Note: This posting was written by Matt Dixon & Brent Adamson for the Harvard Business Review.
Most sales organizations have invested more time and effort in the past 5 years in improving managers’ coaching of reps than they did in the previous fifty. This makes perfect sense: our research shows that no other productivity investment comes close to coaching in improving reps’ performance.
But not all reps who get coached, even by good coaches, do better. In fact, our research shows that sales coaching is almost worthless when it targets the wrong reps. And our work suggests that management targets the wrong reps all the time.
Left to their own devices, sales managers often skew their coaching efforts dramatically toward the “tails” — the very best and the very worst reps on their team. They engage with poor reps because they feel they must in order to meet territory goals, and they work with their best reps because, well, it’s fun. Few managers can resist the lure of reliving their glory days by passing along their wisdom to the one or two reps who remind them most of their younger selves. To combat managers’ tendency to coach just laggards and leaders, companies implement elaborate systems to allocate coaching equally across the sales force. They imagine that “all boats will rise” as a result.
Unfortunately, our data show that both managers’ coaching tendencies, and companies’ response, are misguided.