Why are you coaching deals rather than coaching skills?


One of the most enlightening things was said to me by a prospect last week on one of my sales calls, when I asked about how seriously their managers take coaching within their 100+ global sales organisation.

“Well you know Richard, we’ve identified that for too long we have been spending too much time coaching the deals, rather than coaching the skills”.

At first, this statement took some time to compute in my frazzled head (it had been a long old afternoon of hitting voicemail after voicemail!). The prospect went further still to help provide some clarification.

“We’ve identified that our managers ‘coaching’ output has been too heavily focused on looking at opportunity stage and deals closed rather than actually improving the performance of our reps”.

Wow. What a statement. My eyes lit up as you can probably imagine. Not just because I identified this was clearly a brilliant sales opportunity, but that this statement rang so true with an article of Scott Edingers I read some time ago. Edinger states that:

“…time for coaching to improve future performance is increasingly crowded out by time spent tracking and scrutinizing past results – that is, time spent requesting forecasts, reviewing pipelines together, revising forecasts, and pushing to close more deals in this quarter.”

In the same article, Edinger further reveals that sales managers have essentially became deluded at their abilities to coach, based on the amount of time they spend looking at (sometimes) hollow KPI’s rather than the strengths/weaknesses of their team:

“Leaders reported that they spent a considerable amount of time coaching direct reports and scored themselves high on their efforts– on average, just shy of the 80th percentile. Direct reports responded by saying they’d received little to no coaching from their leaders and scored them low — on average around just the 38th percentile.”

This clear and gross disparity between the personal self-appreciation of sales managers, and the negatively contrasting thoughts of their reps further goes to show the broken culture of coaching within sales teams. It is therefore no wonder that sales team turnover in 2015 was a fairly staggering 22.4% (a massive 31% higher than 2014). Whilst turnover can be attributed to a number of factors, the contribution of reps not feeling properly supported and developed as well as coachable reps being coached on deals rather than skills – is rarely ever going to see them flourish.

A secondary example of ‘coaching on deals rather than skills’ was further highlighted to me recently by a prospect, who stated that their methods of evaluating sales rep outbound email performance was based on looking at open rates of their cadenced templates. What does an open rate really tell you? Essentially how intriguing or effective their subject line is. That’s it! It isn’t a true measure of how well that email was constructed, how personalised it was, and most importantly – whether it achieved the all-important positive response. Simply scrapping that email because it had only been opened 10% of the time, or even sharing it with the rest of the team as it had such a successful open rate is nothing more than laziness and blind praise. WHY was that email so unsuccessful or WHY did it get so many responses are surely the questions we should be asking, investigating, and coaching around?

Its time as managers to look beyond the KPI’s if you want to take coaching seriously. Whilst statistics and results are undoubtedly important measurements which need to considered when making important business decisions, if we truly want to develop our reps and succeed – its time to start coaching on skills rather than deals.

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