Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography
What is sales coaching? At first glance, this should be an easy question to answer. There are certain behaviors that we already know successful sales managers exhibit. Just scrolling through recent blog posts on our EcSell Institute website can give you a good idea of what these best practices might include. Motivating reps, having effective sales team meetings, building personal relationships, and debriefing are a few examples of behaviors that we know impact sales. Sales coaches, even sales coaches who are already top-notch, need to keep these example behaviors in mind and work to implement them and improve upon them each day.
From a research perspective, this question of what is sales coaching takes on a layer of complexity. Empirically studying these topics requires careful preparation in order to collect sound, high quality data. Executing research on sales coaching (and really on any topic) isn’t a matter of just throwing together a group of questions and giving them to a group of people to answer. Much examination, studying, and honing needs to be done in advance to make sure questions are valid (we’re measuring what we think we’re measuring) and valid (that the outcomes are “real” and not just due to chance or timing).
This is because the execution of behaviors, such as the ones I mention above, manifest themselves differently between sales managers. The interpretation and effectiveness can vary between sales reps, too. Take the concept of motivation as an example. What does it mean to motivate a sales team? While some activities may be quite blatant as having an end goal to promote increased sales, others may not be easily seen by reps as having this end result. In other words, the coach is purposefully and strategically motivating their reps, but it’s presented in such a delicate or innovative way that the reps are unaware of the purpose. Motivating reps is just one example. A variation in the interpretation of intended purpose and the behavior is possible for any interaction between sales coaches and reps. Because of this, careful planning must be done to make sure when we ask reps about the effectiveness of their coach, we are asking them questions in ways that resonant with them. The behaviors we present must solidly link to our constructs of sales coaching. Exploratory research through focus groups, personal interviews, and validity testing is key.
After this dialogue, conceptualizing the concept of sales coaching may seem like an impossible task. The goal of research, however, is not to find the master key that unlocks the nuisances of sales coaching for each and every person. Instead, we work to uncover patterns and relationships that ring true for the aggregate. When we are firm, scientifically firm, on cause and effect of behaviors and outcomes, we are left with a best practices map to use as a guide. These best practices are somewhat like a recipe. Should we follow them closely? You bet. Should we adjust them to personal taste? Definitely. Applying findings from empirically based research is always a great starting point to improving sales coaching abilities. With this start, you can take apply them within your industry, office culture, and team dynamics in a way that is most potent.