How do you know if Sales Coaching is broken?

Coaching is arguably the single most important activity sales organizations expect from Frontline Sales Managers, yet there is very little information available to senior leadership to understand and diagnose where they need to improve.  The fact that, according to research done by CSO Insights, 50% of companies leave it up to each manager to decide how and when to coach only makes this worse. This inconsistent execution can lead to different business results by Sales Manager, and just looking at quota attainment provides no insights on where the problem lies.

Qualitative measurement

It is certainly challenging to measure the quality of coaching, as often it includes some subjectivity. One way is to sit in during coaching conversations to listen and offer feedback after the fact. There are also great vendors that can help you with this. This is a high-value activity but difficult to scale due to costs.

You can also programmatically measure the salesperson’s perceived value of the coaching conversation immediately after it happens via a quick online survey, as suggested in this industry guide. The data will help you identify key trends: is the issue relative to one individual? Is the Sales Manager improving over time? Who needs guidance & training?

Quantitative measurement

Many aspects of good coaching are about the process itself. Research from Vantage Point Performance across top performing B2B Sales Managers shows that there is an optimal cadence to these discussions and that overall consistency has a significant role in separating the best from the average. The quantitative metrics are the foundational diagnostic measures that can help move the needle.

For example, if we take the inspection and coaching of the pipeline as a core discipline, we should look at metrics like:

Frequency: How often are the discussions happening? Ideally, these discussions should occur weekly. If a manager lets too much time occur between meetings, he runs the risk of being too late to act on a particular issue: whether that is generating sufficient pipeline for future quarters or lead current deal progression to hit this quarter.

Duration: How long are the conversations? Is there appropriate time being setup to discuss?  Consistently short conversations could be a sign of inadequate preparation or narrow scope.

Topics Covered: As a portfolio view of the business, pipeline reviews should include a broad set of areas of discussion (Data quality, pipeline health, win/loss, performance coaching among others). If they are too narrow in scope, they transform quickly into deal coaching of 2-3 top deals (opportunity reviews), completely missing the point of a pipeline review in the first place. (By the way, It is better to dedicate a separate meeting for deal coaching where all the people supporting the opportunity are involved).

Action Items: The primary goal of the discussion is to jointly agree on the next steps to solve each issue discussed. Here it is important to understand both, if concrete actions items are resulting out of the conversation and if those action items are followed up appropriately.

Here is an example of how this looks put together, in a rolling 12-week view:

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In this example, we can quickly see a couple of behaviors that are worth probing on:

  • Kevin does not consistently review his pipeline with all his team, except toward the ends of the quarter. It is hard to anticipate pipeline gaps in current and future quarters if reviews are sporadic. From the Topic mix, we can see that at least the topics selected in those discussions seemed to be comprehensive which is a good thing.
  • Most of the discussions early in the quarter were very quick, then ramped up towards the end of the quarter to about one hour per rep. This could indicate Kevin is scrambling to close the quarter and trying to catch up and spending more time scrubbing deals to make the number and could have been potentially blind sighted by things that happen early in the quarter that went undetected.
  • Although there seems to be a good number of follow-ups from existing meetings, the number of them that are completed on time is low. This could indicate either poor follow-up or unrealistic planned completion dates.

The relationship to performance

Now that you have a baseline of coaching behavior and habits, you can start correlating that data to performance. This well help you answer questions like:  What do your best Sales Managers do? Are there particular actions that are more effective than others at a sales stage? Which Sales Managers are improving their coaching habits and which ones are stalling?

Conclusion

As the cliché goes, sales is part art, part science. By measuring the science aspect, i.e. the process and execution, sales organizations can produce actionable insights that can help improve the quality and consistency of the coaching. These measures paired with qualitative techniques can contribute to diagnose and set the right training and mentoring resources to develop better Sales Managers over time. The Frontline Sales Manager is the blood line of the sales organization, and a bad one can represent significant revenue left on the table.

About the Author

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Michele Lanzara is CoFounder at Convercio