Ask most sales leaders how important coaching is to their sales forces, and they’ll respond with a resounding "Sales coaching is critical!" Ask most sales managers how important coaching is to the performance of their sellers, and they too will throw a vote for "Critical!" However, if you then ask their salespeople how much coaching they are actually receiving, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say, "Not enough."
Though I doubt you’d argue strongly against this characterization, I’ll offer a concrete example to bring the point to life. One of our Fortune 500 clients had invested heavily over the course of five years in teaching their sales managers how to coach. In fact, the 124 sales managers in their sales force had completed 401 courses on coaching during that time period (3.2 courses each), taking the managers out of the field for an estimated 5,000 hours! As you can see, senior leadership really wanted their sales managers to coach their sellers. They wanted it so badly that they invested heavily to make it happen. So what did senior leadership receive for that investment?
In a subsequent survey of the business unit’s front-line sellers, 56% claimed that they were receiving ALMOST ZERO coaching from their managers. And we have seen similarly disappointing outcomes in many other well-intentioned sales forces. It’s a very common reality: To senior leadership, sales coaching is critical, and their managers typically agree. Nevertheless, the coaching doesn’t happen. So what’s to blame for this persistent failure to consistently coach sellers?
There are several factors that affect the viability of good sales coaching, many of which we’ve described in other articles and webcasts. Lack of a clear definition for coaching, lack of a formal coaching process, complicated or irrelevant coaching models… The list goes on and on. However, there is one uncommon practice that can almost immediately shine a light on the lack of sales coaching and alter sales management daily behaviors: Simply start measuring it.
There is an old adage that ‘what gets measured gets done.’ So if senior leadership wants coaching to get done, then surely they must be measuring it? Actually, no. In the research that went into our book Cracking the Sales Management Code, we identified 306 key metrics that are commonly collected and reported by leading sales forces. Of those 306 measures, can you guess how many were focused directly on sales coaching? Six. Four of the metrics looked at the volume of sales coaching taking place, and two measured the quality of sales coaching. Six metrics out of 306—a little less than 2% of all metrics —reported to sales management. Stated differently, our research shows that less than 2% of our collective management attention is on something that we believe is ‘critical.’
Think of all the things that your sales force measures and reports on a monthly basis. How many of those things are less critical to your ultimate success than consistent sales coaching? Probably a lot of them. So here’s the big idea: If coaching is really that critical, perhaps we’d better start measuring it. Let’s not just say it’s important; let’s treat it like it is important and put it on our dashboards with all our other key metrics. As we mentioned before, there are still plenty of other hurdles to effective sales coaching, but those are more urgently addressed when there is a light shining brightly on what’s actually taking place.
Jason Jordan is author of the Amazon.com best-seller Cracking the Sales Management Code and a partner at Vantage Point Performance, the leading sales management training company in the world. He helps sales leadership teams improve sales performance by implementing management best practices revealed in his groundbreaking research. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonRJordan
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