Earlier this week I watched as the New England Patriots surprised many by shutting out the Houston Texans in a game that many thought New England would be hard pressed to win. Analysts gave credit to Bill Belichick and his coaching staff for the victory. Other analysts said that as good a coach as Belichick is, the real difference was talent. So that got me to thinking if you’re a leader, which is more important, coaching or talent? If you, as a Sales Manager do a great job of coaching your Account Executives, can you overcome a lack of sales performance talent? On the other hand, if you have talent, will coaching that talent improve their abilities? I’m not sure that my answer will satisfy you, but here it is. I think that the best organizations find a way to recruit great talent, and then they coach the hell out of them, leading them to greater success. My answer is that you must have BOTH, great talent and also great coaching, to achieve your highest potential.
Start With Great Talent, Every Chance You Get – Wise Sales leaders recognize that putting the most talented sales professionals you can onto your team is a great start. The challenge is that eminently talented sales professionals do not grow on trees, and for many companies, recruiting them to your company proves to be a significant challenge. For companies who have the wherewithal to recruit the best talent, the choice is clear, hire the very best people you can. For those who have not yet achieved household name brand status, you need to ensure that you emphasize how your company is going to become a great place to work, and a place where your people are cherished and developed into top performers. You must recruit the best, and do everything you can to train and develop your team so that they perfect their ability to perform.
Manage Your Team To Retain The Best, and Repair or Replace The Rest – If you don’t treat your people like they are your most valued asset, you will not be able to retain them in a competitive marketplace. Get the right people into the right roles, figure out who is a hunter and who is a farmer, and get them into a position that fits their skill set. Reward your top performers for delivering results, and reward them fairly and well. Any sales team will have top performers and a larger contingent of people learning to become top performers. Invest in training and developing your team so that the middle performers are ascending to become top performers, and your bottom performers are either learning to ascend as well or are being replaced after a fair chance to improve. You must repair people who under-perform, or move them out. Most companies move under-performers out too quickly, or too slowly. Is there anything more unfair than terminating someone before they’ve had a chance to learn their job? Of course not. On the other hand, too many people tolerate individuals who are struggling and not improving. Nothing demotivates your top performers faster than having to carry more quotas so the company can continue to invest in a bottom-feeder. Work aggressively to improve your salespeople who are struggling, and if time proves that they cannot or will not change their game for the better, cut them loose, with sensitivity and humanity.
When You Cannot Hire Your Competition’s Best, Develop Your Own – I have worked for several mid-sized companies who claimed that they could not afford to hire sales talent at market rates. Rather than mope, I reconciled myself to the idea that we would need to recruit at the colleges and develop our own farm club and build our own team of greats. By hiring young people with energy and a willingness to be coached, you set yourself up for long-term success. Honestly, the best way to build a great sales team is to mix up your hiring and hire as many top performers as you can afford, and invest even more in developing the next generation of sales greats from the colleges and universities in your area. Give those young whippersnappers all the training and coaching they can handle. Pair them up with seasoned pros, putting them on inside sales roles and business development roles on a team with a seasoned sales superstar. Encourage the superstar to help you develop and train the whippersnappers, and before long, they’ll be challenging you to give them an outside sales territory of their own. I’ve seen this strategy work again and again. It’s like magic.
Coach Your Team On Developing Their Ability to Run Your Sales System – Too much time gets spent by sales people on distractions and activities that will not lead to closing the best prospects and opportunities. Coach your sales people to be able to assess their territory and their opportunities to identify the best opportunities and prospects, the ones that can lead to closed business. Teach your sales AEs to think critically, and to ensure that the prospects and customers who they’re spending time with have the opportunities that they should be investing their precious time on because time spent on those opportunities WILL lead to wins. Don’t let your AEs get into a rut and see the same customers and prospects out of habit. Help them refine their skills and manage their customer relationships based upon a plan that shows strategic leverage.
So, what’s your answer, is coaching more important than talent, or will talent trump great coaching? I had a lively conversation with my son over breakfast this morning about whether coaching trumps talent or whether talent tops coaching. His answer? It’s a trick question; you need to have BOTH. Of course! In a sales context, you must have BOTH! When you have one or the other, your team can achieve a level of performance somewhere between mediocrity and goodness. If you want to achieve greatness, you’re going to have to pair great talent up with great coaching. When those two are present in abundance, your team will accelerate, and you will begin to achieve sales greatness. Redouble your efforts to recruit great talent, and mentor and coach them to make the most of their talent.
Michael enjoys coaching Sales Managers and Directors to help them to develop a winning sales culture within their team and within their larger organization. Helping sales teams to find their mojo and to grow their revenues by double digits year over year is not only possible, but it becomes probable when you get beyond artistic and into the realm of scientific with your sales management team. Sales Managers want to believe that there are secrets or that there are magic answers to their sales growth problems. The reality is far more mundane than magic. The reality is that hard work and intelligent strategic choices about where to invest time will do more for your revenue growth than magic pills. If you’d like to receive a free copy of Michael’s 25 Best Sales Practices, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael and his team will send you the Best Practices free of charge and get you started on your way to double-digit sales growth. Focus on the basics and help your team to use their time wisely, developing a greater sales approach using their strategic experience.