If salespeople represent the blood coursing through the veins of a modern business, sales coaches can be thought of as the heartbeat. As we've highlighted many times - without the proper training and oversight, individual employees will be hard pressed to meet targets and increase close rates. The concept of sales coaching remains as critical as ever.
Interestingly enough, a recent survey has found that there is a profound gap between how coaches perceive their actions and how they are judged by employees. While 80 per cent of sales coaches felt that they were leading their teams, over 50 per cent of employees stated that they receive no guidance whatsoever.
Building on this existing research Refract's Head of Sales Richard Smith conducted his own series of interviews with 20 sales leaders and coaches. In this article I'll share some of his key findings, but if you'd prefer the full detail you can read Rich's full article here.
Rich found that the disconnect mentioned above is apparent to most:
What we need to understand is why this gap exists and perhaps more importantly, the effects that it can have within an otherwise professional sales team.
Reason 1: The Concept of Coaching is Misunderstood
Many experts agree that the most prevalent problem is that the coaches themselves do not fully understand their role within the sales team. As Derrick Williams pointed out to Rich:
“They have weekly sales meetings, weekly one-to-ones, they review Salesforce dashboards with their reps. They talk at their reps and tell them what to do. This isn’t coaching.”
In other words, some coaches are delegating tasks from a top-down perspective as opposed to guiding personnel throughout the process. They begin to see things in black and white; in terms of outcomes and measuring sales performance. They fail to focus their efforts towards developing the skill sets of the actual sales representatives, in turn sales personnel see this and begin to ignore what the 'coach' has to say.
Unfortunately, many so-called coaches firmly believe that giving orders from within a walled office is their role. The main problem is that both sides of the equation fail to fully understand the concept of sales coaching. As a result, little progress is made.
Reason 2: Default Promotions
Office politics play another critical role. A sales representative who excels within a competitive environment is normally the first one to be picked for a middle management position (such as a team leader or coach). However, a good sales executive is not necessarily a good mentor. Let us never forget that some of the traits which make a successful salesperson are the very same that can rub others the wrong way. M3 Learning executive Skip Miller had this to say:
“When sales people get promoted to managers, they don’t understand that its getting things done through others rather than through themselves. As such they think they are coaching, but as a result they appear as ‘a boss’.”
Although assertive personalities might represent excellent additions to the sales floor, they will not necessarily be able to embrace a proactive coaching approach without taking on a dictatorial appearance. This brings us to the next point.
Reason 3: Coaches do not Possess the Proper Skill Sets
Management assumes that newly promoted coaches will automatically have what it takes to coach a sales team. Like any other talent, such skills need to be honed and shaped over time. A lack of proper guidance inevitably results in negative outcomes for the coach and the employees alike. Workers become less receptive and coaches begin to feel uncomfortable (and unwilling to work) in their new position. The fact that companies do little to rectify this situation only exacerbates the long-term outcomes; impacting the entire team and sapping in-house sales motivation.
Reason 4: Misplaced Coaching Focus
ABC. Always be selling. This mantra has been ingrained into the minds of salespeople and yet, it is not always appropriate when coaching. It is impossible to maintain the role of a top sales representative while coaching others. Both talents will suffer as a result. Still, many coaches are entirely too focused on selling themselves as opposed to providing guidance to co-workers (most likely their direct competition in the not-so-distant past). Straddling both sides of the fence is impossible and yet, this mistake is all too common.
Reason 5: In-House Resistance to Coaching
Finally, pride can play an important role. Simply stated, people need to be willing to be led if a coach is expected to be successful. The competitive nature of many sales representatives makes it difficult to accept feedback, as it will often be viewed as criticism and even a personal insult. This situation is akin to playing music to an audience equipped with earplugs.
The Very Real Impacts of the Coaching Gap
Now that we have viewed some of the primary reasons why a disconnect exists between coaches and sales staff, it is only appropriate to examine the knock-on effects that such a situation can have within an organisation. As can be seen in the chart below, there are a number of negative consequences. Let us quickly review the two most common situations.
Good Employees Seek Life Elsewhere
The most debilitating impact is that efficient sales personnel will leave the organisation. Let's never forget that as much as 80 per cent of all inbound revenue is generated by as few as 20 per cent of sales staff (and these tend to be the most qualified sellers). Not only will revenue fall, but these individuals are also more likely to negatively review the company in the future. This can lead to poor public perception and good sales personnel are less keen to migrate to the organisation in question if they are looking for a new position.
A Negative Feedback Loop on the Sales Floor
This is arguably the most tangible effect, as it can be felt every day on the sales floor. If representatives are not being nurtured and should they feel that their efforts fall upon deaf ears, a lack of motivation is inevitable. This psychology will quickly spread to others; even those who might have otherwise remained unaffected from a lack of a knowledgeable coaching staff. When one cog within a team breaks down, others are soon to follow.
Defining the Importance of Sales Coaching
It is clear that coaching is important, but just how critical of a role does it play? The fact of the matter is that this type of guidance can make or break a good salesperson. When one individual works well, others tend to follow suit. This leads to higher levels of in-house motivation and naturally, more reliable revenue generation over time. Still, it is critical to remember that coaching is about people as opposed to end-of-quarter statistics.
Many will likewise argue that other core competencies such as marketing, recruitment, strategic planning, and product development can all benefit from proactive coaching. In other words, this position takes on an intrinsic role within the office environment. Managers who fail to appreciate this fact are missing out on a massive opportunity. It is therefore an unfortunate fact that the majority of organisations are still not leveraging these benefits nearly as much as they should.