Managers failing to coach sales staff effectively, finds study

02 September 2014 -


Organisations are falling short of their economic potential as bosses are not properly encouraging employees to drum up revenue

Jermaine Haughton

A quarter of managers are guilty of not providing comprehensive coaching to their sales teams, despite admitting that this business area is the most crucial for boosting performance – that’s according to a global study by Forum EMEA and the Sales Management Association. Titled Measuring Sales Management's Coaching Impact, the survey of more than 200 firms found that managers were failing to adequately coach their sales teams because they were either too busy, didn’t know how to coach, or didn’t feel accountable for leading the required sessions.

Nonetheless, bosses admitted that sales coaching had a greater effect on driving their businesses than pure-play sales training (ie, the initial building blocks of how to do the job), sales management training, sales compensation or enabling technology. Indeed, high-performing companies were found to provide 15% to 20% more coaching than underperforming ones.

The findings are particularly startling, considering more than a third of the firms surveyed have annual revenue in excess of US$1 billion, and 70% of respondent firms reported they had met or exceeded firm sales objectives in the preceding 12 months. However, the study found, many of the managers who have made time to lead sales coaching have done so with little structure, vision or purpose – with coaching often restricted to new starters or those who specifically request it. In this sense, managers are using coaching to raise poor performance to acceptable levels, rather than as a positive management intervention with pre-defined objectives designed to elevate performance across all sales staff.

Managers proved far more likely to coach their sales teams about upstream processes – in other words, those farthest from the point of sale. Plus, coaches have tended to focus too heavily upon immediate opportunities, such as in-call performance, which have less of a long-term impact on the performance of a business.

Sales management Association chairman and founder Robert Kelly argued that businesses are not giving managers the tools they need to create successful coaching programmes.

“Executive endorsement, management accountability, success measurement and pre-determined programme objectives are all characteristics commonly found in the humblest of business initiatives,” he said, “but we – together with Forum – have found that they remain missing from many sales-coaching programmes today.”

Forum EMEA managing director Graham Scrivener stressed that organisations must incentivise their managers to boost sales coaching. “The link between coaching and performance has been evident for almost 40 years now,” he said, “but the report shows that organisations and managers are still getting it wrong.”

He added: “Coaching should be a core value of the business, built within the company’s culture. It is about knowing how to drive the vision of the business through people, so it needs to be driven from the top down and modelled across the company at all levels. Managers are very busy – but managers who are measured and incentivised for their coaching success will be encouraged to integrate it into their daily management routine, as long as they're given the right skills and tools to do it effectively.”

On that basis, Forum EMEA has suggested five top tips for improving sales coaching…

Make sure you coach, and train your sales managers to be better coaches

Invest in high performers and underachievers alike to get the best results and ROI

Direct coaching toward specific behaviours, competencies and performance objectives

Focus on quality coaching as a key to greater impact than mere coaching

Establish a coaching culture and provide it with structure, accountability and support

Download Forum EMEA's infographic on the business impact of sales coaching.

For more on these issues, check out the details on this forthcoming CMI workshop Internal Coaching, set to take place in London on 18 September.

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