Effective Sales Coaching

Measure This! How to Ensure You’re Sales Managers are Coaching Effectively

A development leader I’ve known for quite a few years now was lamenting during a recent conversation about the lack of coaching in his organization.


I remember him saying, “Our sales managers aren’t really coaching. They are just another level of people in the organization trying to manage the funnel.

Naturally, I asked, “Well, why do you think that is happening?

His reply … “Because that is all their leadership is asking them to do. It is easier to look at the numbers than it is to understand how they are produced and drive a change in behavior.”


Unfortunately, this conversation is not at all unusual.

In fact, when we speak at events or conduct coaching webinars, the most frequently asked question is, “How can we measure coaching effectiveness?” Before answering that question, let’s talk about WHY it is important to measure coaching effectiveness. In our experience, we find that not being committed to measuring coaching is actually a much more difficult problem to overcome than most leaders realize. To be certain, the case for coaching is incredibly strong — so strong, in fact, that when we make a statement like “coaching is the pivot point for change in any sales organization, or coaching will have a greater impact on what salespeople do than all other sales enablement initiatives,” we almost never get any disagreement.

Yet, most sales organizations have few or now coaching metrics as a part of their senior leader scorecard. Despite the overwhelming evidence that better coaching produces better results, most organizations still don’t set coaching objectives or measure performance against these targets.

But why is that?

Why aren’t more companies committed to measuring coaching effectiveness?

The answer lies in the response from my learning and development leader – measuring coaching isn’t nearly as easy as measuring the sales forecast or the opportunity funnel. So, it doesn’t get done. But measuring coaching effectiveness doesn’t have to be all that difficult, either. Most sales managers are having conversations with their sellers … conversations about their pipeline, key accounts, and outside opportunities. They are also going on calls with their people. But are they providing coaching, or just feedback? Do they understand the difference?

You see, coaches don’t simply look at numbers and tell us to produce more. They don’t watch us perform and tell us to do better. Real coaches uncover opportunities for improvement and identify the ROOT CAUSE of performance gaps. Real coaches then recommend assignments or activities that will help us shrink those gaps by further developing our skill or knowledge. This means that the output of a truly effective coaching conversation is almost always an assignment of some sort, and assignments can absolutely be tracked.

So, what should an organization measure, in order to determine the effectiveness with which its managers are coaching?

Here is a simple list of the key coaching metrics:

1. Coaching Sessions Conducted

Every conversation between a manager and seller about an opportunity, account, funnel, or meeting should be captured. Ideally, this is as simple as pressing a button inside the CRM and then providing the manager with a place to take notes. Want to get more sophisticated? Distinguish between the different types of coaching conversations to be certain there is adequate balance between opportunity coaching, funnel coaching, account level coaching, and joint calls. In any event, this shouldn’t be a heavy lift for managers. They need to keep track of these conversations any way. By allowing them to do it in the CRM, you can make the job easier for them and, the reporting easier for your operations team.

2. Learning Assignments Given

 The ideal output for a developmental coaching conversation is a developmental or learning assignment. The challenge for many managers is they don’t know what questions to ask to determine the root cause of a performance gap, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know what assignment to give to address the gap. Technology can be leveraged here to lead them through the diagnostic conversation to the appropriate assignment. If the manager can simply select the activity to assign and the appropriate due date, assignments can be tracked easily and efficiently.

3. Selling Assignments Given

 Not all sales issues require developmental assignments. In fact, even when a development assignment is needed, a follow-on selling assignment is needed for the person to apply what they have learned to their current opportunities. This assignment not only helps cement the learning, but it also delivers the ultimate value by advancing sales performance. These activities are nothing more than tasks or events and can easily be assigned, and therefore tracked using the CRM.

4. Assignments Completed

One of the most telling metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of sales coaching is the assignment completion rate. If managers regularly assign learning and selling activities that are not completed by the team, it is likely a larger issue exists. Perhaps the manager has a credibility issue with the team. At minimum there is an accountability issue that must be addressed in order for coaching to be effective.

While all these metrics can be tracked in the CRM, using the typical CRM to support coaching effectiveness is a bit like using Microsoft Windows to create presentations. It is necessary, but not sufficient. If you are going to create presentations, you need to enable PowerPoint for that Windows machine. Similarly, if you want to enable coaching and capture these metrics without creating considerable extra work, you need a coaching solution that enables managers to have more effective and more efficient sale coaching conversations while tracking these critical behaviors.

To be fair, simply tracking these metrics won’t tell us how we are performing unless we compare the actual metrics to some targets and see how they are changing over time. A simple rule of thumb would be to have a target of at least two coaching conversations per seller per month with at least one developmental and one selling assignment.

This approach also facilitates use in a scorecard for those senior leaders who like red, yellow, green visualizations of their team’s performance. An effective coaching solution will actually allow you to set individual targets and measure performance against these for even greater impact. While metrics around funnel health and sales forecasts are absolutely essential for sales excellence, the reality is we won’t really affect those numbers until sales coaching becomes a core competency.

To achieve that, senior leaders should add coaching effectiveness metrics to their scorecard to drive more attention and thoughtful discussion around this most critical success factor.

Want to learn more? Download the Guide to Sales Coaching.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales coaching events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com

Frustrated Sales Manager

The Big, Hairy Sales Problem

We recently spoke to a senior sales operations leader who confessed that they paid more than $2B in sales commissions and had no clue what they actually got for it.

That sounds pretty insane, right? Surely, they got $5B to $20B in revenue for that investment. They had to — or did they?

Therein lies the critical sales problem: Did we win because we outsold the competition, or did we win despite the fact that they’re outselling us? Most sales organizations don’t know the return they’re getting for their sales investment because they don’t have any insight into their selling and coaching behaviors.

That doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the correlation. They simply don’t know whether or not their investment causes them to win more often.

This makes the sales profession the overwhelming laggard in putting quality/process improvement and performance systems in place. It also means this is an opportunity for companies to solve the problem and gain a sustainable competitive advantage. 

Production and Performance Profession

Sales is a unique profession in that it is part production job (think new opportunities, calls, meetings, etc.) and part performance job (think consultation, presentation, differentiation). And unfortunately, most companies’ approach to managing this unique function provides little insight into how a team or individual is doing in either part of the job. 

Let’s start with the production side of this. As we have written before, sales results are the output of a process — one that can be expressed by a simple mathematical formula: 

Activity X Proficiency = Sales

This means that for every person and team in your organization, you can work your way backward from a sales objective to determine exactly what must be produced in terms of predictive metrics such as:

•    New opportunities

•    Proposal ratio

•    New proposals

•    Closing ratio

•    Average sale value

Every person in every sales organization can and should have their own unique “sales success plan.” However, less than 10% of the people we meet have created and are measuring performance against this type of plan.

Why? Primarily because without customization, their CRM won’t allow them to set these targets and measure performance against them.

That’s right! The CRM won’t do the math! Perhaps this is also why many sales organizations create “funnel standards” or “activity standards” instead of creating mathematically valid sales success plans. 

Want to read more about the fallacy of this approach? Check out our blog post on the worst metric in sales

In sales, most sellers, teams, and companies are measuring sales performance and reacting to what happened after the fact rather than looking at leading indicators that can help them proactively act to shape the outcome. So, approximately 90% of all sales organizations are missing the mark on the production side of the profession. Surely, they’re doing better on the performance side, right? Clearly, companies make tremendous investments here. In fact, ATD estimates the average company will invest over $1,400 per person annually for sales training. 

The majority of that training is specifically designed to help more people become proficient in the skills needed to win in the marketplace. However, studies indicate that only about 20% of the people who attend sales training actually use what they learn.

Again, we have to ask, why?

And the reason is shockingly simple — leadership has no insight into who is and isn’t engaging in these behaviors and which managers are and aren’t coaching to the training. They also have no way to determine the impact these behaviors they can’t measure are having on sales performance. 

It isn’t that training programs aren’t measured. It’s that the measurement approach almost ensures that the results aren’t actionable. In today’s world, the “impact” of training is most often determined by interviewing participants and asking questions about what they learned, how they’re using it, and the impact it’s having on their success. To get participation, the results must be anonymized, which means we may uncover themes such as:

•    I would use it more if my manager coached to it.

•    I don’t use it as much because our systems aren’t aligned with it.

•    I don’t remember everything I learned and don’t have easy access to the reinforcement I need, when, and where I need it.

However, we won’t uncover precisely WHO is and isn’t using the training, to what degree they’re using it, who IS and ISN’T coaching, and so on. This means we can’t intervene with the people who need help. To use a medical analogy, it’s great to know in general that certain conditions are linked to heart disease, but it’s of no value to a specific patient if we don’t know about her condition. Moreover, the CRM and LMS systems aren’t designed to trigger the need for learning reinforcement, deliver the learning at the point of need, and then measure its impact.

Not a People Problem … a Systems Problem

Without near real-time visibility into learning, coaching, and selling behaviors, it’s nearly impossible to understand the return we’re getting for investments in selling and coaching initiatives, let alone maximize that return. In the absence of actionable insights, sales teams often replace the people who aren’t performing in hopes their next hire will deliver a better result. This is a wildly expensive approach to performance management and coaching.

The lack of insight combined with investments reaching as high as 25% of revenue has caused many CEOs to refer to sales as a black hole. And this may be the most unique characteristic of the profession: These problems exist DESPITE the fact that other parts of the business, and other professions, solved them long ago. 

For example, the production analytics in manufacturing and logistics are now wildly predictive, thanks to a concerted focus on quality management that began in the 70s. Meanwhile, performance professions such as athletics capture powerful data about the effect of training on skills, behaviors, and performance and use this to coach teams and individuals to achieve greater performance. Considering the size of the sales profession and the impact better (or worse) sales performance can have on the success of an organization, isn’t it time we apply the same rigors to sales performance that we do to manufacturing and golf?

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales coaching events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.