In recent years, sales leadership coaching has continuously grown in acceptance by the managers involved in this task, as well as in its meaningful incorporation into the overall sales architecture of sales organisations. It has shifted from being an additional Learning & Development opportunity to becoming a central and critical part of the overall evolution modern sales operations are going through.
When sales management coaching first received broader recognition some two decades ago, it was regarded as a great opportunity to train sales people in the field, in real client interactions, by experienced sales leaders, at significantly lower costs than through additional external or internal coaches. But it also came with obstacles. Of course, sales managers did not exactly have spare time to spend additional days in the field with their team on top of their day to day management tasks and, often enough, still maintaining their own client portfolio. This kind of coaching was often more “show and tell” than real coaching; experienced managers demonstrating how to do it or reducing their coaching to mere feedback after a call, without an ongoing development plan beyond the single coaching event. In worst cases, coaching became another form of controlling.
This has changed, as more and more research has been conducted and more experience has been gathered. Here is what we see Sales Leadership Coaching evolving more and more towards:
- Organisations are becoming more sophisticated around the requirements necessary to set up effective sales operations. There is growing awareness of the vertical component, making sure Strategy and Processes are defined and approved on all levels before any change initiative across the sales organisation is rolled out laterally/ broadly. Management on all levels needs to be involved as change agents and coaches at this stage. Their support can’t wait until after any training or other measures further down the track are executed. Sales Leadership Coaching cannot happen when the practical application is required; it needs to be guiding sales teams and everyone else around the sales operations from the very beginning.
- Sales Coaching has evolved from being an additional training methodology to becoming an integral part of any development initiative. Only the seamless combination of theoretical learning (classroom workshops, online training), coaching on the job and in the field training along with a clear plan of action (implementation, adaptation, application) creates the perpetual and sustainable learning journey that sees actual change as well as a viable ROI as a result.
- Sales Coaching does not require continuous big efforts or huge time resources. A day on the road with a sales rep is a great opportunity for both coach and coachee – but the little nudge, the casual coaching-on-the-go, a “how would you go about it?” instead of a quick fix by the boss, a morning huddle with the team, a sales meeting that covers more behavioural topics and less figures; all these are examples of small efforts and changes that provide long term effects on a day to day basis. Coaching has to be more than the ‘one day per quarter on the road per team member’ to be effective. But coaching has long been an “on top of everything else” task. Smart managers have freed precious time resources by handing their client portfolios over to their team, through IT and online tools, through reducing the controlling and administration effort and, ideally, through better self- and time-management.
- Managers need to participate in the learning journey with their teams to become truly effective as leaders and coaches. Research shows that businesses only get 10-15% ROI[i] on leadership skills transference (or application of those learnt skills) in general, as most knowledge is not transferred. Training transfer tended to work best when staff and managers (or managers and their managers) did the same training and when there was strong organisational support to help embed the learning. Coaching can become this critical link necessary to ensure embedding any training measures, for both sales people and their managers.
- Whilst coaching is not a replacement for supervising tools, it gives the manager the control they often miss: As a manager focused on figures and results you can only act post fact. Basically, when the client conversion rates for the last month roll in it’s too late to change the prospecting approach of the team. Managers as coaches can actually work with their team in the moment the sales happen, and have immediate influence, not only in the situation at hand, but also on the results the team is likely to achieve.
- Sales managers have realised that sales coaching can be fun. For those who by now have passed their remaining accounts on to the team, it is an opportunity to get in front of clients again. Many realise that coaching is not dissimilar to modern day selling (like Solution Selling ideally, with less talking and presenting and more asking questions and helping others to find good solutions). They recognise that empathy and emotional support is not an add-on to the relationship with their team members but actually a factor that, as research recently showed, helps improve performance.
- Coaching is beneficial for the coach! There is clear evidence that “when leaders experience compassion through coaching the development of others, they experience psychophysiological effects that restore the body’s natural healing and growth processes, thus enhancing their sustainability.” (Boyatzis, Smith, Blaize, 2006) Coaching with compassion can be an antidote to the stress many managers experience in their roles. A key point is whether a manager coaches a salesperson for their development, or merely for the organisation’s benefit. The intent to help others with empathy and care instead of simply providing instrumental coaching to pursue organisational goals makes a significant difference, not only in the effects of the coaching for the coachee, but also for the coach’s wellbeing.
More and more managers and executives recognise the potential and the opportunities a more complex view on Sales Leadership Coaching renders. Once again, organisations ahead of the game realise that they cannot let this evolve by default, but need to be involved in the design of such a coaching framework. Like good sales people, good sales coaches need to be nurtured, developed and supported to gain their full potential – for their teams, their organisation, and themselves.
[i] As presented at the APS conference in 2017