Coaching - a soft option?

Thursday 19 January 2012

At Prosell we do sometimes meet managers who feel that coaching is a soft option – “touchy feely” stuff that’s aimed at making employees feel loved, but doesn’t really bring any tangible business benefit. They think it might help motivation and team spirit, but that’s as far as it can go.

We have been coaching teams and managers for 27 years now and could not disagree more!

Not only does effective coaching bring tangible improvements to the financial results, it generates ideas and innovation. Our experience working with many different clients is confirmed by the extensive “Building Solutions-Ready Sales Managers” research undertaken by the Sales Executive Council (SEC).

Coaching is challenging

In our experience of training managers to become effective coaches, coaching is not “soft”.  It involves self-challenge, overcoming resistance and self-limiting beliefs, moving outside your comfort zone. While feeling good might be an outcome, coaching’s core purpose is not to feel good, but to achieve specific workplace related goals.

In terms of learning to become an effective coach, there are many skills involved, such as how to challenge constructively, how to read behaviour and body language to dig beneath the surface of a barrier, how to give feedback that drives change.

Outside the business workplace, professional sports people understand the vital importance of coaching. Many will have different coaches for different aspects of their game, for example technical skills on the one hand, and mental focus and control on the other. In his book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, Timothy Gallwey is clear that winning is as much in the mind, as in the body.

Coaching brings tangible sales results

Those managers of the “soft option” school of thought aren’t convinced of the business benefit, yet the SEC report showed a clear link between coaching and sales performance.

They researched all their members around the world and their findings are based on over 3,000 participants, both sales managers and sales professionals.

They found that what separated the star manager from the average (or “core”) manager are:

Core managers, on the other hand, spend much of their time micromanaging, creating proposals and pricing, and administration.

Sales teams with less than two hours coaching a month averaged 90% of target, whereas those with more than three hours coaching per month averaged 107% of target, a very significant 17% difference.

The SEC also found that coaching reinforces classroom training and greatly reduces “training decay”. Without coaching, sales people have forgotten 87% of what they learned on a course in just 30 days.

With coaching, training was four times as effective: the productivity impact of training alone is 22%, whereas training combined with coaching has a fourfold improvement at 88%.

Who to coach and what to coach

While this is all very encouraging, sadly the SEC study also found that the majority of managers are poor at coaching. This is a skill that needs to be developed and cannot be assumed that managers will automatically have. They need to know how to coach and what to coach on. Star managers coach their teams to focus on high value activities.

However, the study makes a convincing case for developing managers as coaches to spend 3 to 5 hours per month coaching each member of their sales team to get results – the SEC describes 3 to 5 hours as the “sweet spot”; more than 5 hours and the impact flattens out.

Interestingly, the SEC also found that spending more effort on coaching the average performers yielded the greatest impact on performance, going against conventional wisdom of focusing on star performers.

The reason is simple – star performers will always be looking for ways to improve their performance anyway. However, they should not be ignored, as coaching will increase their engagement and encourage them to stay with the organisation.

In conclusion

To summarise, the SEC concludes that:

“A serious investment in improved coaching can improve sales results dramatically in more organisations.”

Now who would call that a soft touch!

This post was written by

Simon Morden