Building the Groundwork for Sales Coaching Greatness

Sales Coaching
Building the groundwork for sales coaching greatness

This post is part two of a three-part series that originally appeared here in the Sales Management Association blog.

In our last blog, we revealed many of the snarly situational factors that get in the way of coaching. The good news is that coaching obstacles are not insurmountable, and there are ways to improve sales performance in a meaningful, sustainable way to increase the number of salespeople in your organization that make quota. Let’s look at a few best practices of high performing sales managers that are discussed in our new book, Crushing Quota.

Create Clarity of Task for Sellers

Top-performing managers coach sellers to concentrate on activities. In fact, coaching to activities is the only type of coaching that has a direct and significant impact on quota attainment. It yields a 24% boost in productivity when compared to coaching to results (10%) or coaching to individual salesperson capabilities (2%). Clearly, coaching to capabilities, a common practice, has by far the lowest impact on quota attainment.

To determine which activities are most important, successful managers begin with the end goal: They start with the outcome and work backwards. The causal chain below forms the basis for salesperson focus.

Once KPIs are identified, the activities necessary to drive their achievement can be determined. This exercise creates a clear task for sellers focusing them on doing the important stuff first–the high impact activities that will lead them directly to success.

Align Coaching to High-Impact Activities

Once the high impact activities have been identified, managers need to prepare and plan their coaching conversations in a way that contributes to effective sales execution. Diligent preparation ensures that the conversation will be focused and comprehensive. Something as simple as a clear agenda for the conversation will help the manager and rep remain stay on task and facilitate an effective coaching session.

Successful coaching conversations generate the right outputs and ensure effective sales execution. Whether the desired output is a plan for an upcoming sales call or a competitive strategy to unseat an incumbent, structure dramatically increases the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome. But the work doesn’t stop there.

Operationalize Coaching

The final piece–where the rubber meets the road–is operationalizing coaching into the sales manager’s day-to-day job. We’ve discovered the only way to make enable consistent coaching is to set the bar low. This is the antithesis of the way salespeople and sales leaders typically think. We don’t just want goals, we want stretch goals. We want to overachieve. We think more is better. And we are wrong.

Our research of top-performing managers sheds important light on this point. Top-performing managers–those with 75 percent or more of their salespeople at quota–don’t coach more hours or more often than their lower-preforming peers. They coach differently. They focus seller effort, structure coaching to ensure effective sales execution, and adopt the minimum level of formality needed to get the job done. That’s right… The minimum level of formality to get the job done!

Top-performing managers coach less frequently, but for a longer duration. In contrast, low-performing managers are like whirling dervishes. They feel productive, only they’re not, and their salespeople suffer because of it.

Let’s take an example. Say that one of the highest impact activities for a territory salesperson is early-stage qualification of new opportunities to ensure he focuses on winnable deals. Coaching sellers to properly qualify opportunities and structuring those conversations to get to the desired level of depth may require an hour. If a sales manager has ten salespeople and wants to do this type of coaching effectively, she may only be able to do it every other week–or even once per month. Deeper, one hour coaching every other week will move the needle more effectively than shallower, 30-minute coaching every week. How often a sales manager coaches is less important than how well that manager coaches. Quality is the clear winner over quantity when it comes to coaching.

In a Nutshell…

The recipe for good coaching is pretty straight-forward. First, create clear tasks for your salespeople by making a direct causal chain between business results, sales objectives (or KPIs), and high-impact seller activities. Second, structure your coaching efforts to ensure effective execution of high-impact activities by preparing for the coaching sessions. Finally, apply the minimum level of formality–meaning less often, but in more depth–to coaching conversations. Top-performing sales managers coach this way, and so can you.