For the last decade, coaching has occupied a paradoxical place in the world of sales. It is both recognized as vital for sales success and yet undertaken half-heartedly if practiced at all. Well-structured and dynamic sales coaching programs have been linked to improvements in win rates and quota attainment of 32.1% and 27.9% respectively, over random coaching approaches where coaching decisions are left entirely to individual managers. Yet, only a minuscule 12.6% of companies were found to have such dynamic coaching programs in place, with 42.9% having completely random or ad-hoc approaches to coaching.1
The pandemic has only worsened this situation, as managers and sales leaders have struggled to adapt to virtual channels, coaching practices designed for face-to-face interactions. One study found that 54% of sales leaders report being less effective coaches since their teams went remote due to COVID-19, and 76% report finding it harder to observe and coach their teams when not physically present.2
Why coaching falters
While most organizations recognize the importance of coaching their sales reps, few put sufficient thought into how this should be done. The most common reasons for sales coaching to fail are:
- a) Insufficient coaching time: In most companies, the priority for coaching is fairly low, resulting in insufficient time allocated for it. According to a recent study by CSOInsights, managers spend just 14.2% of their time on coaching.3
- b) Insufficient coaching expertise: Most organizations promote top-performing sales reps to management positions. However, being able to sell doesn't automatically translate into being able to coach others on how to sell. Without specific training, therefore, managers cannot provide effective coaching even if they make the time for it.
- c) Insufficient data: In order to coach sellers, managers must first know where and how reps are going wrong. This requires a high level of visibility into how reps perform their pitches and other sales activities. Without such data, managers are likely to rely on intuition and shoot in the dark.
- d) Insufficient technology: In the current remote work scenario, managers also face several challenges in terms of how to observe their teams, gather information, and deliver feedback through digital channels. Without adequate infrastructure, managers have no avenues for effective coaching.
How to optimize coaching
Optimizing coaching requires companies to upgrade their processes and technologies. Here are five steps to rescue your coaching program:
- 1) Establish a detailed, formal coaching framework: Coaching can only work if managers and reps have a clear sense of what is expected of them and are held accountable for it. Coaching frameworks should establish clear cadences, approaches, goals, and outcomes. What's important to note about a coaching framework is that it's not an off-the-shelf formula that can be applied blindly to all sales reps. Instead, it has to be a contextual structure that takes account of knowledge, skills, tools, and processes suited to the requirements of a company's specific sales culture and business needs and the individual requirements of sales reps.
- 2) Don’t focus on deals, coach competencies: According to studies, rep dissatisfaction primarily arises because managers tend to focus too much on deal closing.5 What reps seek, instead, is more skills-based instruction that can help them develop their overall competencies. In a similar vein, while the temptation to be directive may be strong, collaborative coaching is often far more effective since it helps reps learn for themselves.
- 3) Train managers to be better coaches: Without training, managers are likely to simply replicate the techniques and strategies that made them successful at selling. However, successful coaching requires managers to know how to diagnose performance problems in sales reps, which problems to prioritize for coaching, and how to motivate reps and induce behavior change.
- 4) Leverage video for practice and feedback: Sales readiness platforms allow reps to quickly record and share practice pitches and roleplays with managers and receive feedback and coaching on which specific skills to improve and how. This will enable reps to perfect their sales pitches before they enter into a sales conversation with customers. Regular pitch analyses and coaching inputs by managers ensure that sales reps are sales-ready at all times in a dynamic and ever-changing environment. Some of the most crucial sales skills can only be gathered through such experiential learning, which is learning through actual practice and feedback.
- 5) Use data, not intuition: Structured feedback based on objective evidence is always far more effective and unbiased in shaping a coaching program than inputs based on managerial intuition. The difficulty many managers face is the lack of time and resources for gathering such detailed data and the ability to scale it to large workgroups. Fortunately, AI-enabled readiness technologies can perform these assessments at scale. For instance, AI algorithms can provide valuable information on practice pitches across various key factors, which managers can use for providing a highly relevant and impactful coaching experience. In fact, AI algorithms can ensure that the entire coaching program—from identifying topics to making recommendations—is customized to individual learner needs.
Coaching can have a massive effect on the revenues and bottom line of a sales organization. But effective coaching requires a formal coaching framework, a focus on building competencies, experiential learning, the use of AI-enabled analytics, and provision for training managers to be better coaches. Without such a thorough upgrade, your coaching program is likely to fail in the new normal.