The Best Way to Invest Your Precious Coaching Time
  • sales
  • Blog post

The Best Way to Invest Your Precious Coaching Time

Do you spend a lot of your time giving the top performers on your team pats on the back? Sure, it makes sense to do all you can to attract and retain high-performing “A” players. But giving them the lion’s share of incentives, resources and coaching time may not be in your best interest.

In reality, coaching your top sales pros rarely yields more than a short-term spike in performance, according to the latest research available. After all, they are already stars, and most likely already perform at the top of their game.

The middle 60% of the sales force, or “B” players, actually account for a higher percentage of overall revenue, so focusing on them generates a higher overall payoff. In a recent study by CEB’s Sales Executive Council, performance data from 11 different sales forces showed that a 5% uptick in productivity triggered 70% more revenue than a similar boost in top-tier productivity.

The same research shows a low payoff for investing time on “C” level players as well, especially those in the lower 10%. You might think that low performers have nowhere to go but up; in reality they are either bad hires in the first place or suffer from changes in the B2B sales world that require abilities they don’t have. (One example: The trend away from solution-driven sales pitches to consultative or collaborative selling, both of which require different skillsets.)

These days, when everyone has an overloaded calendar and is pressed for time, it makes sense to use your coaching time where it will do the most good. Chances are you are already teaching your reps to invest their time where it will have the highest payoff. So it makes sense for coaches to do the same.

What to do about this
The typical “B” player has a solid work ethic, and makes steady contributions to overall company performance. They counterbalance the charismatic or even volatile “A” players because they are consistent performers who don’t crave attention. They often place a high emphasis on work-life balance.

But they need to feel valued like all employees. Unless they get recognition, they may feel they are being taken for granted, and disconnect from the organization. You don’t want them looking for work elsewhere, though, since losing a “B” performer that way is a mistake you cannot afford. Here are steps you can take:

  • Value the differences. Recognize your B’s for the important contribution they’re making to your team. Coach and recognize them for their important differences.
  • Invest your time wisely. Keep track of the time you spend with each person on your sales team for a month or so. Are you paying too much attention to your “A” players or “squeaky wheels,” while shortchanging the “B” group?
  • Reward good performance. Your “B” players typically get fewer promotions and win fewer awards. But you can find other ways to recognize them. A handwritten note about a job well done can pay big dividends.
  • Offer enriching job choices. Often it is the standout “A” players who get groomed for sales management roles (a debatable subject). But the long-term career path of your “B” players should not be ignored. There may be lateral moves that make sense, mentoring opportunities or cross-functional teams they can lead.
  • The PAUSE coaching model
    CEB’s research also shows that you optimize coaching time when you spend three to five hours per month with each sales rep. Fewer than three hours isn’t enough to drive meaningful behavior change, and more than five is overkill. Coaching effectiveness plummets after five hours per month.

    The PAUSE model CEB uses describes the coaching process from end to end. “PAUSE” stands for prepare, affirm, understand, specify and embed. The framework looks like this:

    Prepare. Spend time in advance of each coaching interaction. Anticipate what you expect to see based on the rep you are coaching and where he or she is in the sales cycle with a specific customer.

    Affirm. Observe firsthand to make sure that what you expected to see is indeed what is happening.

    Understand. Ask questions to understand the observed behavior and dig into the reasoning behind the rep’s actions. Example: Ask, “When the customer asked this question, you said [blank]… Why did you answer that way?” or “Why did you decide to pursue this prospect and not that one?”

    Specify. Once you get a feeling for the reasons behind a rep’s behavior, specify the behavior change you want. This is not about finger-pointing or blame — it’s about reaching an agreement on what needs to change and how to go about changing.

    Embed. Long-term success comes from embedding a new behavior into the rep’s routine patterns. Backsliding is easy, so continue coaching to ensure that the initial behavior change becomes a habit. Repeated coaching conversations (perhaps varying in method or context to avoid nagging) will reinforce the behavior you want to see.

    Source: Adapted from a posting at

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