Research by the Sales Executive Council suggests that when it comes to improving the performance of salespeople, coaching delivers the most bang for the buck. “No other productivity investment comes close,” say researchers Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.
But, they warn, the research also shows that coaching directed at the wrong reps is virtually worthless. And, unfortunately, those are the very reps most likely to get coached.
Coaching is time consuming and sales managers’ time is limited, so somebody needs to decide where to invest those precious coaching hours. Dixon and Adamson found that when sales managers are left to themselves, they tend to focus on the “tails” — the best and worst reps. They coach poor reps because they’re the squeaky wheels: their subpar performance requires immediate attention. And they coach the best reps because the interactions are enjoyable.
Of course, that short-changes all those hard-working middle-of-the-packers. So companies often respond by creating complicated systems to ensure that every salesperson gets their fair share of coaching.
Neither approach is effective, the researchers concluded. They studied thousands of salespeople and concluded that coaching had only a “marginal impact” on salespeople at the top and those at the bottom.
The reps at the bottom probably won’t get any better no matter how much you try, because they’re simply in the wrong job. You can’t fix them; you need to replace them.
Top performers don’t benefit much from coaching because they don’t have that much room to improve. That said, there is a benefit to coaching your stars: It won’t make them sell better, but it will make them more likely to stick around. That’s an excellent reason to keep coaching them. But don’t expect it to boost your sales results.
Dixon and Adamson suggest that you should direct MOST of your coaching efforts to the middle 60% — the group most likely to benefit. They found that high-quality coaching can improve results among this group by up to 19%. And even modest increases in coaching quality–improving it from below-average to above-average–can boost results by 6 to 8%.
The researchers say their findings get a lot of pushback from sales managers, who resist the idea that coaching should targeted toward the middle of the pack at the expense of high and low performers. What do you think?
Source: The dirty secret of effective sales coaching, Harvard Business Review Blog Network.
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