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Next-Level Sales Training: It’s Time to Coach the Coach

Jan 30th, 2017


According to research from CSO Insights, only 56% of sales representatives today meet or exceed quota. Meanwhile, in 61% of companies, reps take seven months or more to ramp up to full productivity. Even then, they spend only about one-third of their time actually selling.

These factors conspire to make it difficult to achieve success, and it’s no wonder many companies are trying to improve sales productivity. Unfortunately, though, they often go about it the wrong way. Two major culprits are poorly implemented sales training, and a lack of frontline sales manager preparation and engagement.

Reasons Training Fails

As organizations seek to boost sales performance, it’s tempting and natural to want to provide more sales training for reps. However, if not conducted effectively – for the right reasons, using the right content, with reinforcements and a change management approach in place, and success measures being tracked – training has the potential to fail miserably. More importantly, rep training is only part of the picture.

Invest in Your Front-line Sales Managers

While sales rep readiness is obviously an important lever in improving sales effectiveness, training and coaching aren’t just for reps. Investments in front-line sales managers (FLSMs) are just as important, if not more so. I often quip that if I had a dollar to spend on sales training, I’d spend 75 cents on the managers.

Sadly, however, nearly one in five organizations don’t offer any training at all for their sales managers. This is a major miss, and a primary reason why training fails to produce the intended results. Investing in managers goes a long way – in fact, organizations that spend more than 50% of their sales training budget on managers report a 15% higher achievement of revenue goal than those that spend less than 25%, according to the Sales Management Association.

What does this mean? It’s time to better train and coach our coaches. It’s time to make more of an investment in our FLSMs.

How to Train and Coach Your Coaches

Managers need the same knowledge sustainment, skills transfer support and coaching to mastery over time that reps need. To better prepare managers to support sales training and drive better training ROI, it’s important to:

  • Train managers on key FLSM performance levers: These include: hiring/selection, training (support), pipeline management, forecast management, sales analytics and diagnostics, sales coaching for reps, developing performance interventions, and performance management.  
  • Train managers on what reps are learning: Train managers first on the content reps need to consume. Then, have managers attend training again with reps to support them as a coach during exercises, activities and role-plays. Managers could even deliver the training or, perhaps more realistically, co-train with a training expert.
  • Prepare managers to support reps’ learning and retention: Use learning reinforcement tools and post-class assessments. In addition, manager toolkits and “meetings in a box” with topical training guides can help managers feel more sure-footed. Virtual and video coaching technologies can also help managers deliver anytime, anywhere coaching.
  • Help managers interpret analytics and diagnostics: Being able to diagnose a problem is a critical skill for consulting, selling and managing. Managers need to be trained and coached on how to interpret reporting and on what it tells them relative to their reps’ results, activities and methods. With that background, managers can then form a hypothesis about what will help each rep improve, and then dig deeper with discussion and observation to validate their assumptions or determine a new direction. It’s rare that managers receive training in this area – but it’s critical.  

Coaching Isn’t Telling

The “how” matters. If you’re a fan of Situational Leadership®, then yes, there are times when you need to give directives, based on the competencies and confidence of the individual relative to a specific task. But generally speaking, sales coaching models should be question-driven, like sales discovery, and an interactive process that involves and engages the sales rep in diagnostics, determining possible solutions, selecting best options, creating an action plan and owning its execution. This applies whether FLSMs are coaching sales reps, or whether an organization is coaching its coaches.

Make This Year the “Year of the Sales Manager”

Sales managers play a critical role – so apply the principles above to support them and help them transfer and apply their skills. Engage the managers’ managers to coach them, or hire outside consultants and coaches to continuously raise FLSMs’ skill levels. This should be a priority and resolution this year!

To get the best results, it’s critical to train, sustain, transfer and coach at every level. There’s often a “domino effect.” The better you do it with managers, the better they’ll do it with reps. And when that happens, you will begin to see sales performance grow organically, like you’ve never seen it before.

If you’re going to do next-level sales training – and get next-level sales results – it’s time to coach the coaches.

Want to learn more? Check out:

1. Align Sales Managers and Training to Drive Real Results in 2017

2. How to Make 2017 The Year of Sales Manager Enablement

3. Want Better Sales Coaching Results? Focus on 3 Sales Fundamentals

This column was originally published on SMM on December 19, 2016.