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 we 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, coaching review:
1) First, at EcSell 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. More on that below…
2) 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. Read more on this topic in our Sales Coaching Evolution White Paper.
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.
3) Now let’s consider the role of the front line coach (manager) in simplistic terms--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. If one believes this, then we next need to share what a great coach is and does.
As a result of our research at the EcSell Institute, we defined what it means to coach:
“A coach develops processes, relationships and growth experiences to maximize individual and team performance."
This coaching definition follows three primary themes we see in our research; (1) management (processes), (2) leadership (relationships), and the (3) catalytic factor (growth experiences). We go more in depth with these themes in other sales coaching content articles and white papers.
As our research continues to evolve we have recently identified eight sub-themes of high performing sales coaches:
- Overall coaching impact
- Sales skills development
- Coaching activity
- Relationship building
- Complexity coaching
- Sales team culture
To break this 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 “manager, leader and c-factor” themes along with the sub-themes? They do a lot of the following with a high quality level.
- 1:1 coaching meetings
- Joint work with sales reps
- Joint call plans
- Objective sales call evaluations
- Team meetings
- Career development plans
High performance coaches do these high pay-off coaching 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 Coach More, Coach Better 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.
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 it.
Most everyone knows what good coaching feels like, for most have had this powerful presence at some point in their life. So imagine, for just a minute, what it would feel like if everyone had a great coach. How much more productive would we all be? How much more would get sold?
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Author: Bill Eckstrom, Founder and President of the EcSell Institute
Keeping this article at a reasonable length didn’t allow for much depth, so if people want to take a deeper dive into high performance coaching download our newly released e-book, Coaching: No longer a soft skill, or our Sales Coaching Content page.