After All This Time, We Still Need to Fix Coaching

CSO Insights has been running its studies annually for almost 25 years. In that time, a lot has changed in the sales world. Technology, including AI, has revolutionized the daily activities of sellers and managers. The methodology for selling has shifted from product selling to solution selling to now, perspective selling. We’ve made our sales processes more formal. We’ve adopted sales enablement as a new discipline. And we’ve expanded the boundaries of sales into functions such as customer success.

But one thing that unfortunately has not changed over the years is a lack of coaching formality. When we explore the maturity of coaching processes, we assess it on four levels:

  • Random means the coaching approach is left up to each individual manager.
  • An informal level of maturity means managers are exposed to coaching approaches and processes (often an introductory coaching class) but are neither expected nor supported to use them.
  • When such training is accompanied by tools, reinforcement and accountability, then the coaching process is considered formal.
  • The most sophisticated approach, called dynamic, is when coaching is not only formal, but it also is integrated into a broader enablement framework, intertwined with seller training, capability-building and key initiatives.

Today, after more than two decades of bemoaning the opportunity costs of incomplete or ineffective coaching, formality is lacking. In fact, 60% of the more than 900 sales organizations in our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study still use a random or informal process.

The missed benefit is striking. When you compare the levels of process against key operational metrics, there is a clear pattern. Those with the highest levels of coaching formality are vastly more successful than their peers.

With such compelling data, why is formal coaching still in the minority?

1. It’s vague. “Coaching” is often mistaken to mean any time a salesperson and their manager have a business conversation. In reality, it is a very specific set of processes and behaviors and comes in a variety of forms, from developmental coaching to opportunity coaching and funnel management.

2. It takes time. In the B2B world, selling takes time and a series of conversations to help buyers make mutually beneficial decisions on how to solve their business problems. Similarly, coaching is a process that takes time, multiple conversations, interventions and practice. With managers spending more of their time internally, the time available to invest in coaching often suffers.

3. It’s hard. People are complex beings, and changing their behaviors, evolving their expertise and overcoming inertia takes skill, process and dedication. In contrast, issuing instructions and requiring compliance is comparatively easy. But the results are short lived.

4. It’s viewed as acceptable. Since this problem has persisted for so long, it’s seen as status quo. Most sales managers are hired from within. Odds are they weren’t coached with a mature process, yet they have succeeded in being promoted. This reinforces the idea that coaching is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

We’d love to reveal that we have found one easy-to-implement strategy to overcome these challenges. Instead, organizations need to assemble a range of strategies and tactics focused on the end result of making formalized coaching easier to execute:

  • Process. Like any other process, the coaching process needs to be fully defined and optimized. What is the expected cadence of coaching? What inputs and outputs are expected? How will success be judged?
  • Technology. New tools in the market can reduce the time required for managers to recognize patterns, diagnose coaching issues and send out early warning signals on funnels and opportunities. This leaves managers with more time to determine how to conduct the coaching and how to develop the salesperson.
  • Skills & Methodologies. We know from our Buyer Preferences Study that buyer expectations are morphing sales approaches to be more perspective-driven. Coaching should use the same approach as selling, offering insights, reframing possibilities and exposing new solutions. Managers should model the skills they expect their salespeople to use in sales conversations.
  • Data. Most sales organizations focus coaching on lagging indicators such as revenue recognition or bookings. Arming managers with better data on leading indicators will allow them to influence the future vs. just rehash the past. Which opportunities are in danger of stalling? What behaviors are lacking?
  • Talent. Not all sales managers have the right set of traits and competencies for coaching. Yet many organizations don’t accurately assess for these key indicators when they make the decision to promote a salesperson into a management position. Be sure your manager hiring profiles and assessments are calibrated for your current environment.
  • Culture. Coaching becomes a deeper part of the manager’s routine when the culture supports continuous development. Consider your development approach, language, what gets celebrated, etc. If development isn’t valued, then coaching will be perfunctory or reserved for performance managing people out of the organization.

Informal coaching is a problem that has been festering for 20 years. You aren’t going to solve it overnight or even in a quarter. But by implementing a few of these improvements, you can start heading in the right direction.

Questions to ask:

  • Does your organization have a commonly agreed-upon definition of coaching?
  • How formal is your coaching process?
  • What impact does coaching have on your results? How do you know?
  • What percentage of time do your sales managers spend on coaching?
  • Are your managers equipped with the tools, processes and skills they need to execute?

Related Blogs:

·      Are Your Sales Managers Looking Outward or Inward?
·      Perspectives on Sales Coaching and How to Get on the Same Page
·      How to Assess Sales Coaching Maturity and Why it Matters
·      Sales Coaching – What If Sales Enablement Does It?

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