By: Susan Mahoney
Many sales managers and leaders embrace coaching for themselves and their teams when facing a crisis. Certainly, the motivation for change is strongest at this critical point. However, the chance of creating or cementing any lasting change when putting out fires is questionable.
The International Coaching Federation reports that 85% of organizations have experienced an unsuccessful change management initiative in the past two years. These failed change management initiatives often happen when an organization disregards the benefits of proactive coaching efforts. We know that effective coaching can lead to long-term, lasting improvement for individuals and can also support the acceptance of the change initiatives.
For example, recently, I worked with an enterprise account to implement a solid sales methodology across the sales organization. Like many significant change initiatives, there was early success, but it was not consistent or sustaining. At first, senior leadership endorsed the initiative, front line managers demonstrated their commitment, and the sales people dutifully completed the training. However, over time, the support and reinforcement fell away for many reasons, such as leadership changes, competing priorities, distractions and the deterioration of the consequences and rewards for using the system. Then, suddenly, the forecast turned ugly, and the quarterly results looked questionable. In their panic to fix the numbers, managers and leaders conducted reactive conversations with their reports, creating stress and driving short-term behaviors. I won’t mention what these behaviors did to client relationships. None of these reactive actions qualify as true coaching.
How can coaching help sales?
Coaching is an individual skill worth learning, and the benefits are well founded. Building a coaching culture and developing a coaching mindset among managers and leaders can change the results for an organization, particularly the sales organization.
What does establishing a coaching mindset do for an organization? The Hudson Institute of Coaching published a white paper titled: “Tools for Managers: The Coaching Mindset.” They propose that managers who work with individuals and teams must make a paradigm shift to a coaching mindset. This mindset creates a framework for collaboration and empowerment among individuals and groups. Having an established framework can help managers with situation-specific conversations and for ongoing development.
For example, when faced with a sales related problem, a manager’s perspective might be to create a quick solution. However, the coaching mindset would be to help the team members develop their own solution. Why does this difference matter? Because, a team-developed solution creates buy-in and ownership, ensuring that the result will be successful.
Understandably, managers are under pressure to meet deadlines, numbers, and projects, so inviting collaborative thinking often seems time-consuming. While It may be a hard decision to act from coaching mindset in the moment, it often produces the best results over time.
CSO Insights has conducted extensive research on all things related to sales, service, sales enablement—including sales coaching. In their 2018 Sales Enablement Summary Study, they looked at the impact of a formal versus informal coaching process on win rates for forecasted deals. A discretionary or informal coaching process did not have any significant effect, but a formal coaching process improved win rates by more than six points.
How to create a coaching culture
Managers will often say they don’t have time to coach. If coaching is outside the normal realm of day to day work, then it feels onerous. A coaching culture, framework, process, and skills allow managers to coach as needed during regularly scheduled sessions, in the moment, or at useful intervals. I often ask managers, “What’s a conversation that you need to have, that you’re not having?” or “What’s a conversation that you are having over and over, that you wish you weren’t?” The answers to both of these questions help to illustrate the need for coaching. Both of these instances eat up real-time or mental time.
So, what are the critical success factors for a sales coaching culture and coaching mindset?
- Build a coaching framework. Define what and when to coach as aligned to the customer buying process and sales enablement processes.
- Develop clearly defined coaching processes. Establish the organization’s approach to coaching, mentoring, advising. They are different approaches, and managers need to understand the differences.
- Build specific coaching skills. Train managers and leaders on effective coaching skills, and provide them with 1:1 coaching for their on-going development.
- Measure progress. Develop methods for measuring progress that track both tangible and intangible results. Measure the overall program and individual managers coaching effectiveness.
- Senior leadership support. Ensure consistent and ongoing support from the top down. Like any critical change initiative, without this level of support commitment can waver among the ranks.
Coaching as a practice
I truly believe that anybody interested in improving their performance, or their lives, can benefit from good coaching. This is especially true for sales leaders. By embracing a coaching culture before a crisis hits, they can create an environment that can be resilient in times of uncertainty.
So, what if you are a manager who truly believes in and wants to develop and practice your own coaching skills, yet your organization doesn’t support a formal program or initiative? A Mahatma Gandhi’s quote is applicable here: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” It is worth the time, money and energy to improve your own coaching capabilities as a manager to support your own leadership path.