Sales Coaching Case Study
The VP of Sales at a pharmaceutical company presented this challenge to district managers (DMs):
Focus on improving the performance of the “middle-third” group of reps (not high performers or low performers). Why? Even a small percentage increase from the largest group of reps would have a significant impact on overall sales.
A secondary concern was that too many “surprises” had occurred at performance review time. When Human Resources dealt with disputes about annual reviews, sales reps’ said managers had not provided enough coaching to help the reps improve.
Since DMs were augmenting their face-to-face coaching with written coaching reports, we used 150 reports to measure the extent of coaching. Our client agreed with two assumptions:
Managers providing strong coaching in their reports were undoubtedly providing strong face-to-face coaching.
Reports were a valuable reinforcement of coaching because people remember what they hear when they also see it in print.
Findings and Conclusions
Our assessment showed that only 23% of the reports provided strong direction, and only 33% described how the rep performed. Most of the reports focused on account details and activities more than the rep’s behavior.
The degree of direction and behavioral feedback was even lower for middle-third performers.
Only 18% provided strong direction.
Only 18% described how the rep performed.
This data was very enlightening. Since this was the group targeted for improved performance, something had to change.
Based on this data and discussions with senior leadership, we came to these conclusions:
Managers needed training on how to provide stronger coaching.
To ensure sustainability, regional directors (RDs) needed to be involved in the training.
DMs and RDs attended a half-day POWER Sales Coaching training session held during a national sales meeting.
Each DM received a personalized written review of two coaching reports.
One-hour regional conference calls focused on a post-training assignment. The RD for each region participated, with the objective of learning how to reinforce the training long-term.
Two months after the training and follow up, we measured improvement. Our client was especially pleased that strong direction increased from 23% to 77%. Strong behavioral feedback increased from 33% to 57%.
To help RDs identify the extent of improvement for each of their teams, we also measured post-training progress by region.
In three regions, the “No” category for both specific direction and strong behavioral feedback was eliminated.
In one region, it shrank to 7%.
In one region, 100% of the reports had strong direction.
RDs were given the primary task of ensuring ongoing success. To do this, they included discussion of coaching reports in their one-to-ones and in regularly-scheduled conference calls. Since the RDs had participated throughout the process, DMs and RDs had a common language to use in their coaching and reinforcement.
We assisted the RDs by providing half-hour phone coaching sessions with DMs who had not met expectations after the training.
Our review of coaching reports from every DM six months after the training, follow up and RD reinforcement showed continued progress. Our client was especially pleased that the “No” category — no direction and no specific feedback — was completely eliminated.
Every DM improved significantly. While the statistics fall into the typical 80-20 relationship, having nearly 80% strong instead of 33% was a milestone.
The VP of Sales described the assessments, training and follow-up as having had “a significant impact .”
She identified five specific outcomes:
Middle-third performers improved considerably.
Overall sales performance exceeded expectations.
No surprises at performance review time.
Increased confidence and comfort level for DMs in face-to-face coaching as well as written coaching.
RDs continue to provide meaningful direction as they coach the coaches.