When judged by its impact on performance, business acumen was the big winner. Yes, the competency that was rated least important by the survey’s respondents was shown to have the biggest impact on company performance. Assessing rep performance finished second in its impact, followed by pipeline management and forecasting. And where was sales coaching? All the way down at number 10.
What our research unambiguously shows is that there are other competencies that have been relatively neglected from a training and development perspective that (when done right) have a greater impact in differentiating the best from the rest. These are competencies that are very practical and are used every single day as sales managers go about the job of running the business, assessing rep performance, and managing sales pipelines. In fact, these are the activities that displace coaching on a day-to-day basis. Pipelines have to be managed and forecasts submitted. Seriously, they have to. If there’s any time left after the pipeline reviews and forecasting sessions, then sales managers will squeeze in some coaching. But that’s just the reality of sales management in the CRM-enabled 21st century.
So what should we take away from this research? That sales coaching and training is unimportant and training managers to do it is a waste of time? Of course not. We still believe firmly in sales coaching, and we would never tell our clients to neglect it. What we can take from the study is that sales coaching is not as big a differentiator today as some other management competencies. When sales managers find time to coach, they generally know how. But are they confident determining which reps should receive that coaching? Or do they need more help learning how to manage their pipelines or create a forecast? When it comes to these activities, they haven’t been sufficiently trained, so they do them poorly. Companies that proactively invest in preparing their managers to master these key tasks — well, they rightfully reap the rewards.
In sum, when it comes to investing in our sales managers, we need to shift our priorities to focus on the competencies that are the differentiators in performance right now. Once upon a time, sales coaching might have been a key differentiator, but now it isn’t. It appears that the hot sales management skills today relate to “running the business,” which is what our sales managers are being told to do. So that’s where our training effort should be pointed going forward — until something more important comes along.