Coach Up or Coach Out? - Why Coachability is all that matters


Let’s face it, we all make bad hiring decisions - at least with the benefit of hindsight. Whilst we may strive for sifting and recruitment strategies that should leave us with rock star reps, it’s never bullet proof.

With the average tenure of an SDR (Sales Development Rep), according to Bridge Group's study this year standing at just 1.4 years and the cost of a bad hire cited as equivalent to at least 2-3 times annual salary in direct and indirect costs.

Linear Equation

There are only 3 exits outcomes out of the SDR team - and only one of them is ‘desirable’.

Promotion - Whether a step promotion, promotion to a quota carrying rep or moving up to another team, this is clearly indicative of success. An SDR who has achieved, excelled, shows greater potential and has been given the opportunity to further their career in your organization. If only it always went like that!

Voluntary Exit - According to Compensation Resources, Inc. (CRI), a compensation and human resource consulting firm, the average voluntary turnover rate in sales is 15.9 percent. Its also pretty safe to assume that these almost 1:7 reps, weren’t all rock stars. Many will be underperforming, jumping before pushed.

Whilst the reasons for this can be broad (although less often financial than most believe), it is worth noting the role that coaching plays in creating engagement. A recent study by Career Development Services found that 80% of employees who had been coached by their manager felt a strong sense of commitment to their organization, versus 46% of employees who had no coaching.

Involuntary Exit - Most likely for performance reasons, quota not being hit and insufficient evidence of the required improvement, you cut the cord, rarely with any regret other than the fact, you should have done it sooner

It’s pretty black and white. Either reps are successful, hitting quota, bringing in opportunities or revenue, to the point they either get promoted in your organization, or you’re unable to offer them the progression they desire (let’s face it, that isn’t that often) or they are not - they leave, voluntarily or otherwise.

So the challenge must be, how do you work this out - and as fast as possible?

It’s all about ‘Coachability’

I’m assuming here we know what success looks like. We have a playbook or existing team members who perform at (or at least close) to quota level that we would love to clone.

So, it’s pretty much all about ‘Coachability’ - Can we coach our new starters to perform at a desired level? Again, it’s pretty linear, it’s a ‘closed’ question. They either can be coached to success (and it’s all in the execution, on our shoulders as an organization to successfully achieve this) or they can’t, despite our best efforts to coach and support, we don’t see the progression and development required to succeed in our team.

Let me put it another way. If your new hire, who has made it through your sifting and hiring procedure is ‘coachable’, how could they fail?

Granted, I am ignoring issues such as cultural fit, but even such issues can become more forgiving with a high performing rep, or one clearly in the making. But you get my point - a coachable rep is unlikely to fail.

Assessing ‘Coachability’

How do we discover and measure coachability as quickly as possible and recognize the signs of individuals who cannot be coached to success?

Coaching KPI’s

As part of onboarding and on the job, coaching needs to be delivered and measured. Obviously you can’t judge an individual's ‘coachability’ without delivering sufficient coaching. It’s only by having some framework or process that you can start to identify early, those who are not making sufficient progress.

Coaching needs to be part of the process and KPI’s for managers and more experienced peers. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Coaching is so often a hidden activity, neither recorded or measured. Whilst I accept some coaching should and needs to be spontaneous as part of a coaching culture, failing to creating a coaching plan, is as the cliche goes, planning to fail.

Luckily many tools and platforms (such as Refract), will identify quantum and quality of coaching delivered, reporting on activity of managers, peers and capture the coaching delivered.

Repeating actions despite coaching

"I walk around the sales floor and hear the same mistakes being continuously made" an exasperated manager told me recently. The question must be - have these issues been addressed in coaching and they still repeat themselves?

Blissful ignorance can be a defence. How can we improve without coaching and feedback to identify the flaw? But if this has been identified and addressed in coaching - coaching better or alternative ways to handle this objection, present this value or negotiate this outcome, then it is reasonable to expect a coachable rep to make the appropriate changes going forward. Repeatable actions in spite of evidenced coaching, is the easiest way to ring the alarm bell and ask ‘is this rep really coachable?’

Evidenced Improvement

With a structure or process for onboarding and measured on the job coaching, you can compare performance and improvement fairly. A playbook for ramp time emerges and you can compare progress in line with expectation, not just by results but by evidenced performance and improvement.

This allows deviation from expectation to be identified early, allowing quicking decisions on the likelihood of success.

Coach Up or Coach Out

The importance and role of coaching, both for managers and more experienced peers, is more than just help onboard new starters. Ultimately you will ‘Coach Up’ or ‘Coach Out’ - and the quicker you find out, the better.

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