Coaching Leads to Performance Improvement

11.30.15In prior weeks we presented the Sales Relationship Process (SRP) Matrix as a roadmap to get from your sales organization’s current state to where it needs to be two to three years from now, along with data supporting why higher levels of process implementation are a good thing and not an impediment to sales. With these foundational blocks in place, let’s turn our attention to coaching.

As you look at your organization’s current SRP state and consider where they’ll need to be 24-36 months from now to continue to keep pace with market changes and customer demands, it’s fair to say not all of your salespeople will make the transition. Some may not be up for the challenges/changes required; others aren’t interested.

But each of your reps deserves their best shot at personal and professional development for as long as they remain in your organization. There are four ways to improve performance: 1) Coaching; 2) Practice; 3) Playing with knowledgeable friends and peers; and 4) Reading books/watching videos. Having a coach massively outdistances the other approaches.

Many think #2 is the key, given the well-known maxim: Practice makes perfect. Despite the staying power of this phrase, a more accurate statement is: Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. Enter coaching.

Making Coaching Meaningful

Coaching is feedback; the more accurate the feedback, the more helpful the coaching. For feedback to be meaningful it needs to meet five criteria: 1) Timely; 2) Objective; 3) Accurate; 4) Individualized; and 5) Relevant.

Annual performance reviews may satisfy HR requirements, but they do nothing for improving a salesperson’s actual performance. Why? Because the time between when a certain behavior/skill is demonstrated and feedback is received is too long. Even semi-annual or quarterly reviews are not really timely. The shorter the time between an actual skill/competence being demonstrated and receiving feedback on that skill, the better.

Think about a golfer’s swing. If you’ve watched the television coverage of any of the major tournaments, you’ve probably seen the “Minolta Swing Vision.” An expert analysis breaks down every aspect of the swing in a stop-action video; this level of sophistication is probably more than the average amateur could absorb, but pro golfers are able to make the fine-tuning adjustments needed to maximize their performance.

Joint calls with “curbside coaching” immediately following were the old school version of providing salespeople feedback as close as possible to the sales call. A manager would sit down with a rep immediately following a call they’d both been on to critique what the manager saw and heard, and what the rep felt she did well and could do better next time, followed by any added insights her manager could offer.

Today, with many sales professionals working remotely joint calls are much less frequent and, clearly, it’s not possible or desirable to video each call. (Note: with tools like tablets and Livescribe smart pens, it is possible to audio-record sales calls, as long as the buyer is aware the conversation is being recorded.) However, building upon a documented sales process, analytics can serve up details to managers that could suggest where the next performance improvement is to be found.

Taking advantage of the powerful assist analytics can offer requires that your reps keep current and accurate track of their sales activities against your documented sales process (easier to do when integrated into your CRM system and workflow).

Second, you need to support and reward your managers for coaching. You may be thinking, “We do encourage coaching in our firm. Granted, we don’t measure the effectiveness of our coaching, nor do we compensate managers for doing so but, hey, we’re not opposed to coaching and our managers spend time on it. Similarly, we have an adopted sales process and we expect our reps to consistently use it; again, we don’t rigorously reinforce/enforce its use, but our guys know on important deals, at least, they need to stick to the process.” These statements reflect Level 2 sales process implementation and an informal coaching process.

So sure, your firm could probably up its game by being a little more rigorous, but how much would that really improve things? Answer: A LOT. (See table)

Level 2 Sales Process & Informal Coaching CultureLevel 4 Sales Process & Positive Coaching Culture
Percentage of Reps Meeting/Beating Quota48%77%
Average Annual Revenue Target Attainment88%95%
Total Sales Rep Turnover (Voluntary + Involuntary)15%10%
Outcome of Forecast Deals: Won/Lost/No Decision44%-33%-23%60%-20%-20%

Informal vs. Rigorous Coaching Culture Performance Measures source: CSO Insights 2015 SMO study.

Summary

No, not all your people are going to make the grade. But each salesperson in your organization deserves – and your managers should deliver – meaningful coaching. No one is going to say, “Don’t coach your people.” But leading firms are providing a long-term vision that informs what skills/abilities need to be developed, leverage tools (CRM, analytics, etc.) and support their managers in being the best coaches they can be—to help their salespeople be the best they can be.

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