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The Best Coaching is Situational

The Best Coaching is Situational

Sales management expert, Michelle Vazzana explains how sales coaching is situational and why deciding on the right activities can lead to the biggest return.

Selling and Coaching are Highly Situational

Of all the types of coaching we’ve studied – and we’ve studied a lot – only one type of coaching significantly and positively impacts quota attainment. Coaching to activities is the lever that has an outsized impact on results. At first blush, this idea seems to be a simple one. Coach to activities and your sellers will thrive. Well, maybe. If you coach the right ones and coach them in the right way. In fact, our research indicates that coaching to activities is responsible for 24% of the variance in seller quota attainment. If this doesn’t make you sit up and pay attention, nothing will.

So, you are probably wondering why coaching to activities is situational. You may even be wondering what we mean by situational. Let me explain. For any given salesperson, a manager can decide to coach a wide variety of activities. The question that needs to be answered is “which activities, by salesperson, will yield the biggest return on coaching investment?”

Picking the Right Activities to Coach

There are a variety of ways to figure out which activities to coach; however, the easiest and most straight-forward method is to determine which sales objectives an individual seller must achieve in order to improve his or her chances of hitting quota. Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are coaching Charles. Charles is a territory sales representative and has 250 accounts within a specified geography.

The first question to ask is whether Charles is targeting new account acquisition, current account expansion, or a mix of both. Activities associated with new account acquisition, such as identifying accounts with the highest potential, and developing targeted messaging and prospecting, are remarkably different than activities designed to expand existing accounts. In addition, you need to determine which solutions Charles should be targeting in his selling efforts. Is Charles tasked with selling existing products, new products, or a combination of both? Is he looking to change the mix of products and services to higher margin deals? These decision points help Charles’ sales manager select which activities are most critical for Charles to execute well.

Coaching Those Activities in the Right Way

In addition to the nature of Charles’ role (i.e. Territory Sales Representative), Charles brings a whole host of attributes and preferences to the way he does his job. Perhaps Charles is a relatively new salesperson and has been in role for only six months. Contrast that with Susan who has been a Territory Sales Representative for five years. Charles probably prefers a much more directive approach because he doesn’t have a large experience base to pull from, whereas Susan might prefer far less direct guidance.

In our most recent research study, done in conjunction with the Florida State University Sales Institute, we’ve seen huge gaps between the style of coaching sellers receive versus the style of coaching they prefer. In fact, over 40% of sellers say that their managers don’t coach to their preferred coaching style. We’ve uncovered four primary styles of sales coaching:

  1. Collaborative: This involves working interactively with the salesperson to come up with the best sales approach to any given sales situation. This style works well with most sellers with the exception of those sellers who are brand new to sales.
  2. Awareness: This involves helping change a given sellers perspective and help them become open to adjusting their approach. This is very useful when a seller is experienced, stuck in their ways, and doesn’t see a need to change.
  3. Task-Driven: This involves being highly directive with a salesperson, giving specific guidance on what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. This is not very collaborative, but necessary for sellers new to sales or new to role.
  4. Performance: This involves setting direction, clarifying expectations, and then getting out of the way. Performance coaching works well for highly tenured, high-performing sellers. The manager’s primary role is one of support to ensure barriers to achievement are removed.

The FSU Sales Institute benchmark indicates that the majority of sales managers overuse Task-Driven and Performance coaching styles, whereas high-performing sales managers are far more likely to use both Collaborative and Awareness coaching. Collaborative and Awareness coaching are by far the most preferred coaching styles as reported by sellers in the FSU research pool. Another very interesting finding is that high-performing sales managers are more than twice as likely to adjust their coaching approach based on the individual they are coaching. Low and average-performing managers are more likely to use one coaching style and use that with everyone on their team.

So What?

In closing, a few key points to keep in mind when deciding what to coach and how to coach using a situational approach:

  • Coaching to activities is by far the most powerful type of coaching, accounting for 24% of variance in quota attainment.
  • Managers who coach situationally and adjust their coaching approach far outperform those that use a one-size-fits-all approach. In our study, managers who coached situationally got 30% more of their sellers to quota.
  • When organizations adopt a situational approach to coaching, we have seen an average revenue gain of 12%

With results like these, why would a sales manager want to do anything BUT situational sales coaching? In our latest book, Crushing Quota, we were very candid in our findings that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. No “one best way to coach.” The path to good coaching is not complex, but it is specific. Hopefully this short blog has given you some actionable ways to dramatically improve the impact of your coaching efforts.

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The Best Coaching is Situational

Michelle Vazzana is CEO and a founding partner at Vantage Point Performance, a leading sales training and development firm. She is co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance. Vazzana is also author of Crushing Quota: Proven Sales Coaching Tactics for Breakthrough Performance (October 2018.)