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Is Coaching Salespeople Worth The Investment? What The Research Tells Us.

In the first blog of the series, we explored the features that make sales training succeed.  In our second blog, we look at the value in coaching (and mentoring) your sales team.

Does coaching improve performance in general? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Definitive research reviews by Theeboom et al (2013) and Jones et al (2016) have found that coaching is an effective change methodology (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  In particular, coaching has a large impact in terms of performance improvement.  Jones et al (2015) argue that this is likely to be because coaching involves many characteristics that we already know from research will enhance performance. These are:

  • Coaches apply goal-setting
  • Goals generally feature work-based activities, promoting experiential forms of learning
  • and thereby directly encourage transfer of learning to work behaviour

Jones et al’s (2015) research overview found that it makes no difference to outcomes whether the coaching sessions are delivered face-to-face, online or by telephone.  Their findings also suggest that internal coaches can deliver stronger outcomes than external coaches. However, research also tells us that the strength and quality of the coach-coachee relationship is a key ingredient to the success of the coaching process (De Haan et al, 2016).  For example, empathy, positive regard and autonomy support are important characteristics of the relationship (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  So, while it may be ideal for organisations to develop a culture of coaching internally, due care should be taken in terms of training managers to be effective coaches and ensuring they have the relevant skills and characteristics that support quality relationships with their coachees.

Evidence of Impact of Coaching on Sales Performance

The purpose of sales coaching is to equip salespeople with the right knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to achieve role and organisation-related objectives and goals. It can be delivered by a Sales Manager or an external coach.  Similar to executive coaching, the aim is to improve performance through a series of conversations, feedback provision and activities (Badrinarayanan et al, 2015).  Mentoring on the other hand tends to not have a focus on the development of KSAs and performance per se, but is the “exchange between a senior experienced person and a less experienced, more junior protégé” with a focus on career goals (Bradford et al, 2017).

Sales coaching is an under-researched area, but Badrinarayanan et al’s (2015) overview finds that it is an effective element of training and development programmes and that “professional sales coaching plays an important role in the development of salespeople…”

Sager et al (2014) found that salespeople are more satisfied with both selling skills and product knowledge training when it is supported by role models. Furthermore, sales organisations can assist salespeople by providing role models and mentors during initial sales training. Participants are more likely to be satisfied with training if role models continuously and consistently demonstrate correct and expected selling behaviours. Bradford et al’s (2017) found that a combination of external training and on-the-job training are more related to performance enhancement than are internal training courses.  They also recommend the use of internal mentoring, especially where the mentoring relationship gives the opportunity to shadow, observe and mimic the behaviour of the more senior colleague.  These researchers suggest that developmental support from line managers is important to realise the full potential of sales coaching.

In summary, the research tells us that coaching and mentoring play very important, but distinct roles in the embedding of sales capabilities. Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer. In this relationship, the coachee benefits by taking ownership for converting the ‘theory’ of sales training into a set of clear goals, supported by a tangible set of practical actions that will embed the desired behavioural change. On the other hand, mentoring allows the mentor to reinforce the expected sales behaviours and the mentee to observe and imitate these.

Key findings:

  • Evidence that coaching can improve individual performance is strong
  • Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer
  • Quality of coaching support is critical to the success of the coaching relationship
  • Participants report increased satisfaction with sales training when it is supported by mentors who role-model the expected behaviours

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  See our website to learn more about our approach to developing sales capability in your workforce.

 

Badrinarayanan, V., Dixon, A., West, V.L. & Zank, G.M. (2015) Professional sales coaching: an integrative review and research agenda. European Journal of Marketing, 49, 7/8, 1087-1113.

Bradford, S.K., Rutherford, B.N. & Friend, S.B. (2017) The impact of training, mentoring and coaching on personal learning in a sales environment. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15, 1.

De Haan, E., Grant, A.M., Burger, YD. & Eriksson, P.O. (2016) A large-scale study of executive and workplace coaching: The relative contributions of working relationship, personality match, and self-efficacy. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 68(3), 189-207

Grant, A.M. & O’Connor S. (2019) A brief primer for those new to coaching research and evidence-based practice. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(1) 3-10

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2015) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Sager, J.K., Dubinsky, A.J, Wilson, P.H. & Shao, C. (2014) Factors influencing the impact of sales training: Test of a model. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 6(1), 1.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B. & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2013): Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice. (September 2013)

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Why Innovation Is Key To Driving Sales Performance…

And Why Sales Leaders Need to Loosen Their Grip On Their Sales Teams

As sales dry up and the pressure to achieve target increases, for sales leaders it can be very tempting to impose greater oversight of sales teams through more regular check-ins, activity reporting, new processes and more. This is understandable given how volatile the world is right now. To make well-informed decisions about how to adapt to the new normal, it is only natural for a sales leader to want to have up-to-date information from those on the ground. But is it the right approach?

We already know that salespeople spend a lot of their time on non-sales activities, for example this Salesforce survey of sales professionals identified that even before lockdown on average 64% of their time is spent not selling. So if we are now asking them for even more information, more frequently, that can only further reduce the amount of time available for selling.

Worse still it may be stifling sales innovation at the very moment you need it most. There is a growing body of evidence that fostering a culture of innovation amongst your sales team will positively impact upon the bottom line. This is not achieved by a rigid ‘one size fits all’ style of management. It is based upon encouraging individual salespeople to share knowledge with each other, to ask questions, to challenge existing methods, to generate ideas and to explore these further in order to problem solve, all with the intention of adding value for the customer.

It requires sales leaders to focus on knowledge and behaviour within the team rather than their targets and outcomes. And it requires individual salespeople to work collaboratively rather than acting as lone wolves.

In rapidly changing and uncertain economic climates, everyone in the sales team and across the organisation needs to be sharing, and interrogating, information not just reporting it up to the sales leader. Allowing sales teams to be innovative could be a real differentiator. Encouraging your salespeople to think differently and to challenge each other and the status quo will enable them to respond innovatively and lead to better solutions that will enable them to position themselves with their customers as a trusted advisor; someone they want to hear from and whose insight they value. It is that quality of relationship that will drive your competitive advantage.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.