There is an old proverb that is commonly used in the corporate world – “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I believe there is a corollary to sales managers as they approach coaching – “If you want to close a deal, coach to the opportunity. If you want to close many deals, coach to the seller’s skills.”
It’s undeniable that coaching is a key part of management. In fact, Gartner studies show that coaching effectiveness leads to a 19% improvement in sales performance. Unfortunately, many sales managers don’t invest enough time to coaching, and for those that do, many struggle to coach effectively.
Like many other things, coaching is a skill that a manager improves with a little bit of effort and specific guidance.
How much coaching is appropriate?
Gartner studies show that a manager should coach each seller 3-5 hours per month – target 45-60 minutes per week. Spending more time than this often comes with a diminishing return.
Where should managers focus their coaching?
Coaching conversations should focus on two key areas: opportunities and skills.
- Opportunity coaching is an effective strategy to meet near term goals. High performers suggest that coaching is most effective during the earliest and latest stages of an opportunity. Early stage coaching helps ensure sellers pursue the best opportunities. Later stage coaching focuses on overcoming obstacles and maximizing profitability – late-stage opportunity coaching is not closing the deal for the seller. Using the sales manager as the closer is not scalable and eventually erodes seller confidence.
- Skill coaching improves sellers effectiveness and productivity when using a focused and tailored approach. A sales manager should focus on 1-2 key areas – be specific and actionable. In addition, sales managers should adapt their communication style to suit the seller. This helps the coaching message resonate.
Use objective evidence to improve coaching
Coaching is a two-way conversation where trust and alignment need to exist. Both the manager and seller must be on the same page about the process, intent and desired results. Once this foundation has been set, the sales manager can use a mix of observations and analytics to identify performance and progress.
Sales managers should observe the seller in action. Soon after, the manager can constructively identify what went well, and what could be improved. How well did the seller overcome a buyer objection? Did their value statement resonate with the executive buyers? If development is needed, focus on what needs to improve and connect the seller to how they can improve. Telling a seller to “do better” isn’t very actionable.
To complement a manager’s observation, objective sales metrics that can help detect early problems or signs of progress. Sales metrics can help answer questions like:
- How many hours does the seller invest in personal improvement?
- What is the seller’s pipeline coverage ratio?
- Where does the seller typically see opportunities stall?
Sales analysis answers these questions and sets seller expectations. Consider the two possible manager coaching statements:
“You need to get more opportunities in the pipeline.”
“Your current pipeline coverage ratio is 2.5x. Your goal is 3x. Let’s focus on boosting some of your cross-selling opportunities with your 5 largest accounts.”
Coaching is a process and a worthwhile investment. Managers must continually invest in their sellers as well as their own coaching ability. Along the journey, be sure to celebrate early signs of success and periodically ask for seller feedback.
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