Measuring the Impact of Sales Coaching
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In 2002, Heinz revolutionized the condiments industry when it introduced its convenient, inverted container. Consumers complained for years about how difficult it was to squeeze out the last bit of ketchup: they incessantly banged the bottom of the glass bottle or stuck a knife up the bottleneck to loosen the irritating jam. By leveraging user insights, the company reinvented its ketchup bottle to combat the design problem and improve functionality.
Similarly, sales enablement uses insights from coaching metrics to identify issues that may be impacting rep effectiveness and efficiency. Rather than waiting for the next performance review, enablement can help frontline managers regularly use metrics to know where to reinforce concepts and nip issues in the bud. Sales coaching metrics can also help practitioners understand what a manager or rep’s strengths are, paving the way for the development of additional learning opportunities and tailored coaching plans.
“We are definitely seeing a difference between folks who have been coached versus those who haven’t been coached,” said Stefan Funk, head of sales coaching at SAP. “There’s clear evidence that coaching has a huge impact in terms of financial impact, in terms of personal development for our sales colleagues, and being more confident talking to the customers and ultimately closing deals.”
To identify whether sales managers are making a real difference in their reps’ performance, sales enablement can leverage both quantitative and qualitative approaches focused on coaching quality and cadence. Here are four straightforward metrics that enablement can utilize to measure the impact of sales coaching.
Consistent Competency Improvement
Competency improvement reveals how reps are applying coaching through their behavior during day-to-day activities. According to The Sales Enablement Analytics Report 2020-2021, organizations that measure competency improvement as a coaching metric notice an average rep quota attainment that is 7 percentage points higher than those that do not. To get the most out of coaching, sales enablement can leverage a system for evaluating competencies in order to develop a clear pathway to behavioral improvement.
A key indicator of competency improvement is noticeable behavior change, as competencies are defined as the behavioral attributes that influence performance. To incorporate competency improvement as a sales coaching metric, practitioners can evaluate rep competency levels and progress both before and after coaching to assess whether coaching successfully developed targeted behaviors. Consider tracking coaching’s impact on competency with the following metrics:
- Number of sellers applying behavior
- Improvement in competencies around operational selling, selling process adherence, and other hard or soft skills
- Scope and complexity of competency improvement
- Number of skills improved
- New skills obtained
“Ideally, sales coaching helps to create a behavior change because you’re challenging their beliefs,” said Carole Mahoney, founder of Unbound Growth. “You’re helping them apply the knowledge that they’ve learned in training to actually execute in their day-to-day, on-the-job execution.
Sustained Rep Productivity
Prioritizing sales coaching can increase sales productivity by up to 88%. This gain can be attributed to coaching’s promotion of sharing of best practices and consistent reinforcement of information in small increments, which helps reps apply concepts and become productive faster.
In assessing the impact of coaching on productivity, examining efficiency and effectiveness throughout the sales process provides a complete picture of the results of sales coaching. As the Sales Enablement Analytics Report 2019 found, call scoring/evaluations from sales managers is the most common metric in coaching. While that approach certainly has value, for a more holistic view, and arguably an even better sense of sales coaching’s effectiveness, enablement can also consider leading and lagging indicators.
As a rep’s call scores or evaluations can increase with quality coaching and accumulated experience, corresponding success metrics include improvements in sales cycle length or average sales price as a result of better buyer conversations. Practitioners can use the following metrics related to rep effectiveness and efficiency both before and after coaching in order to further diagnose gaps and design coaching solutions to improve sales productivity:
- Pipeline coverage
- Quantity of high-quality leads
- Time spent on selling activities
- Lead conversion rate
- Opportunities conversion/velocity rate
- Average sale price
- Average length of sales cycle
“The quantitative piece should be measuring the performance data, the productivity metrics that are available in [your CRM] so that you can define what good looks like and also where they are tracking,” said John Dougan, director of global sales and productivity at Workday. “Then obviously, you can assess the movement of that over time.”
Improved Team Performance
Many companies are looking at the overall performance of their sales teams as a way to gauge how effectively managers are coaching their reps. The Sales Enablement Analytics Report 2020-2021 reported that the most common coaching metric is team performance by manager. The popularity of this metric could be attributed to the challenges many organizations face in incentivizing sales managers to coach their teams.
A team’s improved performance—or lack thereof—can help reveal if certain pairings of managers and reps are unproductive. With managers’ quality, cadence, and consistency of coaching varying by team, it’s important to establish ongoing accountability in order to measure how managers’ coaching abilities impact team performance. Consider using the following metrics to assess how team performance correlates to the quality and cadence of coaching:
- Number of reps achieving quota attainment
- Win rate by team
- Competency improvement by manager
- Team performance by manager
To target these metrics in coaching, first identify the core behaviors demonstrated by teams who consistently improve competency or achieve quota, and design coaching aimed at replicating these across other teams. Then, track how each team’s lagging indicators change from before and after coaching at regular increments.
Activity-based metrics for coaching can be useful to track in tandem with team performance metrics to help gauge how dynamic coaching translates to rep performance. For example, analyze the time and frequency of coaching, and how they correlate to rep performance. This can help improve the frequency or quality of coaching if it is inconsistent and unregulated.
“Good coaching shows progress,” said Stacey Justice, vice president of sales enablement and productivity at HashiCorp. “It shows development. If it’s not happening consistently, if there aren’t goals, if there isn’t a level of accountability that comes from it, then I just don’t think that you see that progress.”
Feedback From Reps on Coaching Quality and Cadence
Coaching is a two-way street: Rather than only letting sales managers have a say about how a coaching session went, provide reps a forum to offer feedback about whether they felt the session made a difference to them. Feedback loops can involve the use of various assessment tools, such as a sales advisory board, self-reporting surveys, interviews, or office hours where both managers and reps rate their perceptions of how the coached skills have improved (or not).
“What we’ve done is we’ve put in place a sales advisory board,” said Cathy Estabrooks, head of revenue enablement at BirdEye. “I’m listening to a handful of reps, in a manager-free zone, and I’m asking them, ‘How do you feel? What is it like, what are the problems? What do you want attention paid to?’ Then, I’m just taking that feedback right back to the managers anonymously so they can hear. It really is about transparency.”
By comparing and discussing feedback, the sales rep and manager together can identify what areas have been strengthened by coaching and to what degree. This process also provides additional opportunities for diagnostic work: Does the rep need additional coaching in the original areas, or do they need to address new areas? If reps don’t feel like they’re benefiting from their coaching sessions, then it may be symptomatic of a broader problem with either the coaching program, individual coaches, or particular manager/rep pairings.
“The feedback we gathered is actually applied towards continuous improvement,” said Estabrooks. “We understand how [reps] do after the actual coaching…and then help the managers come to their own conclusion about what is working and what isn’t.”
Without coaching metrics, making the case for action—and actually making progress—is an uphill battle. By showing how coaching contributes to rep effectiveness and team success, sales enablement makes a stronger case for reps to buy-in to coaching. It also empowers frontline managers to prioritize providing their reps with consistent, high-quality coaching.
To demonstrate the impact of sales coaching, enablement can focus on its contribution to increasing competency improvement, rep productivity, and team performance by managers, in addition to qualitative feedback.