If you are like most sales leaders, you have already realized that your ability to achieve your objectives – whether hitting forecast results or transforming your customer engagements – absolutely depends on the effectiveness of your frontline sales managers.
You have probably also realized that only a few of your team of managers are effective coaches today. Interestingly, when managers are surveyed about their own coaching effectiveness, as many as 80 percent believe they are good (or even very good) sales coaches. However, when their interactions with sellers are observed, a very different picture often emerges.
Such was the case with one notable AXIOM client. Prior to working with our company, this large sales organization with nearly 1,000 managers had decided to bypass the survey and actually observe the interactions between its managers and sellers.
And what did their executives find? Of 1,000 managers, only 16 were actually having meaningful coaching conversations. The others were absolutely interacting with the people on their teams, but the interactions simply didn’t qualify as coaching conversations.
Why the massive discrepancy? It turns out there are two critical barriers to fielding a team of exceptional coaches who develop outstanding sellers.
Barrier #1: Companies lack a defined coaching model.
First, few teams have a clearly defined model for an effective sales coaching conversation. Don’t get me wrong, there are numerous training programs that purport to teach managers how to have meaningful coaching conversations. However, in reality, most are little more than light improvements on what managers are doing today – providing performance feedback.
Barrier #2: Companies fail to support coaching efforts.
Second, even when managers embrace a true coaching model, executing on that model requires supporting systems most companies aren’t presently providing. Without this support, the typical manager simply cannot overcome the barriers to effective coaching.
Let’s break down the ideal coaching conversation. Here’s the problem: faced with gaps in sales performance, managers react almost exclusively by pointing out the performance gap that needs to be addressed. You can hear the conversation in nearly any sales office in the country.
MANAGER: Tim, as much as I like you and really appreciate your enthusiasm, selling is a numbers game – and you aren’t making your numbers. Now, I have looked into your metrics and determined that your biggest issue is that you just aren’t finding enough opportunities – your funnel is too small. You have got to find more opportunities or we are going to have to find something else for you to do…and, by the way, that doesn’t mean here at ACME. I can give you 90 days, but you have to show me you can hit your numbers by then, ok?
Is this feedback? Yes. Is this coaching? Most definitely not! Our manager has just sent the same person, equipped with the same skill and knowledge, into the same environment but made it quite clear she is expecting a different result. What’s the likelihood Tim can make that happen based on this feedback? Just about nil.
For this conversation to transform from meaningless (and perhaps even counter-productive) feedback to useful coaching, the manager must do two things. First, she must identify the root cause of the performance gap. This requires her to understand how her seller is prospecting for opportunities today and why the seller is doing it the way he is. Until she identifies a gap in skill and knowledge, nothing can be done to help this seller improve his selling effectiveness.
Second, when a skill or knowledge gap has been identified, some learning activity must be assigned to address (or at least shrink) this gap.
Think about any lesson/coaching session you ever had. Generally, you don’t get better from the lesson itself (that’s just when the coach identifies the cause of your performance issues). You get better when you complete the assignment or drill that comes after the lesson. Selling is no different. If we want people to acquire and apply new skills and knowledge, we need to provide salespeople with clear, concise learning activities that will allow them to do so. Then, in a follow-up conversation after the seller has completed the assignment, the manager can determine whether or not the skill/knowledge gap has been addressed.
Based on effectively identifying the root cause and then defining an activity that will address the issue, the manager has elevated the underlying skill of the seller and affected a sustainable change in his selling behavior and results.
This leads us to the second barrier to effective coaching. The matrix of performance issues, behavior gaps, root causes, and learning activities is so large that few, if any, managers will be able to apply the model during their seller conversations. This is precisely why a growing number of forward-thinking organizations are providing tools to support this model.
These solutions provide managers with a wizard that leads them through the process of diagnosing the root case of a problem and then presents to the manager any learning activity designed to address the root cause. No need to memorize all the possible combinations or search through an exhaustive list of courses in the company’s learning management system.
By providing sales managers with a clear model for effective coaching conversations and tools to help them execute consistently, sales organizations are able to dramatically improve coaching effectiveness and sales results.
Want to learn more? Visit us at www.axiomsfd.com.