During a recent conversation with a learning and development leader, he was lamenting the lack of coaching in his organization. “Our sales managers aren’t really coaching, they are just another level of people in the organization trying to manage the funnel,” he said.
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Because that is all they are being asked about by their leadership," he explained. "It is easier to look at the numbers than it is to understand how they are produced and drive a change in behavior.”
Unfortunately, this conversation is not at all unusual. In fact, when I speak at events or conduct webinars on coaching, the most frequently asked question is, “How can we measure coaching effectiveness?”
Before I answer that question, let’s take a moment to talk about WHY it is important to measure coaching effectiveness. In our experience, we find that not being committed to measuring coaching is actually a much more difficult problem to overcome than most organizational leaders realize.
To be certain, the case for coaching is incredibly strong. So strong in fact, that when I make a statement like “coaching is the pivot point for change in any sales organization, or coaching will have a greater impact on what sales people do than all other sales enablement initiatives,” I almost never get any disagreement. Yet, when I ask senior sales leaders how many of them have coaching metrics as a part of their senior leader scorecard I get crickets.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that better coaching produces better results, most organizations still don’t set coaching objectives or measure performance against these targets. But why is that? Why aren’t more companies committed to measuring coaching effectiveness?
The answer lies in the response from my learning and development leader – measuring coaching isn’t nearly as easy as measuring the sales forecast or the opportunity funnel so it doesn’t get done.
But measuring coaching effectiveness doesn’t have to be all that difficult either. Most sales managers are having conversations with their sellers … conversations about their pipeline, about their key accounts and about their opportunities. They are also going on calls with their people. However, more often than not, they are merely providing feedback and advice, but not coaching.
You see, coaches don’t simply look at numbers and tell us to produce more. They don’t watch us perform and tell us to do better. Real coaches uncover opportunities for improvement and identify the ROOT CAUSE of performance gaps. Real coaches then recommend assignments or activities that will help us shrink those gaps by further developing our skill or knowledge. This means that the output of a truly effective coaching conversation is always an assignment of some sort, and assignments can absolutely be tracked.
So, what should an organization measure, in order to determine the effectiveness with which its managers are coaching? Here is a simple list of the key coaching metrics:
- Coaching Sessions Conducted – Every conversation between a manager and seller about an opportunity, account, funnel or meeting should be captured. Ideally, this is as simple as pressing a button inside the CRM and then providing the manager with a place to take notes. Want to get more sophisticated? Distinguish between the different types of coaching conversations to be certain there is adequate balance between opportunity coaching, funnel coaching, account level coaching and joint calls. In any event, this shouldn’t be a heavy lift for managers, who should be keeping track of these conversations any way. By allowing them to do it in the CRM, you can make the job easier for them and the reporting easier for your operations team.
- Learning Assignments Given – The ideal output for a developmental coaching conversation is a developmental or learning assignment. The challenge for many managers is they don’t know what questions to ask to determine the root cause of a performance gap, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know what assignment to give to address the gap. Technology can be leveraged here to lead them through the diagnostic conversation to the appropriate assignment. If the manager can simply select the activity to assign and the appropriate due date, assignments can be tracked easily and efficiently.
- Selling Assignments Given – Not all sales issues require developmental assignments. In fact, often times even when a development assignment was needed, a follow-on selling assignment is needed in order for the person to apply what they have learned to their current opportunities. This assignment not only helps cement the learning, it delivers the ultimate value by advancing sales performance. These activities are nothing more than tasks or events and can easily be assigned, and therefore tracked using the CRM.
- Assignments Completed – One of the most telling metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of a sales manager is the assignment completion rate. If managers regularly assign learning and selling activities that are not completed by the team, it is likely a larger issue exists. Perhaps the manager has a credibility issue with the team. At minimum there is an accountability issue that must be addressed in order for coaching to be effective.
While all these metrics can be tracked in the CRM, using the typical CRM to support coaching effectiveness is a bit like using Microsoft Windows to create presentations. It is adequate, but not sufficient. If you are going to create presentations, you need to enable PowerPoint for that Windows machine.
Similarly, if you want to enable coaching and capture these metrics without creating considerable extra work, you need a coaching solution that helps managers have more effective and more efficient coaching conversations, while tracking these critical behaviors.
To be fair, simply tracking these metrics won’t tell us how we are performing unless we compare the actual metrics to some targets and see how they are changing over time. A simple rule of thumb would be to have a target of at least two coaching conversations per seller per month with at least one developmental and one selling assignment.
This approach also facilitates use in a scorecard for those senior leaders who like red, yellow, green visualizations of their team’s performance. An effective coaching solution will actually allow you to set individual targets and measure performance against these for even greater impact.
While metrics around funnel health and sales forecasts are absolutely essential for sales excellence, the reality is we won’t really affect those numbers until sales coaching becomes a core competency.
In order to achieve that, senior leaders must add coaching effectiveness metrics to their scorecard to drive more attention and thoughtful discussion around this most critical success factor.
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Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.