Sales Coaching Blog

Sales Coaching Part 2

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

February 12, 2014

Bill_Eckstrom_2014_Headshot_smallIn Sales Coaching, Part 1 we reviewed what a sales manager gets paid to do (hit a number), shared our theories on why the sales management role lacks visibility and resources, and established the need to act more like a coach versus a manager.  In that spirit, Sales Coaching Part 2 will begin to focus on what a sales manager/coach should do to be most effective, but it begins with research

Coaching Research

For over five years, EcSell has been surveying sales management along with sales producers from throughout the world.  Why are we researching sales people?   They provide us accurate feedback as to what their respective manager/coaches are doing, not doing and whether or not they are doing it effectively (I don’t like 360 reviews—read previous blog on that topic).   We realized sometime back that we can’t rely on just the feedback of a manager or their boss; sales managers are not a good gauge as to whether or not they are effective in their role, and when it comes to their bosses what we found is they rarely watch their sales managers’ work.  This is not to impugn the “higher-ups”, for nobody has ever told them what skills, tools, and activities their manager/coaches should act against.  Therefore, a senior sales leader doesn’t know what to watch for or objectively evaluate.

When we started our research we were looking to discover what a sales manager did that impacted a sales rep’s ability and willingness to produce at higher levels.  Now that we’ve discovered what it is, we continue to survey to track shifts, but also to see if teams are executing against what we now refer to as the “high pay-off activities and tools”.

Coaching Discoveries

Not too many things surprised us, for we went into the research with an idea of what was moving the sales team performance needle.  However, we are always learning and below are a couple of significant findings from the research:

Sales reps—though they are clear as to what they want from their manager, they don’t always want one that pushes them to greater performance.  When asked what skill they wanted most from their manager (rating 10 items derived from sales manager research), they responded with “product knowledge” as their first choice and “market knowledge” as their second, with “coaching” ranked dead last—10th.  However, when we correlated their answers against what “motivated them to sell more”, it all flipped.  A manager’s ability to “coach” was the top motivator, while product and market knowledge fell to 9th and 10th respectively. 

So, while a sales producer claims to wants a manager with great product and market knowledge, what most helps a sales producer sell at higher levels is one who is a great coach.  As a matter of fact—a manager’s ability to “manage” is what’s least motivating to a sales rep (hence the need to refer to the traditional role as a “coach” versus a “manager”). 

Sales Managers—there are certain things they do that sales rep’s view as “coaching” that are more impactful.  When I refer to impact I mean more motivating, greater motivation leads to more discretionary effort, and more discretionary effort leads to more sales.  Items such as pipeline reviews, activity reviews, metric tracking, etc., may be helpful and needed by an organization, those activities are clearly not what reps want/need to produce at higher levels.  This is not to say I am recommending to ignore these insightful views, but if this is all that is being done, without activities that bring out discretionary effort—performance is being minimized. 

What do sales producers need from their managers to perform at the highest levels?  Our research shows there are a lot of things great managers do differently, but below are a series of what EcSell refers to as “high pay-off” coaching activities and tools.

  • Regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings
  • Career development plans
  • Joint sales calls
  • Post sales call feedback
  • Sales skills audits
  • Regularly scheduled team meetings
  • Team retreats
  • On-going, structured sales skills development

Obviously, just because a manager executes against these does these does not infer they are an effective coach, similar to a sales person who may do all the necessary selling activities, but is not putting sales on the books.  Doing them is a start, doing them well is what matters most.

It may not sound overly complicated, or perhaps it sounds too complicated.  In future blogs I will discuss each, its purpose and how to most effectively execute them.

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