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Sales Management: Living and Dying by the Numbers

There are two approaches to boosting sales in any organization: get the right person in the right job, and then give them the coaching, incentives and support they best respond to.

We often find ourselves working with our clients on the first step - matching the sales person to the requirements of the position, and ensuring their fit not only with the manager, the team, the clients, the product and the brand... but also with the realities of the job - the compensation structure, the nature of the sales process, and so on. Getting the right person on board is absolutely critical... but then what?

Managing their performance and coaching them, that's what.

Sounds easy. But how specifically does each member of the team need to be coached? Each is a different character, with his or her own strengths, interests and blind spots. And does this coaching thing even really work?

Research by the Sales Executive Council shows unequivocally that no other investment in productivity comes even close in improving sales reps' performance. And, perhaps not surprisingly, that not all reps who get coached show an improvement.

So... which reps should managers be investing time and energy coaching?

Most sales managers find themselves focusing their energy on the two ends of the performance curve: the top performers (because it's fun and easy, and gives them a chance to relive their own glory days) and the poor performers (pushing, coaxing, cajoling them in the hopes they'll 'get it' and begin to hit the target).

Interestingly, the research shows that even the best coaching in the world has only a marginal impact on the performance of the reps at the top and bottom of the performance curve. Turns out that the bottom 20% are generally in that category not because of a lack of knowledge or inspiration, but because they are a bad fit for the job, and that no amount of coaching can compensate for that... and that the incremental gain for the top 20% is marginal because they are already at (or close to) the top of their game.

The real payback from coaching lies in the fat part of the bell curve - the middle 60% of the team - where the findings are that excellent coaching can improve performance by up to 19%. Coaching by a manager with even average coaching skill can generate an increase in sales of 5-10%; multiply that by the number of people in that 'middle of the pack' category and the coaching can make the difference between just making plan, and blowing it away.

The lessons? This research generates several key points for sales managers to focus on:

Who your managers coach is every bit as important as how they do it. Investments in the middle 60% of the team will yield handsome dividends.

Stop procrastinating. Replace the bottom 20%. If they are a poor fit today, they'll be a poor fit tomorrow. Swapping out even one poor performer and 'trading up' to a top performer will have an enormous impact on total sales in the first year and every year that follows.

Use the tools at your disposal, to focus your coaching on the ares that will give you the greatest return on your time invested.

The best sales managers are always looking for an edge. They use tools like the Profile Sales Assessment to help them find the candidates who look most like the top performers on their team, and the generate reports that help them identify those areas that would most benefit from their coaching efforts and generate the best return.

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