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The ABCs of Sales Coaching

Essential Tips to Amplify Your Team’s Performance

By Michael Leimbach, PhD

In today’s sales environment—where product and service solutions and customer relationships are growing more complex—there is an increasing need to continually raise the skill level of salespeople. Managers play a critical role in making sure those skills are learned and used.

Statistics speak loudly that manager support/coaching is the number one action that can amplify organizational sales performance:

Organizations can gain a 29% increase in topline salesforce performance due to the skills of sales managers, independent of the skills of their salespeople.1

Manager coaching has a great impact on performance over and above the impact of training alone. In our study, while just training salespeople resulted in a 43% improvement in performance, when manager coaching was added, overall performance improved 67%, a 24% improvement over training alone.2

Unfortunately, sales manager coaching is at an all-time low, resulting in as much as 85% of sales skills never being used to drive performance.

Why aren’t sales managers dialing up the decibels?

Barriers to Coaching Effectiveness

The reason managers are not dialing up the decibels is there are significant barriers buffering sales managers’ effectiveness in coaching and supporting their salespeople. Our research and experience shows the primary barriers to sales manager coaching can be summarized by three NO’s:

  1. No Time
  2. No Skills
  3. No Motivation

No Time: Real or perceived, the number one reason managers give for not coaching more is they simply don’t have the time. What are they doing? Closing deals for salespeople, tracking performance, writing forecasts, and dealing with complaints from customers and executives. The thought of a lengthy coaching session with their salespeople is daunting to busy sales managers.

No Skills: Most organizations elevate their superstar salespeople into the management rank and expect the same degree of success as a manager, but often without a process to prepare them to coach. But the worlds of the salesperson and the sales manager are very different, as the chart below shows.

As a result, many sales managers fall back on the skills they know best—taking over sales at the least sign of trouble, becoming the “super closer” and “Heroic Sales Manager.”

No Motivation: Organizational rewards drive sales managers to focus on monthly or quarterly results. Coaching is about building longterm capability. The sad truth is that spending time coaching salespeople is often a thankless activity; sales executives don’t often care and salespeople don’t always like their poor performance singled out. In addition, sales managers don’t often understand the amplifying effect coaching has on top-line performance.

Scaling the Barriers to Enable Sales Managers to be Better Coaches

One, two, or all three “NO’s” may be barriers inside your sales organization, and while they may be real or perceived, there are ways to effectively hurdle them. Let’s look at simple, but not simplistic, approaches to enable and equip sales managers to be better coaches.

Coaching Mindset

Coaching starts with managers; if they aren’t motivated to initiate a coaching activity, nothing happens.

Managers have to take on the mindset that coaching isn’t something you 'do,' rather, a coach is who you are.

Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.