To drive top-line revenue growth, you need to devote dedicated efforts to regularly coaching your sales reps. In fact, CEB research has shown an eight-point difference in performance between “B” players coached by world-class coaches versus those coached by average coaches. That’s a big difference!
So how do you become a world-class coach? Here are recommendations from CEB:
1. Coach behavior, not outcome. A lot of coaching today is about deal inspection: “Tell me where the Smith account stands,” or “Did you follow up with Acme about the collateral you sent?” Or it’s about numerical outcomes: “I wanted you at 90 percent and you’re at only 82. What’s going on?” Instead, coaches should coach to a specific skill – for instance, giving more effective sales presentations or asking better questions to understand a prospect’s situation.
2. Map success – then coach to it. “Companies that tell their managers, ‘Go coach!’ really struggle, because managers don’t have a picture of what good [sales rep performance] looks like,” says Adamson. For managers to become consistently great coaches, the head of sales first must map out the behavior that defines success for each step of the sales process. This gives managers a specific target for coaching.
3. Ask open-ended questions that prompt introspection. Know ahead of time which questions to ask for each behavior you want to drive. For instance, precall planning questions might include, “What is your primary objective for this call?” or “What barriers do you expect to encounter as part of the sales call today?” The key is to ask open-ended questions that steer the rep toward the behavior that leads to successful outcomes.
Two other points to keep in mind regarding coaching questions: 1) The question after the question is often the most important. For example, when the rep explains his or her primary objective for the call, the coach’s asking, “Why that objective and not this one?” can drive the deepest thinking and most significant behavior change. 2) Ask all your questions to understand, not to judge. Approach questions with the goal of understanding how your rep thinks – not to admonish – so you can steer him or her toward successful behavior.
CEB’s research revealed that the optimal coaching time is three to five hours per rep, per month. Fewer than three hours per month, they found, is not enough to drive meaningful change. At more than five hours, gains in coaching effectiveness diminish sharply.