Focusing on the middle of the pack is where sales coaching has its impact. Unless it’s done randomly.
Star account executives will exceed their quota pretty much no matter what you do as a sales manager. And the awful account executives will eventually find a new career.
It’s the middle ground, the “good but not great” reps that you really have to worry about.
Most of these middle ground reps never cross the chasm into greatness, either because they invest far too little in upping their own skills, or their managers invest far too little in coaching them, cursing at the massive amount of time effective sales coaching can take (an early warning signal for problems down the road).
When sales managers finally come to the epiphany that sales coaching will help them finish their quarters strong, they are usually a bit confused (maybe “overwhelmed” is a better word) on where to start. There’s yet to be an instruction manual or textbook on exactly what to do as a sales coach.
This is important. Since sales managers are confused about how/when/why/who to coach, yet still feel that coaching will move the needle, they engage in what I call Random Acts of Coaching (RAoC).
They schedule ad-hoc one-one-ones here and there. They dive into the occasional call recording. They hold occasional classroom sessions to address the latest perceived problem the sales team is facing. Their diagnosis of where the team needs coaching is purely based on intuition rather than being coupled with data. Since data isn’t pointing their coaching efforts in the right direction, their coaching direction scatters randomly. Coaching is often delivered on areas where reps don’t need it, frustrating both parties.
A slow trickle of coaching starts, but things don’t really get moving. One day the sales manager thinks “Jim needs help on asking deeper discovery questions. I should schedule a 1-on-1.” The next day it occurs to him: “We should review a call recording together as a team.”
More Random Acts of Coaching follow.
This pattern of randomness continues while reps continue to ask surface-level discovery questions, regurgitate product specs during their demos, and maintain stubbornly low win rates on their opportunities. All the while the sales manager grows exceedingly frustrated due to the fact that the time she’s investing in coaching (albeit random) fails to move the needle.
The first moment of enlightenment occurs when the manager realizes that sales coaching should be turned into a steady, programmatic process with a consistent drum beat of coaching activity, with analytics and data used as a barometer to point the coach in the right direction.
Just like a pro marketer would conduct a marketing campaign, sales coaching needs to be transformed into a systematized, purposeful, analytical set of activities that continue in the form of routines over time.
If you find yourself doing Random Acts of Coaching but just came to the epiphany that coaching needs to become programmatic, congratulations: you are currently crossing the chasm into true professional sales management.
Defining the routines, programs, analytics, and systematic activities involved in sales coaching is a topic for a near future post. Stay tuned.