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Who Benefits Most From Coaching?

by David Brock on November 14th, 2013

Sometimes, I feel like  I may be living on a different planet.  I read all sorts of articles about coaching from some very thoughtful, smart, and successful people.  Many of those articles have provocative titles or themes like, Who Benefits Most From Coaching?  Where Should You Spend Your Time Coaching?  Should you focus on A’s, B’s, C’s?  The list goes on.

In many ways, the articles make huge amounts of sense.  Intellectually, I get it, I agree with the concepts the authors are talking about.  I can even get the math many people use–“raising the performance of an A player 10% produces this much, raising B players by the same amount produces this much,” and so on.  (Sometime, I have to take off my shoes and socks to have enough fingers and toes to do the math).

But too often, I think we overthink and overcomplicate things.  Much of the analysis makes sense if we are managing large numbers of people and are looking at how we allocate our time to those large numbers of people.

But the reality is, spans of control are decreasing in field sales.  They are hovering around 10 people (some studies have this lower).  In inside sales, they appear to be a little larger, but not huge.

So we’re not going through a complex optimization process.  It’s roughly 10 friggin’ people!  You’ve got to coach all of them!  Let’s not overthink this saying we need to spend 15.75 minutes each week with our C players, 30.37 minutes with our B players, and 29.08 minutes with our A’s.

Figuring out how to time slice coaching across those people is something I struggle to comprehend.  Since I’m a pretty simple person, I believe this:  Basically every conversation has to have coaching elements in it, otherwise we are losing huge opportunities and we aren’t maximizing our impact.  Particularly if we are truly acting as leaders, where our job is to get things done through our people.  This mandates coaching in virtually every conversation.

Think about it.  As managers, we spend our time doing the following business management things with our people:  Deal reviews, call reviews, pipeline/forecast reviews.  Interspersed, less frequently, some account and territory reviews.  Sometimes, we look at how they spend their time, sometimes there’s some training.

Each one of these activities is a coaching opportunity!  More importantly, each of these is a timely, impactful, coaching opportunity.  What’s more powerful in helping our people improve their deal strategies than coaching them about the strategy right when they are in the review developing a strategy for a real situation?

The moment, we as managers, decide to integrate coaching into the fabric of what we do every day, all this stuff about who we coach, when we coach, how much time we coach becomes irrelevant.

Let’s look at this issue a little differently.  My friends at the CEB have researched this extensively.  They believe the optimum amount of time coaching sales people is 5 hours a month.  So with 10 people on the team, that mean we should be spending 50 hours a month–roughly 25% of our time coaching!  But here’s the problem, if you don’t integrate coaching into what you do every day, with every one, you simply won’t find the time to spend 75 minutes a week with each individual on your team!  As long as you keep coaching separate from what you do with your people every day, the realities of the job will force coaching off your agenda!

So let’s keep it simple:

  1. Who do we coach?  Everyone, no if, and’s, but’s!
  2. When do we coach?  All the time, every conversation, every review has coaching opportunities.  Thinking of the “coaching meeting” is a useless waste of time–plus it won’t happen.  Coaching must be integrated into the fabric of the business.
  3. Do we spend the same time with each person?  Do we spend more time with some?  We spend the time we need to, but again if we integrate coaching into our normal business management conversations, we don’t really have to be thinking about the time we spend coaching–it just happens.
  4. Do we coach each person the same way?  Absolutely not, each individual, each situation requires different types of coaching.  As managers we have to adapt our coaching style to fit the situation, the individual, and the time.  At some points, our coaching needs to be very directive and focused, as in, “You need to get this done…”  At other times it can be very non-directive, helping the person discover ways to improve their performance.
  5. How much time do we spend coaching?  Well, I guess that’s related to how much time you spend with your people.  If you are spending time with your people, then you will be coaching them.
  6. Who benefits most from coaching?  Everyone should, including managers.  We constantly learn and improve.  There is one important factor, though–the person receiving the coaching must be coachable!  Whether they are an A, B, or C player, they will get value if they are coachable and we are doing our jobs.
  7. What if the person isn’t coachable?  Fire that person!  It means they’ve stopped learning, developing, growing.  It means they, in their own minds, have reached their maximum potential.  They’ll never get better, most likely they’ll get worse.  If they are an A player today, tomorrow, the uncoachable person becomes a B player and then they become a C player.

  1. Newbies must be trained. Plus, the “instructor” greatly benefits from the process of teaching. Makes for a valuable experience for both.

    • Martin Schmalenbach permalink

      Reading your blog Dave, I found some of my thoughts drifting back to some experiences many moons ago, that I had whilst serving in the air force. And this also speaks a little to Ian’s comment about training.

      I spent much of my time training and managing the training of helicopter aircrew, and after my service, I did the same for a while in the civilian world.

      Training, and being a trainer, was, and still is, seen by the flying fraternity, both civil and military, as the pinnacle of your flying career. Why? Because only the very best get to train, to be instructors. You have to be ‘above average’ as a flier, and very competent as an instructor. You often find one of these in people, finding both is a bit more rare…

      In the sales world, it seems the opposite is the current paradigm, exemplified in the mantra “those that do, sell, those that can’t, teach selling” and the general disdain for sales training by many in the sales world.

      I understand that people have numbers to make, and training gets in the way of this at times. I understand the feeling behind phrases such as “I can’t afford to train “. And I’m reminded of the only useful response to this assertion “I can’t afford NOT to train ”

      In the world of flying, almost everything people do, on the ground and in the air, is viewed as a learning opportunity. Often it is informal, sometimes unplanned and unexpected, but almost always, incredibly effective. Why? Because it is ‘real’, it is ‘immediate’, and the consequences/impact are very clear.

      We know from recent research in neuroscience that an appropriately heightened level of emotion has a significant and positive impact on the effectiveness of learning, especially in terms of future recall and application. Being ‘real’, and ‘immediate’ and clearly tied to consequences does wonders for raising the emotion level sufficiently, whether in a selling situation or in a flying situation and things have gone a little, er, ‘wrong’! A great instructor/trainer will manage the emotion levels, making sure they don’t get too high (which affects learning significantly). Often, due to the informal and unplanned nature of the event/experience, a coaching-based approach is the most appropriate for facilitating great learning, and need only take a few minutes.

      Some of the most impactful learning experiences of my life were facilitated by expert coaching, lasting all of 30 seconds tops. I didn’t realise at the time it was coaching, nor did the coach typically (especially as in one case, the coach was a horse, but that’s another story!).

      Coaching need not take long, be planned to the ‘nth degree’ etc, and as such can become pervasive in a good way, a sign of an exemplary learning culture – something I saw much of in the military, and sadly, very little of in commerce.

      And to your original point Dave about simplifying things – when you do coaching for 30 seconds ‘on the spur of the moment’ and ‘in the heat of battle’, you can’t care about ratios, ROCE, discussing roles and asking for permission – you just coach – but you do have to be good at it. And that comes with practice. And coaching… 😉

      • Martin, what a fantastic comment and perspective. It’s interesting, I’ve spent quite a bit of time “around” the military. The way they hold training as core to their ability to execute is fascinating. The consistency with which they believe in training, learning, and improvement at all levels, is remarkable.

        The contrast with the “commercial world” is shocking.

        As a side story, a very close friend was retiring as a 2 Star. He asked me to review his resume and to coach him in interviewing for executive level jobs in the commercial sector. This friend had been responsible for $Billions in assets, 1000’s of people…… (You know the story). In his resume, highlighting his skills and accomplishments–85% of it focused on training, accelerated learning, leadership. It reflected the culture, values, and belief system of the military–which you’ve highlighted so nicely. Unfortunately, the first few people in the commercial world that he presented his resume to said, “Oh, you are looking for a job in our training organization.” They didn’t understand the leader’s job!

        We have so much we can learn from the leadership, continuous learning, coaching, and training focus in the military. Unfortunately, too few “get it,” or take advantage of it.

        Thanks for helping us expand our view on this. It’s great to see you commenting and reading the blog. I’m a real fan of what you are doing–Mitch talks about it frequently.

    • Ian, training and coaching go hand in hand–but I tend to think of them as different. We need to do both. Both parties benefit from both.

  2. Hi Dave I like this question so much
    that I have blogged, discussed, investigated
    and answered it, a 100 times.

    Who Benefits MOST From Coaching?

    The answer is the COMPANY! Or, at least it should be.

    If the Company is NOT benefiting from Coaching,
    then it most likely will tell us to STOP Coaching.

    As you know, I really like to measure outcomes,
    and in the Case of “Coaching” Poor Performers then the Company does NOT benefit.
    “Poor Sales Performers” can be the bottom 40% of a Salesforce. On Rare occasions it can reach up to
    75% of the Company’s Salesforce!

    No benefit to the Company by Coaching!

    The Return on Coaching Effort [another KPI called ROCE]
    is nothing, nada, zip; which like ‘Teaching a Pig to Sing’,
    the longer it goes on, the more annoyed the Pig gets.

    Coaching, with the rare exception of an enthusiastic new hire, does not work for Poor Performers!

    Who should we Coach?

    Top Performers, who WANT more Coaching.
    If Tiger Woods fires you, then like Butch Harmon, just walk away, Phil Mickelson is going to ask for you anyway!

    Good Coaches are ALWAYS in demand.

    High Average Performers, give the highest individual Return on Coaching Effort, so that’s GOOD for the Company,
    and they are happy to pay the Coach’s Salary.

    Average Performers, who incidentally are ‘below’ Target
    and are ‘poor’ Net Profit Contributors, their future is either to become a Performer or a Poor Performer. Sales Managers have to decide, is this a worthwhile investment of my Coaching Effort? Will I get the Company a worthwhile Return? [Or am I teaching another Pig, to sing?]

    A, B, C? Never liked it when it was Always be Closing,
    and ABC is too narrow a bandwidth to describe Salespeople.

    If you read my blog above I used 5×10, a bandwidth of 50 to help me decide where best to Invest my Coaching Effort, and deliver the Highest Returns to the Company.

    I will invest time, in exchange for ENTHUSIASM towards being Coached. But, not much time or effort if I do not see a fast result, and I mean in Days!

    So, EVERYBODY gets SOME coaching.

    If your singing does not get better and you get annoyed…………….Good Luck!

    Great Blog, Dave.
    REAL Selling and REAL Sales Management:
    “How you play the game, determines your score!”
    Best, BMAC

    • Wow Brian! Your comment is a blog in itself. You hit the nail on the head. Everyone benefits from great coaching—the coachee, the coach, the company, the customer……. With such great return on this, it’s hard to imagine why managers don’t do it –or don’t to it effectively.

  3. “What if the person isn’t coachable? Fire that person!”

    Just before you ‘fire’ them,
    or lose your own job, have a read at this:

    It MAY not be a Coaching ‘problem’. :))

    Again, Thank You Dave – GREAT Topic,
    at EXACTLY the right time of Year Q4 heading for Q1

  4. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, recently I was at a US Marine Birthday ball and guess what the speaker, John Church, Col. USMC talked about – coaching, training and mentoring. He gave an example of how the sergeant major in his unit coached, trained and mentored his marines so that he brought out the best of all the marines. One practice Col. Church uses is that he asks everyone after every mission what they did right and how they all can improve their next mission. Col. Church emphasized that with coaching and training we bring the best out of people that benefits the entire organization and not just one person. To the US veterans it is a culture where mentoring, teaching and coaching is a smart thinking habit. Maybe if we took some of the practices our veterans use on a daily basis we would have better run organizations. Any thoughts?

  5. Fred Swan permalink

    David, the best managers I have ever had coach when you do not even realize it. Normal conversations about scenarios, orders, customer service issues all bring coaching moments.

    They also open communication for the managers to learn real-time for day to day issues. If you keep it light and to the point “sales learning meetings” do not need to exist.

    No need to agree on one solution.


    • Great comment Fred. The best are always finding opportunities to coach. It may be a short comment here, another there–collectively they have an impact.

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