We’ve all seen it—the new sales hire on-boards quickly and blazes a trail to their first sale in record time. All seems promising until, after a few months, the rep is exhibiting difficulties absorbing highly technical product enhancements and shifting industry dynamics in the wake of key mergers and acquisitions. Their sales conversations falter, productivity levels drop, and manager expectations are downgraded. The once promising rep is now facing an uncertain future and team morale is slipping. If this scenario is increasingly playing itself out in your company, it’s time to take a hard look at how you’re supporting the development of your sales force and coaching them to success.
Crossing the Coaching Chasm
There’s no shortage of data supporting the need for sales coaching. Unfortunately, like keeping a New Year’s resolution, it’s easier said than done. The reasons are oft-repeated: Leadership just wants to see the numbers, and pressure to make the quarter preempts scheduled coaching sessions; sales managers lack the knowledge to coach effectively; and whatever coaching is conducted tends to focus more on the deals themselves instead of core competencies. Like any sales objection, these need to be addressed head on, and the answer lies in creating a culture where coaching is an intrinsic part of the sales structure, with data-driven insights making it possible to scale.
Objection 1: Sales leadership doesn’t prioritize coaching. Sales leaders shouldn’t just pay lip service to coaching but many do, according to a new study from the Sales Management Association (SMA) commissioned by Qstream. More than 100 sales leaders surveyed revealed that less than one third have defined development programs for their sales managers. SMA’s director, Bob Kelly, points out that many on the leadership level are not incentivized to promote a coaching culture, which has led to this lack of prioritization. And those who aren’t investing in coaching are paying a price: high customer dissatisfaction, lost sales, low morale, and high turnover in their sales ranks. Yet those with a formal coaching process generated much stronger results (54 percent win rate) in comparison to informal coaching processes (46 percent win rate) or discretionary coaching (45 percent win rate), where the process is left up to the individual sales manager.
Coaching needs to go beyond supporting on-boarding phases. It’s a leadership imperative that requires a long-term commitment. Executives should lay out a plan with goals, execution strategies, and a coaching program timeline that includes mechanisms for accountability and rewards for those who deliver on the coaching promise. With data-driven technology that provides clear insights into the capabilities of the sales force, a customized coaching framework can more easily be developed and scaled. Next, leadership must define what good coaching looks like and ensure that it’s a collaborative effort. Beyond introducing, launching, and socializing this framework, leadership encourages a culture that ensures that all employees, at all levels, live up to their abilities. Once the vision and strategy are defined, the real work can begin.