The Importance Of Coaching In Sales Leadership Development

Written by Sean McPheat |

15 October, 2013

Training Alone Won’t Develop Sales Leaders

UK companies spent a combined £13 billion on sales training last year. They made this investment with the hope that training would dramatically improve their top line growth by transforming their average sales reps into good ones, and their good reps into all-stars.

But research on traditional sales training reveals a dramatically different story: one month after completing training, reps already have forgotten 87% of what they learned, according to the Corporate Executive Board.

Think about the golf swing. While a training session with a pro can provide an important introduction to the fundamental elements — grip, stance, ball position, backswing, follow-through — taken together, these discrete pieces of information quickly become overwhelming. When shared in small increments, however, and reinforced with ongoing coaching and regular practice, training becomes a valuable foundation — the first step on the path to mastery.

“Becoming a better leader (or manager, or pipefitter, or ballet dancer) requires wanting to learn, then acquiring new behaviors and putting them into practice,” writes Mike Myatt in Forbes. “We know intuitively that you can’t become a prima ballerina just by listening to somebody else talk about great ballerinas and how they danced.”

The process Myatt is describing isn’t really training — it’s coaching. While the two terms often are used interchangeably, they are actually very different, particularly when it comes to sales. Coaching isn’t a single event. It’s a process, requiring frequent, ongoing communication between rep and manager.

And it works. A recent study by Ventana Research found that sales reps are four times more productive when their training is complemented with ongoing in-field coaching and reinforcement — productivity that translates into better sales performance. Sales teams that incorporate sales coaching into their sales process see a 21% increase in close rates and a 23% increase in quota attainment, according to CSO Insights.

Coaching the Coach

The problem is that most companies aren’t training their sales managers to become great coaches. A study by ASTD found that only 11 percent of companies train their sales managers to a high extent, while 22 percent don’t train them at all.

Managers typically come from the sales ranks themselves, and after receiving a promotion, they suddenly find themselves managing a team. Absent support and mentorship, they often must figure out how to manager and coach on their own, with mixed results.

Equipping sales managers to make this shift successfully will have a significant impact on sales performance — and ultimately, on the overall performance of the company. On average, sales managers impact the behavior of 10 reps. So every hour invested in developing a manager has the potential to yield a 10X return.

A manager also has the greatest impact on sales rep turnover. The cost of replacing an effective sales rep is £63,000, when you factor in the time it takes to onboard a new rep and rebuild their pipeline. When reps leave an organisation, 70% of the time they cite a poor relationship with their immediate manager as the primary reason for their departure.

The most successful sales team leaders harness their sales reps’ innate drive to win by teaching skills for constant improvement. They take mere management a step further by offering mentorship and fostering one-on-one relationships with each member of the sales force. They cultivate a cohesive team unit by setting ambitious but achievable goals for both individuals and the group as a whole. Successful team leaders, in other words, are coaches.

The Three Keys to Effective Sales Coaching

Sales training can set the table for success. But once a training session ends, sales managers need to coach their reps to ensure best practices and techniques become ingrained. Here are three keys to every successful sales coaching relationship:

1. Frequency

The only way a sales manager will truly understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of their reps is to connect with them 1:1 on a regular basis — at least once a week. Setting clear goals, determining the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving them, and sharing strategies for overcoming those hurdles can only come through frequent and ongoing communication.

2.  Accountability

In a coaching relationship, goals only have meaning if sales managers hold their reps accountable for achieving them. When a rep commits to change their behavior and undertake certain actions, it’s crucial for a sales manager to be able to measure their progress and provide feedback about what’s working, what needs to be improved, and why. Over time, sales reps will be able to chart their development as new techniques and strategies start to yield results.

3. Recognition

One of the most effective things a coach can do to inspire a team is to celebrate it. Sales managers who highlight the importance of the sales team and the unique qualities like resilience, tenacity, and charisma needed to succeed at the job will produce sales reps who feel valued and vital. Taking concrete steps to remind reps that the work they do is vital and value to the company and even the world at large can count for a lot.

Guest Blog By Nick Stein, Sr. Director Marketing, Salesforce Work.com

(Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)