My firm recently surveyed banks about how branch managers spend their time.  The survey covered more than 13,000 branches. The punchline: Banks whose managers spend more time on direct selling than on coaching outsell other banks by more than 30%.

The details get more interesting. The bank that recorded the highest percentage of time on direct selling by managers outsells the average by a good 50%. In average-size branches, this bank's managers allocated 40% of their time to direct selling, 15% on coaching. In practical terms, that is two days a week of direct selling versus one day every two weeks on coaching. 

By contrast the banks with the lowest sales productivity allocate 30% to 65% to coaching, and 5% to 10% to direct selling, almost the exact opposite.    

This is a profound finding and one that banks need to address quickly. While coaching is important, it would appear that “leading by example” is significantly more important. We are sure this finding will get a lot of scrutiny in the coming months as many banks have made huge and ongoing investments made in coaching arena. But on a practical level these results should not be surprising, for three major reasons.

First, branches are small places. What the manager does is more influential than what he or she says. The average number of full-time employees in a branch across the entire 13,000 branch survey was 6.5, and nearly 90% of bank branches had fewer than 10 full-timers.  Any manager worth their salt should be able to drive performance out of such a small cohort through sheer will, determination and drive. One can see how the skills of a natural sales and service leader could be far more influential than the day in and day out routines of most coaching programs – especially with such small work teams. It gets even more absurd. If you develop a program where a manager is supposed to spend 40% of her time coaching and an average branch has six full-time employees (not counting the manager), that adds up to almost 2 hours and 45 minutes of coaching per person per week. 

Second, coaching should not be employed to simply fill in dead spots in the work day. In our 10-bank survey, sales per branch per month averaged about 80 products. Over a 22-day work month, that is less than 4 products per day – in total! If there are three people who can sell, and one is the manager spending 30% of the time coaching, the manager is basically doing no selling.

Third, if you tell managers that their most important job is to coach, then it’s quite possible many managers, who were bred to be strict rule followers, will interpret this to mean selling is not their job but the job of others. The issue, as we have shown above, is that there aren’t that many “others” and there aren’t all that many opportunities on average.  Top performing sales managers in other industries spend their time focused on their largest deals, on their best sales call prospects and on helping, often leading to get the deals done … not simply providing advice to the person running the deals. Selling is “a contact sport” and we fear that too much emphasis on coaching runs the risk of sending the wrong signals to managers.

These coaching insights should begin to influence how banks think about coaching rather than leading.  And we think it has come at just the right time.  As bank branches spend less time on “simple” teller transactions, the successful remaining branches and staffs will be heavily engaged in mostly sales and advice. The models for leadership in these locations will require a new form than what banks have mostly developed in the past and we will need to seriously challenge the notion that “coaching is king.”

Darryl Demos is a Partner in the Boston office of Novantas LLC, a consulting firm.