A highly successful vice president of sales recently shared his frustration with the members of his sales management team, who he felt were focused only on results. He worried that they were not spending any time developing their salespeople.
His longer-term view is based on the belief that developing people to the best of their potential improves performance and retention, and it also helps develop a pool of succession candidates.
Most sales leaders would agree that coaching is the most impactful activity a sales manager can do to drive sales team performance. Studies reinforce this by showing that above-average coaches deliver 20 percent more sales. The challenge? Sales coaching is the weakest-performing activity among managers.
How do you know if your managers are effective coaches? Here are five ways to find out.
1. Asking vs. Telling
If most of a manager’s interaction with his salespeople includes the words “do this” or “why are you not doing that?” your manager is in “tell mode” rather than “coach mode.” This is highly directive and subservient communication. It does little to motivate salespeople, makes them feel like robots, creates mediocre performers, and strains their relationships with their manager.
Coaching is about asking thoughtful questions. It is based on the belief that individuals have the answers to their own sales challenges. The manager’s role is to help individuals develop their ability to self-direct and solve their own problems. A coach would spend a majority of the time asking “how do you think you can best accomplish this goal?” or “how would you like to address this opportunity?”
Spend 15 minutes in one of your manager’s sales meetings and you can quickly determine which mode she or he operates in.
2. Time Spent in the Field
Managers tend to spend their time on the activities they are the best at and most enjoy. A manager who is fixated on administrative tasks such as submitting reports on time probably enjoys this activity and is less comfortable coaching. A strong manager recognizes the value of finding creative ways to get into the field and spend more time with his or her reps. Remember that administration doesn’t generate revenue or help develop your salespeople. Conversely, time spent in the field improves your salespeople’s ability to be the best they can be, and time in front of the customer is the best return on investment of the manager’s time.
Coaching is about accelerating a sales rep’s growth and ability to achieve personal goals and reach full potential. Simply put, sales coaching is a four-step process:
- It identifies opportunities for improvement.
- It gains commitment.
- It develops a plan.
- It sets an accountability meeting to discuss progress.
Set aside one hour a month to review your managers’ field visit reports. You are looking for progress toward improving one or two areas of a rep’s development.
4. Sales Rep Engagement and Turnover
Many companies track two metrics. First, they perform an annual engagement survey in which the key is to drill down to the level of the sales manager. This provides insight into the differences between managers as well as the managers’ effectiveness in coaching their reps. Effective coaches will score much higher in sales rep engagement. Second, turnover is also a sign of reps’ relationships with their managers. In fact 70 percent of top performers who leave will do so based on their relationships with their managers.
Spend a couple of days in the field each month getting to know your managers. Ask them about their day’s work with your salespeople and find out about their development plans. Ask them about the level and quality of coaching they are getting. Consider sitting in with a sales manager and his rep for a day. You observe the coach at work and get a firsthand perspective on the coaching effectiveness.
Steven Rosen is the founder of STAR Results, a sales leadership consulting, training, and coaching organization dedicated to leadership development. He works with sales executives to hire top-performing sales reps and develop teams of top sales managers.