Recent articles from two prominent sales leaders persuasively challenge conventional wisdom on sales coaching. Both articles are well worth your time by themselves, but for handy reference here are some of the main ideas they share.
Data continues to spring surprises
Carole Mahoney has a great piece on how her preconceptions about sales managers got overturned by the evidence. Based on research studies she’d read, she assumed that the Premier League of sales managers were people who focused their efforts on their teams. That’s to say, they prioritised motivating and coaching their team, and making them accountable for their performance. She was pretty sure that they were less interested in the day-to-day general management jobs, such as resource planning.
As so often, the data had something different to say. A survey of time spent on various activities by sales managers, categorised the managers into four types: elite, strong, serviceable, and weak. The survey results showed what percentage of their time each type of manager spent on coaching, motivating and accountability.
The thing that surprised Carole was that all the managers from elite to weak, spent pretty much the same percentage of their time on these activities. After some thought, and further data collation, she reached a couple of interesting conclusions.
First, the difference a manager can make by allocating time to sales coaching, continues to increase right up to around 50% of their available time. So there’s plainly extra performance to be squeezed out there. And second, however much time is allocated, the skill level of the manager is the key variable in improving the team’s performance.
You can (and should) read the rest of the article here.
As more data gets mined, and more data points are connected, we can expect to see an increased number of these evidence based insights, revealing which management attributes, and activities, really make a difference to teams. But one of the key takeaways, is that the coaching skills of top sales managers are crucial to the way their teams perform. So clearly, the managers themselves need input and coaching, to allow them to make the difference.
Great teams happen when individuality is recognised
Across business, workforces are becoming more diverse. Employees, including those working in teams, are demanding to be treated as individuals, rather than units of production. It’s especially evident in sales, where teams need to be able to relate to customers, as part of the sales process. Many employees enjoy working in teams, but not at the expense of being able to express their own individuality. So they will be far more receptive to coaching styles and activities that recognise their unique personality, learning style and working behaviour. It may be, that while individually different, people may be somewhat predictable in those differences.
Some of these ideas were discussed in a recent article from Integrity Solutions which looked at how managers could adapt their coaching styles to suit their workforce. The article is based on the behavioural concept of leadership - that there are four main kinds of behaviours, although most people exhibit a mix of them (it has to be said, this theory has both supporters and critics). At any rate, it’s clear that people differ in how they approach learning, and an appreciation of this can greatly improve the effectiveness of sales coaching.
The article gives four pieces of good advice for coaches. To paraphrase:
1. Think about your own styles of behaviour and the way you prefer to learn. Recognise these as individual to you, and don’t assume that others share your preferences or styles.
2. Look at the activities the person you’re coaching finds easy, and the things they struggle with. Then consider their dominant behaviour type and learning style.
3. Use the insights you have gained about yourself, and the employee, to promote their engagement with the coaching. If they’re amicable and social, they may learn best through interaction. If they’re analytical, their path to understanding may be through discussion. Methods need to be adapted to their individual requirements.
4. Accept the difficulties. If your style is very different from the person you’re coaching, it may be require more effort on your part, but your coaching session is going to be much more engaging and effective because you’ve taken the differences into account.
Taken together, these two articles are saying very much the same thing - sales coaching matters, and done well, by people who have themselves got the right level of skill, it can transform performance. And they also give us a timely reminder that the conventional wisdom may not be supported by the evidence. So that means it’s always worth digging a little deeper to see whether the data is supportive of our accepted notions, or should actually be making us rethink them.