Sales Coaching: Should You Coach Up or Coach Out?

Sales Coaching: Should You Coach Up or Coach Out?

Let’s face it, we all make bad hiring decisions. While we may strive for sifting and recruitment strategies that leave us with rock star sales reps, it’s never bulletproof. Even when you provide sales coaching, a sales rep may still leave.

The average tenure of an SDR (Sales Development Rep) stands at just 1.4 years, and the cost of a bad hire is cited as equivalent to at least two to three times annual salary in direct and indirect costs.

There are only three ways a sales rep exits the SDR team, and only one of them is desirable.

It’s pretty black and white. 1. Sales reps are successful, hitting quota, bringing in opportunities or revenue, to the point they get promoted in your organization. 2. You’re unable to offer them the progression they desire (let’s face it, that isn’t that often) and they leave. 3. They are not successful, and they leave, voluntarily or otherwise.

The challenge, therefore, is how do you work this out — and as fast as possible?

I assume everyone reading this knows what success looks like. We have a playbook or existing team members who perform at (or at least close) to quota level that we would love to clone.

So, it’s pretty much all about whether your sales reps are coachable. Can we coach our new starters to perform at the desired level? Again, it’s pretty linear, it’s a ‘closed’ question. They either can be coached to success (and it’s all in the execution, on our shoulders as an organization to successfully achieve this) or they can’t, despite our best efforts to coach and support, we don’t see the progression and development required to succeed in our team.

Let me put it another way. If your new hire, who has made it through your sifting and hiring procedure is coachable, how could they fail?

Granted, I am ignoring issues such as cultural fit, but even such issues can become more forgiving with a high-performing rep or one clearly in the making. But you get my point—a coachable rep is unlikely to fail.

How do we determine whether we should coach up as quickly as possible? How can we recognize the signs of individuals who cannot be coached to succeed?

As part of onboarding and on-the-job sales training, sales coaching needs to be delivered and measured. Obviously, you can’t judge an individual’s coachability without delivering sufficient coaching. It’s only by having some framework or process that you can start to identify early sales reps who are not making sufficient progress.

Sales coaching must be part of the process, and you must measure key performance indicators (KPIs) for managers and more experienced peers. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Sales coaching is so often a hidden activity, neither recorded nor measured. While I accept some coaching should and needs to be spontaneous as part of a coaching culture, failing to create a coaching plan, is as the cliche goes, means planning to fail.

Luckily many tools and sales enablement platforms will identify the quantum and quality of sales coaching delivered, report on the activity of managers and peers, and capture the coaching delivered.

“I walk around the sales floor and hear the same mistakes being continuously made,” an exasperated manager told me recently. The question must be: Have these issues been addressed in coaching and they still repeat themselves?

Blissful ignorance can be a defense. How can we improve sales reps’ performance without coaching and feedback to identify the flaw? But if this has been identified and addressed in coaching—coaching better or alternative ways to handle this objection, present this value or negotiate this outcome, then it is reasonable to expect a coachable rep to make the appropriate changes going forward. Repeatable actions in spite of evidenced coaching, are the easiest way to ring the alarm bell and ask “is this rep really coachable?”

With a structure or process for onboarding and measured on-the-job sales coaching, you can compare performance and improvement fairly. A playbook for ramp time emerges, and you can compare progress in line with expectation, not just by results but by evidenced performance and improvement.

This allows deviation from expectation to be identified early, and enables you to make quick decisions in the likelihood of success.

The importance and role of sales coaching, both for managers and more experienced peers, is more than just helping onboard new starters. Ultimately you will coach up or coach out—and the quicker you find out, the better.

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