I just read – and highly recommend – The Coaching Effect, What Great Leaders Do To Increase Sales, Enhance Performance, and Sustain Growth by Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth.
Besides my involvement in teaching, guiding, and practicing coaching with clients, I read a lot about sales management and coaching. In fact, I was one of the first in Miller Heiman Group to be certified in their full sales coaching suite. I wondered if I would pick much up from this book, and am pleased to say…yes, I did. I will be supplying this book to sales transformation clients from now on.
Coaching by Your Front-Line Sales Managers Improves Sales Performance
Based on over 100,000 real-world coaching interactions, this book shares some of the research behind its recommendations. Most important: Sales teams with great coaching average 110% of goal, vs. 91% of goal for the bottom 80%. Think about that. The most effective teams have the most effective leaders…the ones who behave like great coaches. These teams outperform the average team by over 20%.
I’ve seen similar data from other sources, including CSO Insights, who I consider to be the gold standard.
Anecdotally, I experience how focusing on coaching is the primary differentiator between successful sales performance initiatives…and those that fizzle. I buy the difference coaching makes.
What’s a Good Coach?
Eckstrom and Wirth go into depth on what great coaching looks like. The first thing that struck me was how seldom we measure coaching quality. Most practitioners stick to the easy-to-measure stuff like quantity (more on that below). The authors have a robust scoring system for the quality of coaching that’s as simple as it is intuitive and effective. They measured major themes of impact/culture, relationship, cadence, and ability to wring performance improvement – each of which is broken down into components.
The second striking finding is that “quality” is measured in the eye of those being coached. This seems obvious to a guy like me who regularly harps that value is only in the mind of the customer. Of course, that’s how you measure great coaching. So why do so few other people do it?
A third, not-so-striking finding: the best coaches have their “coachees” best interests at heart. Think about it. Coaches who have their subordinates’ trust are the ones with permission to push them to greatness. Yes, this is everyone on your team, not just those oft-maligned millennials.
The Four Pillars of a Great Coaching Culture
My “coaching acumen” improved. The research behind Coaching Effect broadened my idea of what a great coaching culture looks like. Eckstrom and Wirth describe four pillars (my term, not theirs) that sales leaders need to implement as part of a consistent coaching cadence.
- One-to-one meetings: Coaching Effect teaches that these are higher-level-than-you-might-have-thought meetings. They cover a seller’s personal updates, long-term goals, daily work, and priorities…combined with offers of manager support. It turns out that quality is far more important than weekly frequency.
- Team Meetings: Again, the research shows that quality is more important than frequency. Meetings that share best practices, share successes, discuss team-side issues, etc. (the book has a lot of great examples) might be monthly, with as-needed team huddles on a given specific timely issue.
- Performance Feedback: This is where I’ve focused most of my own work, and I’m glad the authors and I agree on approaches. There is solid advice on how to approach performance issues, using what another author called “compassionate directness”. The personal updates and focus on long-term goals from one-on-ones build trust that’s needed during more difficult feedback conversations.
- Career Development: Isn’t it crazy how few coaching programs formally introduce career development into the regular coaching cadence? Great coaches use this component to inspire “discretionary effort” (I love that term, Bill) on the part of sellers. There are great examples of specific actions a coach can engage in to become a meaningful force in the career of his team members.
Two Thumbs Up
As I said, this book helped me clearly articulate the differences between average and great coaching, and any serious sales leader should invest in it…and themselves
To your success!