Sales Coaching Blog

Sales Reps Do What They Are Coached To Do (not what they are trained to do)

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

March 9, 2016

Bill-Eckstrom_Headshot_2014_2x2.pngDepending on what one reads, after 30 days people generally retain and apply somewhere between 6%-16% of what they learn in training sessions if what they learned is not continually  and consistently reinforced in some manner.  Said another way, approx. 80%-94% of most training dollars are flushed down the toilet by most every company if managers or other trusted advisors are not reinforcing what was trained.
Sales people do what they are coached to do, not what they are trained to do.

In 2001 my oft written about boss, Bill Schoenberger, made the statement “we don’t have any sales rep issues in our company, we only have sales management issues” (in EcSell terms, “sales coaching” issues). Sales people not hitting numbers, sales people who perform at high levels, team turnover, behavioral issues, insufficient sales talent, engagement, etc. are all a function of coaching quantity and quality.  Though it took me a while to agree with him, he was never more right.  Sales leaders, in any role, own the performance of their teams.  And if one believes this why in the world aren’t performance improvement dollars first going to the sales coach versus the sales rep? To steal a line from the movie Moneyball, “sales (baseball) thinking is medieval and we are asking all the wrong questions”.

  • Organizations should be asking questions about what they should provide sales coaches prior to considering what sales people need.
  • Sales teams should be inquiring as to sales coaching KPIs as opposed to wondering about traditional sales activity
  • Executive sales leaders should be more curious as to overall coaching effectiveness as opposed to sales rep performance
  • Sales departments should be measuring how coaching quantity and quality impacts pipeline, funnel management and forecasting accuracy as opposed to assuming sales activity is the strongest correlator

Why the above queries?  Because NOTHING impacts performance more than the coach!

In athletics, be it high school, college or professional, everyone understands that if a team doesn’t perform there are two choices:

  1. Change the coach, or
  2. Change the coach

Obviously in sales there is some understanding of this, for the average tenure of a sales leader a couple years back was only 19 months.  But what is baffling is nobody (except our clients) is helping sales leaders understand what to do that most impacts performance, how to do it well and then measuring outcomes.  However, when the above is properly done the outcomes reveal some expected, yet surprising results.

EcSell studied 69 managers (coaches) across five client companies and measured the quantity and quality of coaching with each.  The coaches whose teams were in the top 20% of sales (measured by progress to their respective goal) averaged almost 30% more high impact coaching activities than the bottom 80%.  The top 20% also had coaching quality scores that were more than 18% higher than the bottom 80%. In addition, the top 20% averaged 110% of their respective goal while the bottom 80% of coaches averaged 91% of goal—given the average goal of the teams, the top 20% produced over $4,000,000/coach more than the bottom 80% (read the full whitepaper here).  And $4,000,000 ain’t chump change where I come from.
Sales people do what they are coached to do, not what they are trained to do. 

Think of your favorite sports team and imagine how incensed you would be to learn that in spite of practices and games being filmed, the coaches only occasionally reviewed the recording and rarely if ever provided objective performance feedback to the players.  Imagine if statistics were tracked for every game and practice, the stats could be reviewed at the click of a button on their computer or tablet, but they were rarely used by the coach to enhance a player’s performance. While we can’t even imagine such a scenario, let alone tolerating it from our favorite team, the coaching behavior described above is more the rule versus the exception in sales teams.  And how do I know this?  We measure it.

If better sales talent is needed, great coaches recruit it.  If more sales activity is needed, great coaches motivate to get it done. If a healthier performance culture is needed, great coaches change it. If greater selling skills are needed, great coaches train and coach to make those skills stick.  And if a bigger goal needs to be hit, great coaches drive it. 

For sales teams to achieve at levels which they are capable, a paradigm shift needs to occur.  Sales leaders need to believe and act on the belief that sales people don’t do what they are trained to do, they do what they are coached to do.

Want to learn more about the behaviors and activity of high performing sales coaches, download our new e-book “Sales Coaching: No longer a soft skill”

Topics: sales leadership, sales coaching

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