Great Players Don’t Always Make Great Coaches


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What do Isaiah Thomas, Wayne Gretzky and Diego Maradona all have in common? They’re phenomenal players who couldn’t quite translate their talent as top performers into success as great coaches. The truth is that coaching people is a complex job and going from being a top player to becoming an effective sales coach is a huge leap, requiring among other things a significant mind shift toward effectively empowering others.

And the struggle is real. This is largely due to the fact that most sales coaches today were once top salespeople promoted to management positions without necessarily aspiring to the role, or receiving adequate management training. As a result, they lack the confidence and know-how to be effective coaches. Some sales managers may have also had a bad experience being “coached” themselves, leading them to shy away from the task as new managers.

Yet the effort to build a strong coaching culture is most definitely worth the size of the prize. A recent Sales Management Association study found that implementing an effective coaching program – optimized for quality and frequency – can impact revenue growth by as much as 17%. The problem is not just skill, however. It’s also a matter of hours in the day. A majority of sales managers report that they spend roughly 80% of their time “putting out fires,” greatly diminishing available time for coaching.

So how can we help our sales managers to become great coaches? By enabling coaches with data-driven insights in the following three ways, sales managers can tackle their coaching responsibilities more effectively.

• Use Data to Measure Sales Fluency: A CSO Insights study shows that today’s typical frontline sales manager is responsible for directly managing six or seven sales reps on average. Using data insights from emerging technologies designed to measure real-time sales fluency, sales managers can get an early and ongoing understanding of the capabilities of individual reps and where certain knowledge, activity or skills gaps exist. This allows managers to optimize the small amount of time they have with each rep to develop the skills that matter most. It not only saves them time, but helps managers to “get it right,” empowering their teams with the confidence and capabilities necessary to win with today’s informed buyers. Sales leadership can apply the same approach to gauge the readiness of their frontline managers to provide effective coaching.

• Engage Reps in Their Own Development: A technology-driven approach to coaching can also boost behavior change. Every few years – for many decades – a new selling methodology comes along designed to drive buying decisions and grow revenue. The problem is that after all the training, face-to-face workshops and role-plays are done, organizations often leave it up to frontline managers to ensure the new skills are fully understood, and more importantly, being applied. Traditional methods of observation, including ride-alongs, simply don’t scale (remember the thing about managers being time pressed?) Without effective methods for reinforcing these new behaviors systematically, the ROI of any new sales methodology begins to plummet the minute the training session has ended. Science based, data-driven reinforcement helps reps to participate in their own development, and ask for help when needed. This becomes a win-win situation, making coaching more of a dialog than something “being done” to the rep.

• Focus on the ‘Middle’: A few years ago, a popular Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study revealed that coaching actually has a marginal impact on both the weakest and the strongest performers in any sales organization. Instinct would tell you that time spent coaching the lowest performers would have a big pay-off, yet CEB found that the chronic underperformers (those in the bottom 10%) were not likely to improve, and in fact, were more likely to be a bad fit for the position altogether. Likewise, the best performers (the top 10%) showed almost no improvement attributable to coaching. So where does good coaching have the most impact? The middle 60% of sales performers. For this group, the best-quality coaching had the potential to improve performance by as much as 19%. So focus there.

In many companies, good sales coaching can mean the difference between either hitting the number or missing it. Since the ability to be a great coach is not a skill necessarily born to top performers (or athletes), without a proven program to empower and train coaches, it’s anyone’s guess how much of an impact, if any, informal coaching practices will have on revenue. New data-driven approaches are emerging to facilitate the process, increasing coaching effectiveness for time-pressed managers by as much as 55%. For the best teams, that’s a ticket to the play-offs most sales managers would love to have.

Lisa Clark
Lisa Clark is Vice President of Marketing at Qstream.  She has 20 years of experience building high-value software companies, brands and market share.


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