That sales coaching leads to worthwhile improvements in performance has long been accepted by the majority of larger sales organizations. Research into sales coaching, however, has been slow in coming and is inconsistent.
Most of the research into the effectiveness of sales coaching, (as opposed to, for example, sports, executive or life (coaching) has been done by companies such as Corporate Executive Board, CSO Insights and Sales Management Institute. The majority of the research hasn’t been into coaching specifically, but rather, as a byproduct of research into sales methodology effectiveness or from large-scale sales organization surveys into sales performance effectiveness and yearly sales performance trends.
Reported improvements in overall performance by using sales coaching range from 20% up to an amazing 88%. This disparity isn’t so surprising though, as there are no benchmarks to compare and evaluate different sales or coaching methodologies and these are just two of the possible variables that could be researched.
Outside of the sales coaching arena, there have been numerous research studies into the effectiveness of coaching for sports and these have shown an increasing use of more and more specialized coaches. Many of these new coaches are sports scientists, looking to dissect all the minute details that go into improving performance, one small piece at a time. If you want proof of this, witness the continued dominance of the British cycling team at the 2012 Olympics, where their mantra is the “aggregation of marginal gains,” which basically means looking for ten 1% improvements, rather than chasing one 10% improvement.
In sales, we have no world or national records to work toward; the main comparisons we can make are in the improvements salespeople make with regard to their targets, their job satisfaction and the retention of top performers. Furthermore, it is unlikely that we can accurately attribute all of these to the effectiveness of the coaching. Since most larger and more progressive sales organizations are using coaching and will likely continue to do so in more and more structured ways, they must be convinced that it is an effective tool and a worthwhile investment.
Results in surveys by Gallup, CSO Insights, Sales Executive Council and others do verify that coaching is one of the most effective tools in the sales manager’s bid to improve overall performance. The value of good coaching is also reported to have a positive effect on retention. With good coaching and development, salespeople — especially star performers — are far more likely to stay at their current company.
When we look at the effectiveness of sales coaching, the research and surveys all confirm that it has a positive effect on three main critical areas:
- Performance against target;
- Professional growth and development; and,
- Retention of top performers.
Additionally, coaching can dramatically reduce the time it takes for a new hire to become a fully productive team member. As reported in a 2012 CSO Insights survey, as deal size increases, it can take over a year for some to get fully up to speed. Their thoughts on the likely reasons are:
“New field-based reps are more likely to work in isolation, connecting online with their peers and managers from their home, car, coffee shop, or hotel room. Gone are the days when reps worked out of a regional sales office with as many as five or 50 other sales reps. For this reason, having supporting infrastructure that provides access to what reps need, when they need it, sharing best practices, and managers who are able to pro-actively identify reps that need additional coaching can help them get up to speed quickly.”
This makes absolute sense, especially in today’s “connected” yet more solitary environment. Going back to the first six to nine months in a new sales environment, imagine if you had been fortunate enough to have had a sales coach who worked with you regularly, went out on joint sales calls, outlined the sales process and provided you with corrective feedback. How much faster would you been up to speed and performing effectively?
If we accept that coaching improves performance, then in order to deliver successful sales coaching we must understand the critical habits of successful sales coaches.