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Are Sales Managers The Best People To Coach Your Sales People?

As a digital learning specialist, James Barton, CTO of Mentor Group, has been central to the development of a new breed of learning and development technology including the architecture of a revolutionary new Digital Learning as a Service (DLaaS) solution and a specialism in ILT to VILT conversion and delivery.

Before we get started, a word of warning; this blog may be a little controversial. I am going to be contradicting the widely held belief that sales managers are the people best equipped to become sales coaches.

Before you burn me at the stake or put me on the ducking stool, let’s review the current wisdom on this.

Starting with what we know: coaching works. There is empirical evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, that salespeople and teams that receive sales coaching perform better than sales teams and people that do not.

In fact, research by the Sales Executive Council shows that no other productivity investment comes close to coaching when it comes to improving the performance of sales representatives. 

We also know that coaching is best focused on the middle tier of sales performers. 

HBR research has shown that coaching has virtually zero impact on low performer or high performers. However, the middle group of core performers can see improvement in sales performance by up to 19%.

With these things in mind, naturally everybody is interested in coaching. For the last few years, it has been heavily promoted that sales managers should spend most of their time as coaches first, dispensing their wisdom and helping their teams hit their targets.

On paper, it makes perfect sense. The sales manager’s job is developing a high-performance team. They are rewarded based on that team’s performance and in the majority of cases, they are sales managers in the first place because they were (or are) the best salesperson.

It follows, of course, that you would want your highest performing salespeople to become sales coaches – but should you?

Let’s explore this a little further. Sales Managers are mostly there because they were the best salespeople, yet the research suggests that coaching has zero impact on the highest performing salespeople…

Besides, it has been proven (Forbes, HBR, SFDC etc) that the best salespeople very often make the very worst sales managers.

The full reason for this dichotomy is the topic of another blog, but in broad strokes, it’s because the things that make a salesperson great are almost directly opposite to the things that makes a great sales manager.

The tendency to expect this dichotomy to somehow produce excellent sales coaches is a recipe for disaster.

Coaches are, by definition, supposed to be capable of delivering their services impartially and neutrally, which means that asking sales managers to coach their sales teams flies directly in the face of coaching best practice.

I might be a bit of a purist on this front, but coaching neutrality is not simply nice to have; it’s a central tenet of effective coaching, a core part of why coaching can be so powerful.

In short, sales coaching hinges on the coach’s ability to sit outside the problem and deliver insights without bias.

So, if coaching is the very best investment we can make in our sales team, but sales managers are not the right people to do it, who do we turn to?

For me, this is where solutions like Coaching as a Service come in. Coaching as a Service utilises professionally trained sales coaches that are agnostic to the organisation and the salespeople they are coaching, available on-demand to support the team.

It allows your salespeople to be open about their challenges and mistakes without fear of being chastised by their managers. The coaches are available when your team needs them, not when the sales manager’s diary allows, and most importantly it’s available at scale; no bottleneck, and total availability.

Coaching as a Service also frees up the sales manager to do what they need to do – manage the team, manage the numbers and consider the strategic issues that need to be dealt with.

With technology like Zoom, Teams and Slack, Coaching as a Service can be delivered rapidly, across the globe and even in different languages. As I see it, Coaching as a Service can be a fulcrum of powerful change and a catalyst for performance.

Go back to the statistic on the impact of coaching and work out how much a 19% increase in performance across your core salespeople would make to your bottom line… worth an investment? You bet it is.

For more information on our Coaching as a Service offering or to talk to us about how Mentor Group can help your sales team sell more, sell bigger and sell quicker, drop us a line. We would love to help.

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