“Catch a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and feed him for life” – unknown.
Of all the tools available to a sales manager to drive the performance of individuals in their team, coaching has been shown to be the most important in terms of achieving business results. Studies show that the optimum amount of coaching for an individual is 3 hours per month and that this has a dramatic effect on their business performance. Unfortunately, coaching is often the first activity that gets cancelled when the blizzard of requests for a sales manager’s time hits their desk.
Once the coaching session and longer term development of the sales person is postponed, we fall back to the same old management using the order entry numbers, rather than analysing the problems earlier in the pipeline and using coaching to develop the sales person’s skill set.
In our analysis of sales management behaviours, coaching is the activity that is most misunderstood and although coaching is often claimed, it is rarely seen. If “coaching” sessions are actually observed, the sales manager at worst tends to be very directive (confusing coaching with telling) and at best seems to be using clever persuasion to get the sales person to adopt their point of view. Very little coaching that is open and non-directive is observed.
The real problem with coaching is that it takes more time and is harder than just telling. It is also mainly effective in the medium to long term, so when the heat is on for numbers at the quarter’s end, coaching isn’t the tool of choice for closing business. However, if good coaching is embedded and has been practiced earlier in the quarter then the mad dash at quarter end may be avoided or at least be more controlled.
Coaching is often seen as “fluffy” but it can actually be very effective when used in business performance issues. When you are diagnosing performance problems you need to look at two areas. The first is the sales person’s performance against the target, the second is the sales person’s performance against the key sales metrics that you need them to deliver. This diagram shows a formula which represents sales person’s revenue.That is the number of opportunities that we need them to bring into the pipeline, the average size that we would like that opportunity to be and the close rate that we expect. This would be divided by the average sales cycle length or velocity we need them to achieve. Having done this we would need to assess the sales and execution behaviour and then analyze the root cause of the problem to ensure that we are focusing on the real performance issue. This is where coaching comes into it’s own, and allows the sales manager to work with the sales person to create a set of actions to drive future performance.