Do your sales managers find the topic of sales coaching to be ill defined and confusing? If they have had more than one training course on coaching, the frustration and confusion may be even greater. The lack of a clear understanding often stems from the vast array of models and coaching definitions that exist in the marketplace. Adding to the chaos, sales managers may be exposed to different approaches to sales coaching, not knowing which approach will lead to the desired coaching results. For instance, some sales managers are taught to “coach for correction” when they really need to “coach for growth.”
1) Addressing Short-Term Gaps vs. Developing Long-Term Skills
Sales managers who use sales coaching to help close performance gaps of sellers are often engaging in corrective coaching. Perhaps the seller is behind on quota or has an insufficient pipeline of opportunities to achieve quota based on current close rates. In these instances, corrective coaching would likely target activities the seller needs to engage in to increase the size of the pipeline. These corrective coaching efforts are designed to close a gap or address an identified performance problem.
We can contrast corrective coaching with growth coaching, which sales managers use to help sellers improve the execution of everyday tasks. Coaching for growth doesn’t just address perceived gaps in performance. Instead, coaching for growth helps sellers develop long-term skills, such as how to manage accounts, mine territories, pursue and win opportunities, plan and make better sales calls. Coaching for growth takes place whether sellers are at quota or not.
2) Viewing Sales Coaching Through a Rearview Mirror vs. a Windshield
The basis of corrective coaching is a rearview mirror look into how a seller has performed in the past. This historical information is used to determine what gaps need to be addressed in the present. This backward-looking form of coaching is critical for helping sellers improve gaps in performance, but it does not equip sellers for looking ahead and creating plans of action to capture future opportunities.
Corrective coaching to address gaps must be coupled with coaching for growth, which takes a proactive, forward-looking approach to planning for future sales activities and sales calls. Coaching for growth sessions are used to guide sellers in creating plans for effectively maintaining and growing existing accounts through account planning. Sellers also learn to optimize their time and effort within their territories by accurately identifying which accounts have the highest potential. Sellers are then able to allocate more effort toward high potential accounts versus those with lower potential. Sellers also learn to qualify, pursue, and win individual opportunities and do so by conducting effective interactions with buyers.
3) Engaging in Periodic vs. On-Going Coaching
While there are always salespeople below quota who need help getting back on track, performance conversations represent very few of the conversations sales managers have with sellers on a regular basis. Most conversations between salespeople and sales managers are about making sales, not corrective coaching sessions about closing gaps. Coaching for correction conversations are typically relegated to formal performance reviews that occur infrequently in the sales force. Based on our research of sales management practices, the most typical performance review cycles occur quarterly.
Sales managers who coach for growth take a different approach and use each sales coaching session as an opportunity to guide sellers in everyday tasks. Topics of discussion may include how a seller can effectively maintain and grow existing accounts. These types of activities are part and parcel of the everyday job of the seller and not out of the norm so they should be a common topic of discussion during coaching sessions if you want sellers to progress.
When organizations contemplate the best ways to equip their sales management population to effectively coach sales teams, it is important to consider the type of coaching most needed to drive results. Do you want your sales managers just “coaching for correction” or do you want them focusing most of their efforts on “coaching for growth?” The more your sales managers coach for growth, the more your sellers grow. It’s just that simple.