It’s said that sergeants run the army. Unit commanders implement strategies from top brass, equipping, training and motivating each soldier to perform as part of the whole. Similarly, first-line sales managers are the key link in sales performance. They need to make sure each rep knows how to most effectively use their tools and practice the right behaviors at the right times. Coaching is the differentiator.
Delivering performance across an entire organization requires:
- A consistent sales process
- An effective sales methodology
- Company-wide coaching acumen.
Each solves a different part of the sales performance equation. This article briefly addresses the first two, concentrating on the third.
Process: Mapping successful sales.
Sales process addresses efficiency. Understanding the series of steps that a sale progresses through on its way to a successful close allows us to track deal progress and apply appropriate resources during each stage.
The CSO Insights finds that having a repeatable process is one of the defining characteristics of high-performing sales organizations. Recent results illustrate this: “World class” companies, those who achieve significantly better sales results, almost universally have clearly defined their sales processes.
Process mapping, sales playbooks, and sales tool deployment are part of effective sales implementation.
Methodology: The “how” behind the process.
Methodology focuses on effectiveness. It is a framework of sales person behaviors enacting the process.
Where a sales process might specify that buying influences be identified, methodology describes a proactive strategy for facilitating a favorable decision by those influences. According to results of the 2013 MHRI study, world class organizations are more than twice as likely to formally plan how they intend to win.
Coaching: how process and methodology permeate the organization.
Training introduces process and methodology. Only a few sales people adopt training without reinforcement. Most can’t…or won’t. Getting all of your sales organization to use these tools all of the time requires more.
Teaching a sports skill such as a tennis serve can take place relatively quickly, but extensive practice and guidance are needed before it grows into a skilled behavior. Similarly, sales methodologies need reinforcement and coaching to become automatic.
Coaching, especially by first line sales people, is a key differentiator. CSO Insights finds that world class organizations make it a priority. Where one in five average companies do so, almost two thirds of the highest achieving firms make sure that first-line managers succeed with high-gain collaborative management cadence.
Coaching vs. Training: Diffferent Tools for Different Jobs
Coaching and training perform different roles in improving sales performance, as the table illustrates. Where training introduces methodology, coaching is how learned behaviors become part of each individual’s “muscle memory”.
Good coaching creates an environment for sales people to flourish, and is responsive to each person’s unique talents. According to CSI Insights research, great sales organizations foster an environment in which sales people more quickly engage their managers to collaborate on winning deals.
Studies show that almost two thirds of high performers who are promoted wash out as sales managers. This is for two main reasons:
- High performers often can’t describe what top performers do.
- High performers are not good at teaching/coaching.
Without a common methodological language, managers can’t even describe behaviors that consistently win good sales. By investing in sales leader mastery & adoption of the sales methodology, and investing in coaching proficiency, world-class organizations leverage best practices more than four times as successfully as others.
Coaching for Behaviors to Deliver Results
Great coaches practice behavior-based coaching. This consists of:
- Focusing on desired behaviors,
- identifying and understand gaps ,
- Helping reps close them.
When methodology is deeply embedded into management cadence, first-line sales managers learn can diagnose gaps via call plans, reports and deal pursuit documentation. This allows front line managers to be effective outside of joint calls, ride-alongs, mystery shops, etc. Managers can time-effectively deliver the level of coaching needed to by their teams.
Behavior-based coaching also makes for effective deal coaching –with the additional payoff of advancing long-term sales acumen.
Some pundits advocate a different approach to sales performance: where reps are individually assessed and specific knowledge/skills gaps are addressed with narrow, targeted training modules. While this approach appears to address individual behavior/skills gaps, it lacks the individualized coaching which habituates desired behavior, and misses out on the benefits of common language.
If first-line managers have the primary burden, what is the role of senior Sales executives? Certainly, they need sufficient mastery of sales and coaching methodologies to provide mentorship to first-line managers. Leadership’s primary roleis to promote effective coaching. This includes resourcing: enablement, tools, efficient analytics, methodology-reinforcing assessments, etc. Perhaps more importantly, it also includes strongly demonstrated executive commitment.
Coaching is the centerpiece to a comprehensive system of sales performance. While training works alone, it doesn’t work well for all reps or for the same duration. Through the experience derived from thousands of client engagements, we have found that investing in a coaching infrastructure, while more resource-intensive, has a much higher return rate on that higher investment. It is the “boots on the ground” capability that allows companies to achieve superior results over the long term.
To your success!