Continuous Coaching: Moving Feedback Beyond the FCR
Feature Story – By Ted Power
The average life sciences sales organization follows a traditional coaching plan — relying on a steady cadence of ride-alongs, followed up by field coaching reports (FCRs) to keep employees on track.
But is average really what you’re shooting for?
Now more than ever, sales organizations need managers to provide coaching more frequently, not just during a field ride or in an FCR. That’s why they need to work with their sales representatives to ensure they are continuously learning and growing. “Checking” the coaching box is not good enough, especially given the speed at which the business landscape is changing.
So, what can your sales organization do to get ahead of the pack?
Better than average performance isn’t going to happen in a vacuum — especially in sales. It takes consistent engagement, not only on the part of employees but also on the part of their managers. In fact, according to recent research by Gallup, managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.
That’s why coaching is the secret ingredient that the highest performing sales organizations are using to elevate themselves and their teams above the average. Sales coaching, it turns out, is a leading indicator that really matters. In fact, in a Forbes/Brainshark study, 74 percent of top companies said sales coaching and mentoring is the most important role front-line sales managers play.
It goes without saying that the managers of those highest performing teams are not limiting their coaching to every five to six weeks on a field ride. Top managers know they cannot rely on FCRs alone to engage and develop their sales teams. They are coaching continuously, augmenting ride-alongs and providing a stream of
real-time feedback to sales representatives that coincides with behavior — allowing managers to reinforce or correct behavior while it is still top of mind.
This might sound like common sense to you — but if so, you’re in the minority. Most sales organizations aren’t there yet. In many cases this is because they are working within a system that is built solely around the FCR process or within the confines of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool that cannot support a robust, always-on coaching program.
FCRs are certainly still a useful tool in the war chest of life sciences sales coaches. They are a critical way to get a firsthand understanding of how representatives are performing in the field. But your sales organization should not be using them alone.
Here are some common issues we’ve encountered with our clients whose coaching has relied mainly on traditional FCRs:
- FCRs often exist in isolation, with no way to connect them to other systems (or other developmental activities).
- It is difficult to aggregate and track FCRs to build analytics and dashboards.
- FCRs tend to be a one-way tool, with no collaboration or self-directed coaching.
- FCRs are too often the one and only form of recorded feedback between a manager and sales representative.
- The FCR interface is often clunky and not user friendly, with no mobile technology integration — meaning managers must complete them later and rely on notes or memory.
- FCRs are infrequent. Feedback given only once a month or quarter is too intermittent to have a lasting impact.
If you want to beat the averages, an FCR should only be your starting point, not the place where you rest on your laurels. Good coaching processes for FCRs and beyond should include the following best practices:
- Timely Delivery: Feedback should be given as closely as possible to the event (positive or negative) that prompts it. Ensure that you are giving feedback immediately by using a cloud-based coaching solution that allows spontaneous observations at a teachable moment. Augment FCRs with timely “micro-feedback” as issues arise, or successes happen between ridealongs.
- Clear and Actionable Goal Setting: Your feedback should have a way to provide strong, clear structure for goal setting and long-term development that extends beyond FCR feedback or quotas. These goals could be set by managers, trainers, coaches or the employees themselves, and include milestones, action items and feedback against these specific objectives.
- Continuity from Previous Feedback: Before a field visit or ride along, a manager should be able to easily review previous FCRs, “micro feedbacks” and coaching plans for each representative. Having this available in one easy-to-access place creates a coaching journey for each representative and continuity in your feedback.
- Employee-involved Coaching: Coaching — whether FCRs or other feedback — should happen on a multilateral platform that allows consistent communication and empowers employees to participate in the process. Because employees learn and develop in different ways, you should leverage adult learning theory to offer a variety of coaching styles, including video, written feedback, comprehensive assessments and other formal and informal coaching tools.
- Accessible Anywhere: Today’s workforce is highly influenced by the consumption habits of millennials, so you’ll want to implement coaching and feedback processes that are social and mobile, meeting employees whereever they are. Life sciences representatives spend most of their time in the field and on the road, and they need a coaching environment that can travel with them.
- Integrated Training and Connected Learning: All too often, FCR processes operate in isolation. Expand feedback by integrating and aligning coaching and feedback with training, goal setting, sales performance and your LMS — so that all these aspects of employee development are in communication and sync.
If you put those best practices into place around your FCR process, experts say, you are likely to see a trickle-down effect that can yield:
- Clearer, documented communication
- Outcome-focused activity
- Better alignment to goals
- More open, honest dialogue
- Higher levels of accountability
- More flexibility and growth
- Increased sense of belonging
- Employee empowerment
- More initiative and energy
- Higher engagement for representatives and managers
- Better retention
- Improved relationships and trust building between employee and manager
What will this extra effort get you? According to CSO Insights, companies whose sales representatives get less than 30 minutes of coaching a week have a win rate of 43 percent, but when representatives are coached more than two hours a week, that win rate kicks up to 56 percent.
Will your team get the additional feedback resources it needs to exceed expectations?
Ted Power is chief customer officer for iCoachFirst. Email Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org.