Coaching is not always a priority, but it should be for sales organizations that strive for efficiency because it can significantly influence reps’ performance. According to CSO Insights*, 20% more sales reps achieve quota at companies with effective coaching compared with companies that have poor coaching programs. A Sales Executive Council research had similar findings: 19% increase in performance in the sales force core performers’ group as a result of top-quality coaching. Even only by improving coaching quality from below to above average they found a 6-8% increase in performance across 50% of the sales force.
Numbers are telling, but when it comes to coaching, many companies find themselves lost in busy schedules, complicated procedures, and lack of know-how. So what does quality coaching mean? The answer also comes from research. According to CSO Insights: effective sales coaching must be timely, accurate, consistent, relevant, and individualized.
Here is why these five constructs are important and how you should integrate them in your coaching process:
- Timely coaching greatly increases its usefulness. Delayed coaching translates into frustration for the sales rep. The best time to offer support is when they are dealing with a challenge – right there and then. For example, you notice someone having a hard time getting past the gatekeepers on an important client. Schedule a 20-30 minute coaching session as soon as possible to assess the situation together and discuss solutions for that particular client. A challenge in providing timely coaching is knowing when sales reps need help. The simplest way is to ask, but answers are often vague. To help managers identify coaching needs, organizations should provide them with insights into client behavior and deal progress. This is possible with a centralized CRM where both sales reps and managers easily have access to performance metrics and data about clients and prospects.
- Accurate coaching solves problems. Accuracy ties in closely with the need for metrics. CSO Insights reports that there is direct correlation between managers’ ability to access accurate metrics and the win rate of deals. The better managers understand a problem, the better advice they can offer. If this information is lacking or is inaccurate, coaching will be little more than an exercise in futility.
- Consistent coaching leads to growth. There are two important aspects of consistency:
- Offer coaching on an ongoing basis, to ensure sustained growth. 80% of new skills are lost within a week of training without follow-up, according to the Association for Talent Development, while 87% are lost within a month, Xerox reports. This means that coaching should be a continuous process, not a once-a-month exercise.
- Follow a coaching methodology. Create a set of rules, such as frequency and duration of coaching sessions, goal-setting procedures, type of questions to ask, advice scenarios, follow-up procedures, etc. This will allow you to treat everyone the same (while still offering individualized advice) and provide reps with a learning structure.
- Relevant coaching helps reps meet goals. Relevance is one of the most important aspects of skill-development because it makes the matter at hand worth knowing and thus increases engagement. Before a coaching session, ask the following question: “How is this helpful to them?” If coaching helps reps with their specific goals, they will be more motivated and eager to learn. Let’s take the example of a rep who has to sell against a new sales compensation plan that is supporting the launch of a new product. The rep’s comission depends on his efficiency to push the product. In this case, coaching should provide him with specific tools to sell this new product, from understanding its advantages and disadvantages, to identifying and approaching prospects, and closing deals.
- Individualized coaching builds trust. Coaching should be tailored to each sales rep’s strengths, weaknesses, and growth goals. By showing reps genuine interest in helping them overcome obstacles, you create a climate of trust that is essential for their development. They will reward you with achieved objectives because they won’t only have the skills to do it but also the motivation. It’s a win-win situation.
Coaching should be a daily activity for management. Only by seeing coaching as part of the sales process can it yield the desired results. In the end, sales people are those who can make or break an organization’s ability to meet goals, so pay attention to their needs and create a challenging yet comfortable and nurturing working environment for them.
* CSO Insights, Sales Performance Optimization Study, 2015 Sales Management Analysis
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