and measure coaching growth.
So the old cliché holds true again: If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Or as we like to say: If you can’t measure it you can’t coach to it.