Don’t Manage and Coach, Coach to Manage

HBR had a great article the other day about coaching, called The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching.   You should read it. There is some good research in it.  The post suggests coaching top sales performers and lowest sales performers is the worst thing to do, in spite of conventional wisdom.   According to HBR most sales leaders coach their worst performers to make them better and coach their best because they like it.

This quote from the post sums it up:

Left to their own devices, sales managers often skew their coaching efforts dramatically toward the “tails” — the very best and the very worst reps on their team. They engage with poor reps because they feel they must in order to meet territory goals, and they work with their best reps because, well, it’s fun.

I tend to agree with HBR about coaching the wrong people.   But, I don’t agree with their suggestion to focus on the middle core.  The HBR assumption is to coach towards skills.  The idea being that if you improve their skills you improve their results.   According to their research the top and bottom don’t respond while the middle does.

I don’t coach to the top performers.  I don’t coach to the bottom performers.  I don’t coach to skills.  I coach to everybody and I coach to plans and objectives.   I’ve written about this before.  You can read it here.   To me coaching isn’t additional thing to do, but rather an overlay of leading.  What I mean is, I don’t manage sales AND coach.  I manage sales by coaching.  There is a big difference.

When you manage sales and coach, you address sales issues separately from coaching issue. Sales meetings and weekly pipeline reviews are used for sales management and the coaching is done post results. The coaching and managing are two different efforts.  Coaching this way is reactive.   Managing sales by coaching is when you build the coaching process into the sales effort.  Managing sales by coaching is coaching based on specific plans, goals, objectives and results.  It’s embedding the coaching process in the beginning, from the planing process, to the execution process, through the results.

The way I manage sales by coaching starts with planning.  My team does a robust yearly plan.  We review them as a team and individually.  As we go through them, I coach them on their plans, where could the plans be improved, what did they do well that could be leveraged more, how do their personal strengths make it a good plan and where did their weaknesses cause them to miss something.  Before they even begin to execute the plans, the coaching has begun.   We then do sub-plans each quarter, breaking down the yearly plan.  Again reviewing what was planned and why, the goals and objectives and of course results.  Every review is a coaching session designed to manage the selling process and the achievement of their plans.  On top of that we have additional coaching sessions every 6 weeks, just to tie it all together.  The coaching is ongoing. It never stops.

Imagine a tennis coach only “coaching” at the end of a match?   Imagine a golf coach only pointing out the faults from one game or one bad swing. Most sales coaching looks similar.  Sales leaders go on a call and give advice on what they saw.  They see your not making quota so offer direction and coaching to get you to quota.  What they don’t do is coach everyday.  They don’t use every interaction and every engagement as a chance to coach.  They don’t coach with the big picture in mind.

When coaching isn’t done everyday trends can’t be seen.  Poor habits are missed.  It is reactive and often inaccurate. Coaching everyday against specific plans, goals and objectives, creates growth, is more accurate and positive, as those being coached are helped to work through their challenges while they’re experiencing them, not after they’ve fallen on their face and they’ve been told they should have done it differently.  Coaching to manage sales creates a collaborative environment.  There is greater shared ownership, sense of support and commitment from both parties.

HBR got it right.  Sales leaders coach the wrong people.  The solution is not however to coach the middle and ignore the top and bottom.  It’s to stop managing AND coaching and staring coaching to manage.

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