Growing up, I was a sports fanatic. I especially loved team sports, and often found my world revolving around individual training, team practices and games. From a young age, my coaches played a significant role in my life. They helped me chase goals, contribute to the team, enjoy the experience and ultimately taught me the value of being coached.
When I chose a career in sales, I learned over the years that the sales leader position is a lonely role embedded with the tradition of training but lacking a working understanding of coaching – holding back the profession as a result. According to a recent report by the Corporate Executive Board, there is a 91 percent failure rate with sales training alone.
In sales, the stakes are high and there are few sources of help, which is why sales leaders often rely on more training. While there is no doubt training is important, if training alone was enough to solve the sales challenge, we would see more collective success from sales teams. With studies showing only 46 percent of salespeople achieving quota, there is no doubt sales leaders need more resources and salespeople need more than just event-driven training classes. Training is often thought of as a type of coaching, but they are two very different processes with very different results. Legendary leaders know the catalyst for turning knowledge into success is coaching. Here are three reasons why and a few things you can do about it.
1. The Forgetting Curve Is Real
In 1885, German researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus released a study on “The Forgetting Curve.” His work was the first to document just how dramatic the retention challenge is:
This research holds true in modern day. A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board identified that 87 percent of training taught to salespeople is forgotten in 30 days. Other studies show that after just six months, less than 10 percent of a training course is retained by a salesperson.
Training courses are designed to mass-educate groups of people. Success is identified by participation and certification and once the event is over, the salesperson checks the box and gets back to work. Immediately, the “Forgetting Curve” clock starts to tick.
Reinforcement doesn’t happen in the classroom…it happens in the field, with regular, persistent coaching.
2. Common Knowledge Does Not Equal Common Practice
I have worked with sales organizations of all sizes across the country. As I’ve helped sales leaders build world-class sales teams, I’ve found an interesting phenomenon. Reps with the best product knowledge test scores are often not the highest sales producers. The reality is common knowledge does not equal common practice. Sales leaders need to focus on putting knowledge into action.
Great coaches have learned to coach activities and skills rather than “flog the forecast.” Every salesperson knows where they are in sales relative to quota. In my experience, salespeople don’t need more accountability if they are missing their number…I have never met a salesperson that wants to fail. Rather than pound a pipeline in hopes we can beat a deal or two out of it, the best leaders coach their reps in regards to the activities tied to accomplishment. If the role of a salesperson is to produce, the role of a sales leader should be to reproduce. A sales leader’s primary role should be to reproduce skills in their salespeople so they can produce. This requires modeling how to do things right. Training helps a rep achieve common knowledge. Coaching will help a sales rep achieve common practice.
Here’s the good news: sales success isn’t driven by being pretty good at a wide range of things. Success is driven by doing two or three things really well and becoming excellent at them. So help each individual on your team identify key skills they want to develop and help them get there. This will change the nature of your coaching sessions, change the impact of your coaching time, and will change careers…for the rep as well as the coach.
3. Success Comes From Ownership, Not Compliance
One of my favorite sports stories came in the 1932 World Series. Babe Ruth’s Yankees were playing the Chicago Cubs. In the 5th inning of a tie game, Ruth came to the plate. With two strikes on him, he pointed to center field as the pitcher prepared to deliver the ball, calling his shot to the home-team Cubs and their fans. This at-bat became legendary when he crushed the ball over the center field fence for a go-ahead home run. This story isn’t famous because Babe Ruth hit a home run (he was the home run king of his era) or because he hit it in a World Series game (he hit two in that game.) This hit became legendary because he called his shot before he hit it.
Success is not driven by quotas or compliance to training.
Success comes when individuals set their own goals and then find a way to get there. This is why coaches get far more out of their teams than managers ever will. My favorite definition of coaching:
“Coaching utilizes a process of inquiry which allows your team to articulate what they want, then access their own energy to achieve it.”
Today, sales organizations have to find ways to differentiate their products in order to win business in their markets. It is no different for leaders. Ordinary isn’t good enough anymore. Choose to invest in coaching. I’ve found that poor coaches build poor teams, average coaches build average teams, and world-class coaches build world-class teams. The three elements discussed in this article will help you make how you coach your most defensible competitive advantage. Your team will produce more, their intent to stay with the company will grow up to 60 percent, and you will become a legendary leader that changes careers.
Put me in, coach!
Rob Jeppsen is senior vice president and general manage HireVue Coach, a leading provider of team acceleration software, helping companies worldwide use digital video and predictive analytics to build and coach their teams.