Developing a full-scale learning system with a well-led and managed change plan is the most effective way to do that. Are you ready for a shocker? One of the most important post-training tools in such a system is sales coaching.
Big surprise? Yeah, probably not. Yet…
Sales Coaching is underutilized
… as much as we all seem to recognize the power of sales coaching for training transfer and sales performance improvement, research consistently shows that we underutilize it.
- A Nightingale Conant study reported that 67.21% of managers are not doing or sporadically do sales coaching/development and 52.34% of sales managers say they don’t have the time or are too busy to develop and coach their sales teams.
- According to the Objective Management Group, Inc., only 15% of all sales managers spend as much as 25% of their time on coaching and the time they do spend on coaching is generally ineffective.
- The Sales Management Association has reported that front-line sales managers spent only 26% of their time, or an average of 3 hours per rep per month, managing performance (which includes expectation setting, performance monitoring, coaching and development).
There’s uncertainty about how to reinforce training programs
Aside from the organizational obstacles (meaning: how we bog our sales managers down with non-essential duties that interfere with the primary task of improving the sales performance of their reps), and challenges with coaching in general, I’ve heard a lot of feedback over the years from sales managers, saying they simply don’t know how to most effectively reinforce training content and coach to specific programs.
Fortunately, this is not a difficult problem to solve, organizationally. It does, however, require advance thought and action to prepare your sales coaches. (I’ve rarely seen it happen on its own, except with perhaps the top 4 or 5 percent of sales coaches.) The coaching itself isn’t different than any other good developmental coaching session. In this case, the thoughtful and very specific preparation is what makes the difference.
Framework for reinforcing training
The steps are:
- Understand the content and prepare to reinforce it (before training)
- Plan to support post-program application (before training)
- Establish a diagnostic evidence chain to prepare for coaching (before training)
- Conduct gap analysis (after training)
- Coach to close the gaps (after training)
Note: This list of steps is tailored to our topic of tailoring post-program coaching to get results from sales training. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of actions that a manager should take before, during and after training to support learning and foster training transfer.
Let’s look at these 5 steps more closely.
STEP 1: Understand the content and prepare to reinforce it
- Identify the expected knowledge to be retained
- Identify the performance support to be used
- Identify the expected behaviors (observable)
- Review participant action plans (the bridge from program learning to post-program action)
– Activities: Learning reinforcement plans, if any
– Activities: Application/Actions to be taken to use content
In this step, managers should attend the program (with or before their reps, whenever possible), and also work with the training team and their reps, to clearly understand content, identify expectations, and review student/rep post-program action plans developed at the end of the course.
STEP 2: Plan to support post-program application
- Establish verifiable outcomes (watch this video for more information)
– Leading indicators
– Verifiable evidence: objective or anecdotal
– Improve confidence
– Capture customer reactions
- Document expected results (including any expected improvement)
- Establish meeting/coaching schedule
- Plan to communicate expectations and schedule coaching sessions
In this step, managers should clearly identify metrics, establish expectations, and plan to set a recurring meeting schedule, as determined appropriate for the rep’s tenure, confidence, competence, and performance compared to the program content and manager’s expectations. The first post-training meeting should occur quickly after the course ends, to review action plans and establish expectations. (In fact, some of the expectations should be a review, since a manager should establish a few expectations for their reps before they attend training.)
STEP 3: Establish a diagnostic evidence chain to prepare for coaching
Common elements include:
- Program knowledge
- Discussion about sales activities, customer interactions, and outcomes
- Use of performance support
- Observed behaviors
- Review of verifiable outcomes (leading indicators)
- Review of sales results (reporting/lag indicators)
In this step, managers determine what elements they will consider to determine whether their rep has learned the knowledge, can use the skills, is applying both, can use performance support appropriately, and is getting the desired results.
STEP 4: Conduct gap analysis
Follow the diagnostic evidence chain to:
- Test or verbally question the required knowledge or watch for other evidence of knowledge retention of key content
- Confirm that planned activity has been completed, and to what degree of effectiveness
- Verify that appropriate performance is being used, and used correctly
- Observe behaviors related to program content (observe firsthand: listen to calls, make field visits)
- Obtain client feedback, as appropriate
- Review verifiable outcomes and results
In this step, the manager uses the planned diagnostic evidence chain to determine what their reps know, that they are using what they were taught, that they are following their action and activity plans, and that they are getting the results they need. The manager must also focus on how and how well reps are using the knowledge and skill, to be able to coach for mastery. Reports and data analysis can point managers in a direction, discussion can verify knowledge and determine rep’s opinions, perspectives and beliefs, and verifiable outcomes can predict the likelihood of achieving results, but the most valuable diagnostic tool managers have is the direct observation of their reps on the phone or in the field. The content of the program (such as prospecting, selling, negotiation, presentation skills, etc.), and indications from reporting and discussions, will point managers in the right direction for what to observe.
STEP 5: Coach to close the gaps
- Conduct a developmental coaching session, per our Sales Coaching book or our developmental sales coaching program, Coaching for Results.
In this step, managers conduct the actual coaching session (some of which may have started with the diagnostic discussions and questions about activities, what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not). Done well, this step will foster a cycle of ongoing planning, execution, review, and coaching. This creates an endless loop of learning and coaching, leading to improved performance. At some point, the specific coaching related to a program will fade and be replaced by coaching for another program or segue to a cadence of regular coaching activity.
I won’t detail the developmental sales coaching methods since that’s not the point of this post, but I do want to provide some additional reading, if interested:
I hope this post has provided helpful advice that will allow you to improve post-program reinforcement, coaching and training transfer. I’d enjoy hearing your comments.