Where are all the high performance sales coaches?

A lot has been written about coaching, specifically business coaching, over the years. The proof is that coaching, like anything if applied effectively, does work.

For instance, the International Coach Federation (ICF) conducted a worldwide survey in 2016, following extensive surveys in 2007 and 2012. Amongst several findings, it estimates the number of professional business coaches worldwide has grown from 30,000 in 2007, to 47,500 in 2013, to 64,100 in 2016. It also showed that in-company managers and leaders using coaching skills now number around 10,900.  

Coaching is now a mainstream term and formal business practice used by a range of businesses every day and for good reason. The ICF 2016 survey found effective business coaching produces strong financial results. An earlier ICF PricewaterhouseCoopers study showed the vast majority of companies indicated their company had at least made their investment back. A sizeable proportion reported a return-on-investment of at least 50 times the initial investment of coaching, while some (28%) saw an ROI of 10 to 49 times the investment.

It all bodes well for business coaching; however, business coaching is not the same as sales coaching. Business coaching is often delivered one-on-one by a trained professional and focused on career development, leadership, personal empowerment, professional and personal growth, and so on. Additionally, where executive business coaching is inspiring and transformative over the long-term, it is neither directive nor immediate enough to be effective for sales.

Personal-effectiveness coaching can bring helpful action planning, rhythm, and motivation to the coaching process, but many habit and personal-effectiveness coaches are not knowledgeable about selling. As a result, they often aren’t taken seriously by salespeople.

Sales coaching, by contrast, is the process of maximising sales performance in the short and long-term by executing the coaching playbook and holding regular one-on-one and group conversations over a sustained period. Sales coaching makes change systematic and best behaviours automatic.

Sales coaching is not simply a function of giving a salesperson help or guidance. Nor is it only about reminding, or teaching salespeople about skills learned. Sales coaching is a process that starts with the development of an effective, focused sales strategy, creating and/or developing salespeople’s talent, then introducing disciplines that are understood by the sales team.

And while sales coaching can cover all the elements listed under business coaching, sales coaching often has to juggle both strategic and tactical needs, focusing on each salesperson and the sales team’s continuous knowledge and skill development, deal creation and management, pipeline and account management, competitor analysis, interpersonal dynamics, stress management and achievement of results. The list goes on.

Sales coaching is best delivered by someone who understands selling; someone who has been there, done that, in sales. That is why sales coaching is usually left to the sales manager and specialist professional sales coaches. Business coaches without the prerequisite of sales experience make for poor sales coaches.

Unfortunately this sales trend shows that while companies are enjoying success with business coaching in general, sales coaching still has a way to go, as we still see too many sales leaders and sales managers who:

  • Don’t have the time to coach;
  • Aren’t comfortable coaching;
  • Aren’t sure what a sales coach is supposed to do;
  • Don’t have strong coaching conversation skills;
  • Don’t establish a consistent rhythm of coaching conversations;
  • Don’t have the tools and resources to help them make sales coaching a success;
  • Focus only on one-on-one coaching and do not have a broad repertoire of coaching scenarios i.e. group/team coaching, field coaching, etc. to draw upon; and/or
  • Try to apply general business coaching to sales.

If these sales managers find any time to coach, they often focus exclusively on helping salespeople win opportunities. Even then, they are frequently neither systematic nor rigorous about it. And they miss the opportunity to focus, motivate, and develop salespeople so they can truly achieve top performance.

By contrast, this sales trend also shows a small, but growing, band of smart sales leaders who are turning to dynamic coaching practices as a main part of their leadership repertoire. They are integrating sales coaching — be it in one-on-one or group settings, infield or on the road, over the phone or in more formal office settings — into their daily practices to develop healthy sales teams and great sales results.

Rather than finding more time for coaching, these smart sales leaders are turning their current activities into coaching activities and making them systematic, thus creating a new rhythm for their sales teams. Accompanying this, they are leveraging off their team’s individual talents to make most of their interactions coaching oriented, which is making a huge difference to how people communicate and learn from each other.

Theirs is a sales coaching culture. This is how sales teams can move from ordinary to extraordinary.

Over the years, Barrett’s research into sales coaching has found there are five promises made by effective coaches:

  1. Help salespeople define both their personal goals and a path to realising them (i.e. the personal state that the person most wants to be in at some future date);
  2. Help the sales team build and execute action plans, optimising sales efficiency and focus. Good coaches also know the psychology behind developing habits. After defining goals and setting a path, the coach will help his/her coachee develop habits — automatic behaviours that help increase the likelihood of success;
  3. Give direct advice as appropriate to maximise immediate sales wins. In some schools of thought, coaches should avoid giving direct advice because it will hinder the coachee’s progress. But, in a live sales situation, a hands-off approach may mean losing an opportunity. A good coach knows when to give direct advice and when to allow the coachee to solve the problem their own;
  4. Develop the coachee’s knowledge, skills, and capabilities to improve fundamental performance. Coaching must include advice to close particular opportunities and a focus on helping the salesperson improve capabilities over time; and
  5. Motivate salespeople to find and sustain their highest level of energy and action over the long-term. By challenging the salesperson and encouraging him/her to take ownership of their own success, a successful sales coach can create an obvious connection between actions and goals that will inspire the coachee to give their maximum effort.

As Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said: “The old carrot-and-stick notion of motivation is failing—in large part because it works very well for a type of work that most aren’t doing anymore. It’s very good for simple, algorithmic, routine, rule-based sorts of tasks: adding up columns of figures, turning the same screw the same way. But there’s 50+ years of science that says it’s ineffective for creative, conceptual, complex work — the type of work that salespeople are doing today.”

In the workplace, as people are doing more complicated things, the carrot-and-stick approach doesn’t work anymore. Pink argues that autonomy (the urge to direct our own lives), mastery (the desire to get better at something that matters), and purpose (yearning to do what we do in service of greater fulfilment) are the greatest motivators. This is no different to Herzberg’s famous motivation and hygiene factors table (1959).

We can generalise to an extent about what motivates salespeople, but deep down everyone is his or her own special snowflake. What motivates one person does not motivate another.

The best sales coaches know this and take different approaches based on their understanding of each individual in their team as part of the team as a whole.

Sales coaching and mentoring are about equalising the playing field. It’s about ensuring every member of the team has the appropriate level of support, guidance and reinforcement to ensure optimal effectiveness in contributing to the realisation of the vision for the sales team.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

NOW READ: Are your sales conferences pumping or slumping?


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