Is It Coaching or Flogging? What’s Behind the Numbers?

Darryl Demos, of the consulting firm Novantas, reported last week that his firm conducted research of retail bank branches, and found that in branches where the manager did less direct selling and more coaching, the branch sold less.

This is not surprising for many reasons.  The first, cited by Mr. Demos, is that branches are generally small, and if you take out the branch manager who ought to be the top salesperson, it puts a big dent in results. 

The second reason is that coaching is not an activity to be engaged in to fill in downtime.  If there is any downtime, it should be devoted to more selling.  The average branch sold just 80 products per month.

And finally, managers are told to coach more frequently, so they do, and this over-emphasis on coaching rather than selling, is hurting sales. Mr. Demos makes the point that sales skill modeling by a competent manager ought to engage the rest of the sales team by sheer force of will.  I liked these conclusions but I have just one idea to consider.

Perhaps you remember my post “If By Whiskey” on June 24th?  Novantas may have surveyed the branch managers to find out how much time they spent selling or coaching, and when told the managers were coaching for say 30% of their time, they probably wrote down “Coaching 30%.” 

But if by coaching, the managers were telling people what went wrong and who was to blame, then the time spent coaching could not have been very effectively used.  On the other hand, if by coaching, the managers were having a positive discussion resulting in greater performance, I believe the sales results would have been much greater.  There is no excuse for selling only 4 products a day if the coaching had been effective.

In other words, despite how extensive the research was, we have no idea what took place in “coaching,” and this is important, because in my experience most of the coaching I’ve seen in banks has been poor.

Recently I helped a retail bank on an outbound call campaign to an affluent market segment.  For the front-line sales team we conducted workshops on tele-consulting, designed to engage customers on issues such as banking preferences, service issues and overall satisfaction. After the workshops we sent them to the phones to make live calls which we observed and coached.  I gave the sales managers a separate workshop on coaching skills, modeled how they should “sound” and had them practice, which they did well.

But once they began to coach the live calls, they couldn’t restrain themselves. “You forgot to tell the customer about the campaign.  Your greeting was weak.  You left out the question about overall satisfaction…” and so on.

After one particularly poor call debrief conducted by TWO managers, who tag-teamed their abuse on the poor salesperson, I called the managers aside and asked, “Guys, what just happened here?  Walk me through your coaching conversation. What did you do?”  And it was then that they realized, “Oh wow!  I didn’t do this very well at all.”

I believe Novantas got the numbers right, but I’ll bet what the managers thought was coaching was not coaching at all.  And that’s important.

Coaching is designed to improve performance, period.  It’s not about beating people up, making them feel bad and harming sales performance.  It’s hard to do. It must be modeled and practiced.  The coach must have confidence in the employee and treat him or her kindly. In other words,  

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

One Response to Is It Coaching or Flogging? What’s Behind the Numbers?

  1. darryl demos says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful response. A few points to clarify.

    1. We agree that coaching can mean different things to different people and that it needs to be clarified, done well and is a valuable tool

    2. From a data gathering point of view, you should know we did not rely on individual branch manager responses to how they spent their time but took the data from job and role descriptions … that is how are jobs structured and how are managers instructed to spend their time.

    3. The major finding was really that the more a manager spends on direct selling, the better off the branch is from a productivity point of view … it is not to say that coaching isn’t important. It just makes sense that in very small teams, with not all that much opportunity for upselling, what a manager does can be as if not more important than what they say

    4.Part of the point of the analysis is to exactly prevent the type of “loose” interpretations you speak of in your piece. We think that for small locations such as branches direct selling of the managers is critical and we need to be specific in prioritizing sales, as well as providing a proper definition of an role for coaching in such locations. We agree that leadership is too loose on the “coaching” process and hopefully this quantitative finding will help reinvigorate a closer inspection and application of all the sales tools at the disposal of retail banks, including coaching

    Thanks again for your thoughts

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