Time management is one of the most important priorities for a sales manager. The best sales managers know they need to be dedicating a significant amount of their time each week coaching their salespeople—but which group will bring in the best return on coaching investment?
Which salespeople should sales managers spend time coaching?
On most sales teams, you will find:
Sales strugglers – reps who consistently lag and struggle to make quota each month
Core performers – salespeople who generally don’t have a problem achieving their quota, or close to it
Top producers – Sales superstars who repeatedly knock their sales quotas out of the park
By this point, we know “coaching” is not the same as “managing.” When executed correctly, coaching has a dramatic effect on a sales team’s overall performance. Since there are only so many hours in day, however, it’s important that sales managers be strategic when allocating their time. Coaching time is a crucial (but limited) commodity, so it must be applied where it will provide the biggest return on investment.
The Great Debate
If you poll a group of sales managers on which salespeople should receive the most coaching, you’ll receive answers across the board. In practice, most sales managers tend to spend the majority of their energy coaching the “very best and very worst” salespeople on their team (the top 20% and bottom 20%).
But the Harvard Business Review, among others, have pointed to research that coaching has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization—drawing the conclusion that the real payoff from sales coaching lies among the middle 60%, or the core performers.
Focus on the Salespeople Who Want to Be Coached
At the end of the day, sales managers need to be spending time with salespeople who have the desire and commitment to improve. We can go on the joint sales calls, give the correct feedback, and coach until we’re blue in the face. But if our salespeople aren’t receptive to the coaching, our efforts will be made in vain.
Whether they are sales strugglers, core performers, or top producers, if a salesperson has a high level of coachability, they have a good likelihood to produce a return on coaching efforts. On the flip side, a salesperson who doesn’t have the drive to improve or the willingness to take constructive direction isn’t going to respond well to coaching. Without both desire and commitment to get better, people tend to stay where they are—whether that’s on the bottom, in the middle, or on top.
The motivation to grow is absolutely vital for the decision about where we invest coaching time.
How to Determine Coachability In Your Salespeople
Ideally, every member of your sales team will have a high degree of coachability. That means they’re committed to their own professional development, and willing to accept feedback.
First, work with each of your reps to determine their strength and development areas. From there, you can create plans to improve performance where it’s needed. If your sales rep is actively working to improve their gap areas, it will be apparent, and you’ll know they are driven to grow. If there is a lack of follow-through on their part, it may indicate they’re not particularly “coachable,” and perhaps not the right fit for your organization.
Important Coaching Considerations
If a low-performing rep is motivated to improve—but simply doesn’t—it may be in everyone’s best interest to cut ties and allow them the opportunity to find a role they’re a better fit for.
It’s also important not to neglect high-performers from your sales coaching, even though it may not seem like they need it. Top performers typically have a constant desire to improve, and if they don’t see room for growth at your organization, they’re more likely to leave for another opportunity. Also, the risk they will be poached is high, so if they're not feeling trusted or connected to the company they're vulnerable to competitors.
Keep in mind that coaching for A players will have a different structure than coaching for B and C players. It will likely involve more collaboration and idea sharing, and less directing.
It’s a general rule of thumb in life to invest where the potential return is the highest. Salespeople who are “worth” the investment of time and energy of sales coaching are those who are ready, willing, and able to be coached. Look for a coachable attitude in sales candidates through targeted interview questions and the use of a comprehensive personal assessment.
If you can spot the behavioral qualities that indicate a willingness to grow upfront, you’ll fill your sales team with coachable players, and contribute to your organization’s culture of continuous development.