As a sales manager, you hear a lot about the importance of coaching these days. Start with the fact that without effective coaching or reinforcement, 87% of training content is forgotten in 30 days. There’s even research out there to tell you how much time to spend on coaching! The sweet spot is 3-5 hours per rep per month with the typical manager expected to manage 8 reps and set aside on average 1 hour per week for coaching. The payoff is teams that exceed their goal by 7% on average.
While these stats may look great on paper, I can’t blame you if you look at them with a degree of skepticism. As a sales manager, there’s always a big number to run after, and coaching is the stuff that’s more likely to help you next quarter than this quarter. Coaching has unfortunately become one of those buzz words that your senior leadership loves to talk about, but aren’t really sure how to implement.
We’ve talked about the three flavors of sales managers: Sales Star, Pipeline Manager and Coach. The first two skillsets are the most common among managers. After all - you’re in the role because you’re probably great with prospects and know how to manage a deal through the pipeline. But great coaches are rare. With the average tenure of a head of sales now as low as 6 quarters, it’s no wonder there’s so much tension between hitting the number today versus building a world-class team for tomorrow.
All that said, sales coaching done well has a proven impact for obvious reasons, but it can work better if we all acknowledge one simple fact. To use a basketball analogy, coaching is as much about what happens on the court as off of it. Sales coaching research tends to focus on what the coach should do with their reps, but what should reps be doing outside of those live coaching interactions? Are your reps shooting free throws?
Our entire education system uses the basic principle of homework. Why? One tried and true way of learning is having the learner put effort into absorbing what was taught. All else equal, more effort equals more learning. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”
Sometimes a teacher might even assign pre-reading, like a case study, in advance of classroom time. If everyone reads the case study, get ready for a great discussion where everyone learns. But when only a handful of people have read it…it’s going to be a long hour. The reason tests exist are to hold students accountable for the learning progress they are supposed to be making.
In a sales context, if the managers are investing all this time in coaching but the reps aren’t doing their part to prepare and practice outside of coaching sessions then the whole equation is broken. This is also known as the lose-lose box: high time-spend, low payback.
It’s not hard to see why most sales coaching programs are struggling. Most managers simply don’t have the tools to get better leverage on their time and ensure learning is actually taking place.
But today, there’s a solution. Video-based practice technology represents a transparent system of record for reps to practice key market facing messages and skills they need to be successful. Reps now can take greater control of their own learning by practicing at their own pace and intensity.
As a manager, you now get leverage on your coaching time, as you can assign practice or enforce practice assigned centrally, see who’s practicing and at what frequency. Effort matters. You can also do some of your coaching asynchronously – when it’s convenient for you. The truth is coaching interactions are more scarce than we’d like to believe, but what we do to impact learning outside of those interactions doesn’t have to be.
Any coach gives a lot to his team, but the hallmark of a great coach is that he expects just as much in return. It’s time for us sales managers to put the coaching equation back in balance. That’s something every sales manager can get behind.