Sales Coaching Habit #5 – Coach the “B” Players First
In the book “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, which was based on extensive research by SEC, they posed the question – “Should all sales people be coached?” Their findings seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and at first may seem counter-intuitive, but once you follow the logic it all makes perfect sense.
They agree with the idea that sales coaching makes sense. As matter of fact, they note, “No other productivity investment comes close to improving salespeople’s performance as coaching.” However, their answer to the question “Should all salespeople be coached?” is – no.
In research involving thousands of salespeople, they found the following:
Coaching — even world-class coaching — has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization. You’d think that coaching the lowest performers would pay off because they have nowhere to go but up. Actually, that’s often not true, particularly for the bottom 10%. These reps are less likely to be underperformers who can improve, and more likely to be a bad fit for the role altogether….Likewise, star-performing reps show virtually no performance improvement due to coaching.
While there are some important retention benefits from coaching high performers, it does not make performance stars more stellar.
Their suggestion for whom to coach, based on this research, is to start with the middle group and then move to the low and high performers. What the research seems to imply is that the very poor performers (the lowest 10% – 15%) are probably in the wrong job and coaching and training will have little effect on them. Their skills may be better employed in a pre- or post-sales support role.
Although the star performers (the top 10% – 15%) do see only marginal improvement, they feel more part of the team and this appears to have a positive impact on morale and retention.
The middle 60%, who are the core of the sales force, appear to gain much more from a formal coaching environment and can see improvement gains of as much as 20% with good coaching.
Even bad or weak coaching can have some positive effect on performance. At the same time, however, this can have a negative effect on staff morale, with staff feeling demoralized and undervalued. This can lead to them wanting to move to an environment where they feel more valued.
This is very much borne out by research by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), which has shown that organizations that are able to offer their salespeople good opportunities for ongoing development are 10 times more likely to create more top performing salespeople than those that don’t. They are also much more likely to hold onto those top performers.