Yes, coaching conversations do take time, but when done right, with the right structure and preparation, coaching can be the most effective use of a sales manager’s time. And, it can actually create more time for sales managers, as they find themselves putting out fewer fires. When sales professionals have the skills and the confidence to operate well independently, they become more responsible and accountable for their own results.
In reality, too many managers commit to coaching without a plan. They can spend hours on one coaching session, trying to get the sales professional to change a handful of things, overwhelming him/her with a data dump of information.
At Richardson, our target for developmental sales coaching is to focus on one, maybe two, changes that can have the most effective impact. Considering that most people can only change one thing at a time and attention spans continue to shrink, a targeted approach to coaching is better received. Short sessions — 20 minutes or less — can be highly effective. Praise alone takes just a few minutes.
When sales managers don’t take the time to coach, they end up doing more work themselves. They either correct mistakes made by their team or take on work that should be done by sales professionals. Either way, this behavior is bad for sales professionals, who never learn how to improve their performance, for sales managers, who are constantly called to correct things, and for organizations, which never realize the full potential of their people in achieving results.
According to the Aberdeen Group, best-in-class coaching can shorten the sales cycle and lead to more effective performance. Highlights of its report, issued in October 2014, include the following:
- Best-in-class sales teams are 26% more likely to offer real-time, deal-specific coaching.
- Coaching-enabled firms achieve 11% better team sales quota attainment.
- Sales turnover drops by 3% among formally coached sellers; it increases by 1.4% among non-adopters.
We have found similar results at Richardson among our clients who undertake developmental coaching, create a coaching culture, or focus on real-deal coaching. Their sales teams generally have a higher conversion rate from marketing leads to close in which sales cycles are shorter and new hires meet or exceed quota more frequently.
When sales coaching is well executed, it elevates performance, builds accountability, and empowers sales professionals to be self-directed in their work. When sales managers take the time to prepare for and then have conversations with their team, looking at specific circumstances and having them think through the options, it creates a memory of the process and a connection on a personal level.
The analogy I like to use is teaching a child to ride a bike. At first, you talk him/her through what to do and what can happen. Then, you let him/her test his/her skills in a controlled environment, with training wheels. Then, the training wheels come off, and you hold onto the back of the bike, as he/she begins to pedal. When he/she picks up speed, you let go and run alongside him/her. As he/she masters the skill, you watch him/her confidently ride on his/her own.
It’s the same with coaching. You give sales professionals direction. You model the behavior and help them along until they gain the skills and knowledge to be more effective. You give course corrections, as necessary. And, you watch them grow.
As your sales team becomes more effective and productive, you, as sales manager, gain more time for yourself to do more planning, thinking, and managing the overall function. The key is to always keep in mind that you coach the people and manage the task to yield the best results.