Banging the drum for 'middle of the road' coaching


In a previous blog I posted on SaaScribe, I banged the drum for the average sales person – hiring a team of rock stars may be an aspired goal, but its not a realistic one where time is limited and growth is critical. You’ll likely need to embrace the average sales person to achieve SaaS success.

But you do need to get the best results from ‘average’ - Which is why I was so intrigued to read about the impact on sales performance of coaching low performers, high performers and my old friend, the average sales person.

A study by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, published in Harvard Business Review suggests that the time spent coaching ‘the tails’ - low and high performers, whilst seemingly compelling, gives the lowest return on your investment in time. The 60% in the average tier, provides the highest ROI on coaching time, increasing individual performance by up to 19%.

At first glance, this is understandable. Weak performers, whilst they may improve marginally, were likely weak performers against peers for a reason, and coaching isn’t likely to turn them from bottom to top of the class. Equally, how much better can your top performers become? The impact of coaching becomes more marginal to those who are already hitting it out the park.

So, we are led to conclude, that the biggest impact our coaching can have is on our ‘average’ performers – who have enough about them to have stayed out of the bottom quartile, but have lots of potential upside that coaching can unleash.

SaaS Sales Coaching

However, I find this conclusion may be a little simplistic in SaaS, where things are rarely quite so black and white. We are assuming that all external, contributory factors for each individual are equal – their previous experience, onboarding, manager, territory, compensation, even luck, and indeed their coaching.

And what about the subjectivity of the stats or KPI’s you are judging on – a poor performer on number of qualified demos booked may not be viewed in the same light when analysing the LTV of their converted clients. Does a smaller volume of considered well-fit, qualified prospects equal a low performer? It’s too bold a statement to say that they are a low performer purely because of a single KPI, albeit a likely indicator of area for improvement.

Hidden Value in Coaching

But most meaningfully, I feel the study ignores some of the massive ‘hidden value’ in coaching. We need to identify if low performers, appreciating the external factors, can be better and fast! Those classed as low performers are either coachable to improvement or not a good fit. How fast do you want to work that one out? Coach up or coach out!

For high performers, coaching can raise the bar for the whole organization, but for individuals, as well as investing in their own development will increase engagement, provide praise and allow you to share best practices between peers.

‘Are they coachable?’

The key consideration is ‘are they coachable?’ Are they open and receptive to feedback, eager to learn and develop, willing to change and try new approaches? It is coachable team members for whom coaching will have the biggest impact. Is this part of your recruitment strategy? Do you seek qualities and evidence of a coachable employee in your recruitment and on-boarding?

Perhaps the study does help point out that ‘coachable’ average performers will have the biggest improvement from coaching but don’t ignore the benefits of improving or exposing low performers fast or engaging top performers to raise the bar and share best practice.

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