HBR: The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching

Below is a blog post by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. How does coaching work in your sales organization?

The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching

Most sales and service organization have invested more time and effort in the past five years in improving managers’ coaching of reps than they did in the previous 50. This makes perfect sense: research by the Sales Executive Council 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 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. In research involving thousands of reps, we found that coaching — even world-class coaching — has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization. You’d think that coaching the lowest performers would pay off because they have nowhere to go but up. Actually, that’s often not true, particularly for the bottom 10%. These reps, we’ve found, are less likely to be underperformers who can improve, and more likely to be a bad fit for the role altogether. That’s not a really something coaching can fix. It’s likely a different kind of conversation altogether (often involving HR).

Likewise, star-performing reps show virtually no performance improvement due to coaching either. While our research shows that there are some important retention benefits from coaching your high performers, it would be nice to think that great coaching (especially from former high-performers) makes your stars just a little more stellar. But that’s just not the case.

Our conclusion? The real payoff from good coaching lies among the middle 60% — your core performers. For this group, the best-quality coaching can improve performance up to 19%.* In fact, even moderate improvement in coaching quality — simply from below to above average — can mean a six to eight percent increase in performance across 50% of your sales force. Often as not, that makes the difference between hitting or missing goals.

At the end of the day, who your managers coach is just as important as how they coach. The data clearly suggest that organizations should do away with coaching democratically and instead shift the majority of their coaching focus away from low and star performers and towards the core.

This may be a hard pill to swallow. Despite the evidence, we find that this recommendation doesn’t sit well with all sales leaders or sales managers. Sales leaders argue that coaching should be delivered in an egalitarian fashion and balk at the notion of targeting coaching by performance level. Managers are quick to point to their own success turning around low performers through intensive one-on-one coaching. Several years after we first unveiled it, this finding continues to be a white-hot topic of debates among sales leaders.

How does coaching work in your sales organization? Is it democratic, targeted, or just non-existent?

Harvey Mackay: The 7 Cs of Success

Below is a blog post from Harvey Mackay . Mackay’s Moral: Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people because they are determined to.

The 7 Cs of Success

On the road to success, you may take a few detours, hit some roadblocks and arrive at a different place than you’d planned. I’m still on my journey, and I’m offering you my map for smooth sailing, traveling the Seven Cs of Success.

Clarity: 80 percent of success comes from being clear about who you are, what you believe in and what you want. But you must remain committed to what you want and make sure those around you understand what you’re hoping to accomplish.

A young mathematician was commissioned during wartime as captain of a submarine. Eager to impress his crew and to stress how important it is to strictly observe all safety procedures, the young captain called them all together for a meeting. His instructions went like this:

“I have developed a simple method that you would all do well to learn. Every day, count the number of times the submarine has dived since you boarded. Add to this the number of times it has surfaced. If the sum you arrive at is not an even number—don’t open the hatches.”

Competence: You can’t climb to the next rung on the ladder until you are excellent at what you do now.

Just remember two more things: 1) The person who knows “how” will always have a job, and 2) the person who knows “why” will always be the boss.

Constraints: 80 percent of all obstacles to success come from within. Find out what is constraining you or your company and deal with it.

The Gallup Organization conducted a survey on why quality is difficult to achieve. The greatest percentage listed: financial constraints. Often our lives and careers are shaped by kind of surroundings we place ourselves in and the challenges we give ourselves.

Consider, for example, the farmer who won a blue ribbon at the county fair. His prize entry? A huge radish the exact shape and size of a quart milk bottle. Asked how he got the radish to look just like a quart milk bottle, the farmer replied, “It was easy. I got the seed growing and then put it into the milk bottle. It had nowhere else to go.”

Concentration: The ability to focus on one thing single-mindedly and see it through until it’s done is critical to success.

Great athletes are known for their concentration and focus. As golf great Ben Hogan once stood over a crucial putt, a loud train whistle suddenly blared in the distance. After he had sunk the putt, someone asked Hogan if the train whistle had bothered him.

“What whistle?” Hogan replied.

And let’s not forget Yankee great and America’s favorite philosopher Yogi Berra, who said “You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.

Creativity: Be open to ideas from many sources. Surround yourself with creative people. Creativity needs to be exercised like a muscle: If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Studies indicate that, between ages 5 and 17, there is an extreme drop in the creativity level in both male and female students. As you grow older, your creativity level decreases proportionally. The good news is that this trend is reversible, as long as you keep challenging yourself. Consider Grandma Moses, who didn’t start painting until age 80 and went on to produce more than 1,500 works of art.

Courage: Most in demand and least in supply, courage is the willingness to do the things you know are right. Courage, contrary to popular belief, is not the absence of fear. Courage is having the heart to act in spite of fear. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Continuous learning: Set aside some time every day, every week and every month to improve yourself. To stay miles ahead of the competition, read trade publications or books, or listen to business CDs during your commute to and from work. Go back to school and take additional classes, or join groups or organizations… Whatever it may be, just never stop learning.

5 Secrets to Learning Better

Below is a blog post from LeadingBlog.

5 Secrets to Learning Better

With exam season upon us in the northern hemisphere, experimental psychologist Tom Stafford has offered some lessons for learning better. He and his colleague Mike Dewar, studied how people learn to play an online game. “Computer games provide a great way to study learning: they are something people spend many hours practicing, and they automatically record every action people take as they practice. Players even finish the game with a score that tells them how good they are.” 

Here is what they found:

1.    Space Your Practice. Cramming isn’t the answer. You should space out your studying. People who spaced out their practicing scored higher. “In fact, the longer the gaps the higher the scores.”

2.    Make Sure You Fail Occasionally. People that were the most inconsistent in the beginning had better scores later on. People who did better didn’t worry about making mistakes. They explored and made mistakes.

3.    Practice the Thing You’ll be Tested On. If your exam is an essay, then you need to practice writing. If it is fact retrieval then you need to practice retrieving information. Practice exams make good sense.

4.    Structure Information, Don’t Try to Remember It. There is almost no correlation between trying to remember something and actually remembering it. Our brains remember by making connections to existing memory. “You need to reorganize the information in some way – whether by making notes of your notes, thinking about how what you’re reading relates to other material, or practicing writing answers.”

5.    Rest and Sleep. Studying all night doesn’t help you. “New research shows that a brief rest after learning something can help you remember it a week later. Other experiments have shown that a full night’s sleep helps you learn new skills or retain information. Even napping can help consolidate your memories, and maybe even make you more creative.” Get your sleep. It’s more important than another hour of study.

A One Minute Tip for Changing the Way You Set Goals

Originally posted on How We Lead:

Business People Shaking Hands At DeskAll good performance starts with clear goals. That’s why Spencer Johnson and I made sure that the First Secret of The New One Minute Manager® is One Minute Goals. This is illustrated perfectly in the children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which path she should take. The Cheshire Cat responds, “That depends on where you want to go.” When Alice says she doesn’t know, the smiling cat says, “Then it doesn’t matter.” The same is true in the work environment. If people don’t have a clear understanding of where they are going and what they need to focus on, they can’t perform at their highest level.

The secret of setting One Minute Goals is for the leader to work side by side with each direct report to write goal statements that include performance standards, so that both people agree on what needs to…

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What Do Workers Want? Better communication with their leader for starters

Originally posted on Blanchard LeaderChat:

Business InterviewEarlier this month, I noticed that a few of my Facebook friends were posting a link to a Wall Street Journal post titled What Do Workers Want from the Boss?

The article describes the results of a Gallup study showing that employees want communication, a trusting relationship, and clear measurement standards from their immediate supervisor.

I messaged some of my friends to learn why they posted the article. They all replied that the findings matched their own experience and they wanted to share. In fact, each of them told me about how a negative experience in one of these areas had resulted in their search for a new place to work.

That’s pretty sad.

The findings identified in the Gallup study are consistent with those uncovered through research by The Ken Blanchard Companies on the subject of Employee Work Passion. We frame these elements as Connectedness with Leader, Feedback, and

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The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See by Max H. Bazerman is fantastic book. Below is an excerpt from the book about leadership and first-class noticers.

A NOTICING MIND-SETThe Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See

Before reading further, try to remember a crisis that surprised you or your organization. (Stop and really do this.) Now imagine that you are telling a close friend, someone from outside the organization, the story of that crisis: what happened, who did what, and what resulted. Your friend’s response would very likely be “Why didn’t anyone see that coming?” Keeping in mind the actual crisis, think through what your answer would be. (Again, please actually do this before reading ahead. Even better, write your answer on a piece of paper.)

Was your response something like one of the following?

  • No one could have predicted what happened.
  • The odds of its happening were so low that it didn’t seem worthy of consideration.
  • It wasn’t my job to see the warning signs.
  • There are so many possible crises at any given moment that we couldn’t reasonably have known that this was the one that would get us.

Or was your response something more like one of these?

  • I didn’t examine what threats were confronting our organization.
  • I didn’t think about how other parties could affect our organization.
  • I didn’t ask others about what data were missing.
  • I didn’t search hard enough for more options for my organization to consider.

Do you see the difference between the two lists? The first consists of external attributions. These explanations focus on factors outside your control; the problem was the situation, not you. In contrast, the second group consists of internal attributions for the failure, things you realize you could have done better. Most crises are due to both internal and external causes: you and the organization were in a tough environment fraught with unfortunate and surprising conditions, and you and your colleagues didn’t anticipate and manage the crisis as well as you could have.

A well-established social science research finding is that when we think of our successes, we tend to come up with internal attributions. We focus on what we did right to affect the ultimate result. By contrast, when we think of our failures, we tend to come up with external attributions; we blame others, the context, or circumstances beyond our control.” Executives who have a fantastic year often take personal credit for their success, or if they are more generous, they credit their management team. But executives who suffer severe setbacks are quick to attribute these results to economic conditions, market trends, or government interventions.

First-class noticers, however, are more consistent. Even when failures occur, they focus on what they did and, more important, on what they could do differently in the future. As a result, they avoid repeating their mistakes. It is this focus on self-improvement that allows us to learn from experience and develop the tendencies needed to become first-class noticers.

Forrester: B2B Customer Experience Is Grounded In Collaborative Relationships

TJ Keitt wrote a blog post on Forrester. Do you have a strong customer base to effectively collaborate with your customers?

B2B Customer Experience Is Grounded In Collaborative Relationships

Posted by TJ Keitt on April 10, 2015

On a recent podcast with my colleagues Deanna Laufer and Sam Stern, I was asked about the difference between business-to-consumer () and business-to-business () customer experience (). My answer is what I believe is the problem that vexes professionals trying to establish programs in firms: In a given account there isn’t one “customer”; there are many stakeholders whose interactions with the firm must help them be successful in their work. This puts stress on the organization — how do you coordinate these many experiences to ensure each of these stakeholders gets the value they seek from the firm?

In my report Customer Collaboration Powers Customer Experience, I propose the path to solving this problem starts with professionals embracing the concept of customer collaboration. We define this as the reciprocal exchange of valuable insights and information between a vendor and its client stakeholders. Done correctly, this is a continuous set of interactions that happens throughout the account’s life, as the picture below illustrates.

Forrester B2B

Now some of you may be saying to yourselves that your business is purely transactional and your clients aren’t seeking this type of relationship. I would argue that those transactions won’t be satisfactory for your clients if you don’t develop relationships that help you tune them. For example, CDW revamped its customer feedback surveys, ensuring that more clients had the opportunity to give their perspective on their interactions with the value-added reseller. In so doing, they were able to gather leads for potential upsells or cross-sales. Others of you may argue that your customer bases are too large or too disintermediated by partners to do this consistently. Here I would argue that this is where a strong CX ecosystem can help you effectively collaborate with your customers.

In the report, we state that there are two ways to effect collaborative relationships:

  1. Facilitate collaboration between customers and partners.
  2. Participate in a collaborative network with partners and customers.

In the former condition, B2B CX organizations create environments that allow for customers to help each other or for partners to provide those valuable insights. For example, Rackspace Support Network — an online community the company operates — provides a venue for over 5,000 enterprise technologists to discuss amongst themselves issues with Rackspace’s technology, as well as helping each other find solutions. The result? A 50% reduction in over-the-phone support calls, as well as substantial reductions in trouble-ticket submissions and online chat sessions.

In the latter scenario, B2B CX organizations carefully select high-value customers and partners to work with directly. For example, file synchronization and sharing service provider Box’s customer success organization rolls out new features and functions to those accounts that have agreed to help the cloud services provider test, iterate on and verify the efficacy of these new capabilities.

In either case, a company will only be successful if they’ve built a network of partners and customers who trust the company enough and feel there is enough value for them to share insights with the company or each other. The question now, though, is how B2B CX pros help their organizations decide when to simply facilitate collaboration and when to participate in the collaborative network. And this leads to the next logical area of investigation in our B2B CX research: Who is the “customer” B2B CX organizations must focus on?

B2B CX organizations must understand which stakeholders in their accounts carry the most influence over the ultimate disposition of the account (i.e. whether the client renews at a higher, similar or lower level) and at which stage of the account’s lifecycle they play the biggest role. Our work here will help CX pros understand how to:

  1. Identify the consequential parts of the account lifecycle
  2. Find the key influencers (visible and hidden) at each point in that lifecycle
  3. Build a CX organization to address the needs of these key people
  4. Work with the CX ecosystem to care for the rest of the stakeholders

If you would like to participate in this next iteration of this research, feel free to reach out to me. And if you have thoughts you’d like to share about customer collaboration, please share them in the comments section below.