In my last column, The Business Case for Better Sales Coaching, I wrote about how high-performing managers get 30% more of their salespeople to quota than other managers. In this column, we’ll look at how these managers use coaching to achieve their goals.
In a study we conducted with the Sales Management Association covering 213 companies and 25,000 managers, we were able to identify the topics deemed most important for sales manager training. Sales coaching emerged as either the first or second most important training topic. We also found out that companies that conducted effective sales coaching training realized 8% more revenue compared to companies that didn’t. It’s clear that investing in sales coaching training for sales managers definitely has significant paybacks.
A Hostile Environment
Research by others has shown that spans of control, administrative burdens, and revenue targets are increasing at the same time the percentage of sellers at quota is at an all-time low. In our own four-year study of sales management practices, average quota attainment was 52%, with an average reporting ratio was 8.9 sellers per manager. So, slightly more than half of the sellers in our study were at quota.
Given these adverse circumstances, how can forward-thinking sales leaders and sales managers develop successful sales coaching programs?
Developing Effective Coaching Practices
Development of effective coaching practices starts with selection of the right activities to coach. Structuring coaching conversations to create value for sellers is a second important consideration. And finally, operationalization of coaching into the day-to-day work flow is vital.
Each of these areas could literally be written as separate chapters for a book and coaching, and in fact, you’ll find them in my forthcoming book, Crushing Quota: Proven Sales Coaching Tactics for Breakthrough Performance, due out this fall. For the purposes of this column, however, we’ll dive deeper into how to choose the right sales activities for your company.
The Right Activities
Successful managers prioritize their limited time. They are effective because the majority of their actions align with the bigger picture. Similarly, how managers choose to execute their sales coaching matters. It too determines the likelihood of success or failure.
“In order to succeed at this job, what do I need to do?”
This is the most important question competent sales managers strive to help their salespeople answer. And when they provide a high level of task clarity, more of their salespeople succeed. It stands to reason that more salespeople would make quota if they only knew how to get there. Research by Stephen Doyle and Ben Shapiro discovered that clarity of the sales task is by far the most powerful predictor of motivation in sale people (33.6%), more important than need for achievement (21.2%) or compensation (11.6). Sensible managers would do well to be guided by these numbers.
Vantage Point’s research shows that when quota attainment is an important measure of performance – which it is in every sales organization – then coaching to activities is the only way to achieve it. Our seminal book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance, demonstrated that salespeople:
- Execute sales activities (sales calls, demonstrations, account plans, etc.) to
- Achieve specific sales objectives (sell certain products, to certain types of customers, improve close rates) to
- Attain the desired results (quota, revenue and volume targets)
While sales activities are imminently manageable, sales objectives can only be indirectly managed (through sales activities), but the end goal, sales results, turn out not to be manageable at all. This is seemingly counter intuitive, but turned out to be one of the most important discoveries we made.
Sales Processes and Sales Activities
The characteristics of a particular salesperson’s job dictate the types of activities that salesperson should accomplish to be successful. Our research identified four distinct sales processes with four sets of measurable activities. The processes are territory management, account management, opportunity management, and call management. Some combination of the four sales processes will be relevant to all salesperson roles managed.
Each of the four sales process has its own set of measurable activities. For example:
- Call management activities: e.g., create and complete call plans with call objectives; call role plays
- Opportunity management activities: e.g., create opportunity plans; determine qualified opportunities; determine buyer needs
- Account management activities: e.g., create account plans; conduct joint meetings with accounts; improve prospecting on new accounts
- Territory management activities: e.g., establish required number of sales calls; differentiate prospects from active customers; prioritize prospects
The interrelationship between activities, objectives, and results helps sales managers provide clarity of task for their salespeople, improving seller motivation, and driving better sales performance. It is a manager’s job to work backwards from business results (the bigger overall picture like revenue numbers) to sales objectives (these link to business results) in order to arrive at the specific sales activities that will drive achievement of objectives, and indirectly, business results.
In summary, in order to be successful a sales manager must coach the correct activities and provide direct links between the activities he or she asks a rep to perform and the outcomes reps are expected to achieve. Managers must also be taught to structure their conversations correctly, and to create a “management rhythm” with their reps to accomplish their coaching goals. In future columns we’ll delve further into these topics.