improve sales performance

How On-the-Job Coaching Can Improve Your Sales Performance

On the Job Coaching

According to Neil Rackham, 87% of sales training content is lost after 30 days. How can you stop this loss of investment? Are there better ways to improve sales performance and knowledge?

I’m sure you’ve experienced this before: your employer spends hundreds of thousand of dollars to get all customer-facing sales reps together and ‘brainwash’ you on the latest product updates, sales techniques and SOX-compliance rules.

You spend 10 hours a day in a room with no daylight, using your breaks to make return calls to your clients and prepare your forecast by Friday, only to come back the next day (maybe a little hung-over from a night at the bar) and repeat the whole thing.

By Monday morning, you’re lucky if you remember about half of what was covered. And, according to a study by Neil Rackham, 87% of what you learned is lost within thirty days!

In other words, 87% of what your company spent on training went straight down the drain.

That’s what I call a wasted investment.

So if training alone isn’t enough to improve sales performance, what is?

The Need for On-the-Job Sales Coaching

There’s an awkward period after we learn something new where we try to implement it and fail.

Think about when you were learning to drive a car; how many times did you grind painfully to a halt when you forgot the clutch? Regardless of what you learned in driving school, your dad still had to help you practice it over and over before you got it.

The same goes with sales performance. After a weeklong training, a sales rep might try a new way of approaching a sales call for a few days. But like that car grinding to a halt, the results are often uncomfortable and awkward.

The rep knows this new approach should lead to more conversions, but so far things aren’t going well. He doesn’t have someone there helping him to refine his strategy. So rather than sticking to it, he gives it up and goes back to his old ways.

This is the moment, which Rackham refers to as the ‘incorporation lag,’ where most people feel discouraged by the lack of results and give up. But it’s exactly this moment where continuing with a new behavior brings about the desired outcome.

And the most effective way to encourage new behavior is through coaching.

The Benefits of Good Sales Coaching

What Rackham’s study shows is that on-the-job coaching is a critical component of improving sales performance; way more than the standalone training approach that many companies utilize today.

The study involved an under-performing team of 35 sales reps in Xerox’s Newcastle branch. To improve their sales performance, the company placed the reps into training after training – but the results stayed the same.

So Xerox tried a different approach.

Managers were trained to analyze the selling skills of their reps on-the-job and to systematically coach them when necessary.

After only two months, results improved dramatically.

The Newcastle branch went from 16th place (out of 17) in total sales to 3rd. And after just six-months of on-the-job coaching, they were number one.

 Even more significantly, they cut the calls needed to achieve each order in half.

 The Qualities of a Good Sales Coach

As the team at Newcastle discovered, the presence of good coaching makes a huge difference for sales performance.

But what exactly makes a good coach?

 A good coach encourages by asking, not telling.

Many sales managers set the tone in their teams by telling reps what to do, how to do it, and when.

But the coaches that bring out the best in each rep do so by working with them to understand what their current issues are – to see what’s working and what’s not.

They ask relevant questions that help reps discover what might be missing in their approach. They provide constructive feedback and help reps understand that failures are an inevitable part of the learning process.

 A good coach focuses on improvement first, results second

Too often, managers end up focusing on reaching their quotas at the expense of their reps’ growth (and end up losing a lot good people as a result).

A great coach knows that the more he works with his reps one on one to reach their personal goals, the more the organization as a whole automatically reaches its goals.

A good coach makes changes early on instead of reacting late 

How often have you heard sales managers ask, “How soon is that deal going to close?” “When are they signing the contract?” or, “When’s that order coming in?!?”

These are late-stage questions that usually come when a deal is about to close and there’s not much left to do about it.

A good coach knows how important it is to influence deals early in the cycle, so he makes sure he has the information he needs up front, and provides his reps with exactly the information or techniques they need to drive a deal successfully.

That’s great, but where do we find good coaches???

The good news is you’ve already got a potential coach on every sales team.

The problem is they happen to be too busy with other tasks at the moment.

They are your first-line managers.

In many organizations, sales managers have made reporting numbers to their senior execs a top priority. They end up demanding custom reports, analyses, and endless spreadsheets from their reps rather than actually improving overall sales performance.

Some sales teams spend days if not weeks plugging deal information into Excel for their QBRs, and, as you can guess, not a single deal has ever benefited as a result.

But if your managers are working with tools that give them a complete overview of their sales without any additional reporting, then you’ve got managers that are free to focus their time and energy on one-to-one coaching and bringing out the best in their team.

Great Coaching + Great Training = Awesome Sales Performance

 Once you’ve got a solid coaching atmosphere combined with the right training, you’ve got a combination for a stellar sales performance from every single rep and seriously high quota achievement.

Add to that increased inspiration, lower churn rates, and faster on-boarding, and you’ve got a pretty successful formula on your hands.

So the next time you finish a marathon 10-hour-a-day training, you can rest easy on your flight home knowing that if you can’t remember it all now, you’ve got someone at the office making sure that thirty days later, you will.


What’s the coaching environment like in your sales team? Are your managers helping you to improve your sales performance or are they still hounding you for reports?

Let us know in the comments below!

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