If coaching sales managers isn't your top priority. You need to rethink that strategy.

Let’s face it.

It’s dollars to doughnuts all sales leaders want to boost revenue and increase ROIs from sales training initiatives.

But sales reps aren’t retaining the information delivered in training events. Consider:

  • In just over 5 weeks, reps forget half of the content of a sales training event
  • After 90 days, they only remember 16% of unreinforced training event content

But you can arm your salespeople with the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need to excel.

High-performing sales organizations have figured out a secret. And I’m going to share it with you now. It’s a way you can help your sales teams improve their selling skills, get a higher return on your training investment, and boost revenue.

But first...

Reality Check: Why Coaching is More Important Than Ever

Coaching needs to be part of your sales training mix.

If you want your sales reps to succeed, there’s no way around it.

Companies spend $3.4 to $4.6 billion on sales training every year with outsourced sales training providers, but sales reps forget much of what they’ve learned immediately after the training event.

That’s a shame because these events often leave out an important piece of the training puzzle: the first-line sales managers (FLSM).

The manager knows what their people do well and where they need help.

When FLSMs work directly with sales reps in a coaching capacity, they’re able to focus on specific areas of need. That can accelerate your sales team’s performance.

But don’t sales leaders already know the importance of sales coaching?

Not according to consultant, author, speaker and executive coach, Scott Edinger. 

"We hear constantly about the importance and value of coaching, especially in sales. But, the reality I have observed while working with hundreds of organizations is that a true culture of coaching rarely exists. In a survey I conducted few years ago with a sales team in a Fortune 500 telecom company, I found an interesting contrast. Leaders reported that they spent a considerable amount of time coaching their direct reports and scored themselves high on their efforts– on average, just shy of the 80th percentile. Direct reports responded by saying that they’d received little to no coaching from their leaders and scored them low — on average around just the 38th percentile."

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So why aren’t sales managers coaching their sales force for success?

According to Scott Edinger, founder of Edinger Consulting Group, "...time for coaching to improve future performance is increasingly crowded out by time spent tracking and scrutinizing past results – that is, time spent requesting forecasts, reviewing pipelines together, revising forecasts, and pushing to close more deals in this quarter."

That’s unfortunate because it seems the sales reps could use the help.

  • According to an IDC Enterprise Panel (2009), more than 50% of respondents said sales reps need to know respondents' needs and objectives better to improve the value of their relationship.
  • 40% said the #1 thing a sales rep can do to improve the value of the relationship is to "put aside the generic sales pitches and generic sales presentations."
So how does coaching help?

Why Conventional Training Fails and Coaching Succeeds

I think we can all agree.

Managing a sales team is a big responsibility. The company relies on you and your team to bring in revenue. That’s your primary responsibility.

But for some reason, sales leaders seem to always be searching for a new way to boost the bottom line.

Truth is, the best way to increase revenues is to improve sales effectiveness. And if you're looking for ways to help your sales teams improve their selling skills, coaching is the most powerful lever you have.

Teaching managers how to coach positions you for a high ROI, since a single trained manager can coach numerous sales reps and improve their performance.

The Corporate Executive Board, a leading research and advisory services company, found that effective sales coaching can potentially increase top-line revenue by up to 20 percent.

So, why is coaching such a critical component of effective sales training?

Unlike other aspects of a sales manager’s job, many of which focus on past actions, effective coaching improves future performance. So if your goal is to boost future performance, coaching is exactly what the doctor ordered.

"...if you want to improve the capability of your sales organization, rather than just keep track of it, coaching is the most powerful lever you have." Scott Edinger, founder of Edinger Consulting Group

The key to success is who is doing the coaching. Research firm IDC discovered the secret to a productive sales force is the first-line sales manager.

In a nutshell, FLSMs have the biggest influence on sales results. And the best way to positively influence those results is through coaching. In fact, IDC sees this as the single most important part of the sales manager's job and a key opportunity to develop competency models and drive efficiencies. Coaching provides the opportunity to help salespeople sharpen their skills and builds confidence to stay in the game" said program director of IDC Sales Advisory Service, Lee Levitt "When managers know how to coach, companies can readily leverage them to improve the sales performance of their entire sales force."

So how exactly do you get started?

How To Use Coaching To Improve Sales Performance

First things first.

Yes, activities like forecasting, developing sales quotas, and managing day-to-day performance are important.

But if you want a high-performing sales team, you probably need to spend more time coaching your sales reps. How much time? Best practices in top-performing sales organizations suggest that FLSMs should spend 25-40% of their time on sales coaching.

Once you’ve committed enough time to coaching, you should make sure you’re doing it right. Wondering how you do that? Try this:

  • Conduct tactical sales coaching. Tactical coaching focuses on selling skills and knowledge. Many sales experts agree that’s the area most sales managers struggle with.
    Use your organization’s sales methodology as your coaching framework. When you use your sales methodology as the framework for your coaching conversations your sales reps can get past the theory and apply what they learn.
  • Conduct regular win/loss reviews with your sales force. It’s helpful to know why you won an account and why you lost one. That way you can build on your successes and learn from your setbacks.
  • Coach the middle. FLSMs should focus on coaching the middle players as they can improve the most. Research firm IDC found that “FLSMs can improve the performance of 60 percent to 80 percent of the sales representatives (primarily the "B" and "C" performers) by ensuring that the company's sales methodology and account planning processes are followed and applying the lessons taught in training.
  • If nothing else, your company needs a sales coaching model that is simple for its sales managers to learn and use. Otherwise, they won’t use it. Consider using SRG's Five-Step Sales Coaching Model:
    • Plan a coaching visit.
    • Perform a pre-call briefing.
    • Observe the sales call.
    • Conduct a coaching session.
    • Follow up.

Since first-line sales managers are the closest to your sales reps, they’re in the best position to improve sales performance.

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(image credit: Anthony Sills)

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