What is sales coaching?
Sales coaching is a customized learning process for salespeople to build their skills, cover knowledge gaps and gain confidence. This is valuable for sales managers because the better coached a team is, the less hand-holding they need in the future.
Also crucial to note is what sales coaching ISN’T, namely: simply handing sales reps a list of what to do, ignoring their individual merits and shortcomings, and giving the same cookie-cutter advice.
Why is sales coaching important?
Sales coaching is more than a weekly session in a sales rep’s schedule. It is an investment in the long-term growth of the rep and the sales performance of the organization as a whole.
- It builds a positive long-term culture of ongoing improvement and constructive feedback
- It helps sales reps to consistently better performance over time without an urgent focus on numbers
- It enables sales managers to refine the sales processes of their team by knowing their individual strengths and weaknesses
- Annual revenue growth is 16.7% greater for companies that provide sales coaching than for those who don’t
Challenges to sales coaching
If this is the first time your organization is investing time and resources in sales coaching, there might be a few roadblocks. These need to be addressed before the full benefits of sales coaching can be tapped into.
Lack of proper understanding about what makes a sales coaching program
There’s a lot of differing opinions out there about what sales coaching actually is. Ensure your coaches have themselves been coached by experts and are knowledgeable about best practices.
People also often confuse sales coaching with sales training, but they are actually very different.
Sales coaching is the practice of partnering with your sales team, not just managing them. It's the art of teaching and empowering your team to be successful, rather than just instructing them.
Hesitation or unwillingness from the team to invest the time.
Sales coaching involves a level of scrutiny that team members might not initially be comfortable with. To counter this, pair each rep with a coach they would be comfortable with. Give them two or three options and ask them to choose for themselves.
Inability to effectively measure the success of sales coaching.
If it isn’t tracked and measured, did it really happen? When gauging success, don’t go by team feedback or surface-level inspection. Rely on hard data.
You can measure the impact of the sales coaching program by tracking metrics like:
- Win rates
- Number of quality leads generated
- Retention rates
Coaching Sales Managers
Sales performance coaching for managers is akin to leadership training. It consists of two angles that need to be managed at the same time:
- Coaching sales managers so they can be better salespersons and
- Coaching them so they can be better managers
Ignoring either of these aspects leaves the training incomplete, not tapping into their full potential.
When coaching managers, it is important to take into account their experience and ingrained strategies from their time in the field. Some of these might need to be corrected while others should be honed.
The coaching process can be made more engaging by:
- Asking them to share their hands-on knowledge with others in the team through presentations
- Through ‘shadowing’ sessions where sales managers embers observe senior sales leaders in action
Also, sales managers need to be coached on how to lead teams to success. Due to their constant proximity with the reps, sales managers are in a unique position to enable their betterment - but only if they know how to do it correctly. It is not enough to simply allocate tasks and be a link between the client and the rep. Managers need to play a more active role and their coaching sessions can prepare them to do so.
Tips to coach your sales manager
Set aside time specifically for coaching
Your sales managers might not have enough bandwidth to focus on skill growth because of their managerial responsibilities. With sales performance coaching sessions, managers get a dedicated opportunity for self-improvement. This has a positive effect on the organization’s growth.
Keep it interactive
Ask them what they would like to focus on, where they feel they still fall short, or how they would like to contribute more. The answers to these questions can inform the focus of coaching sessions.
Include leadership mindset coaching
It is not enough to just be promoted to the post of a manager. There are inherent beliefs, attitudes, and ways of doing things that need to be weeded out before a manager can truly start leading.
Thus, a significant part of sales performance coaching for managers should include:
- What their leadership style is
- What blocks them from fully stepping into their role
- How to balance managing with being a friend to the team
- How to balance managerial responsibilities with selling responsibilities
- How to have hard conversations
- How to coach their team even if there aren’t any formal coaching sessions
This kind of leadership mindset coaching empowers sales managers to rise to their role. It enables them to direct their teams to be better sales professionals who hit their targets consistently.
Coaching Sales Teams
To be truly effective, sales coaching for sales teams must focus on self-assessment and self-discovery. Remember- coaching does not equal telling. A list of instructions with no room for mistakes or no emphasis on learning and reflection is not coaching. It’s just another task on your reps' to-do list.
The coaching process can be made more engaging by:
- Building trust through sharing authentic stories
- Letting the rep’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and ambitions inform the direction of coaching
One rep might want to get better at cold calling, while another might want to learn how to handle impatient clients. Let them set their own goals and share where they feel lacking. Craft a formalized plan on them based on the information they provide.
Throughout the process, provide encouragement. Pick them up when they seem disheartened. Share stories from your own times in the field (both past and real-time) to assure them that despite their mistakes along the way, they can still become capable salespeople.
Even as you share information, be aware that reps will learn just as much (if not more) through observing you closely. Give them the opportunity and let them in your world through authentic stories.
Tips to coach your sales team
Focus on specific skills
To do this, let your reps rate their sales skills in different areas (cold calling, emailing, pitching, closing a deal, etc.). Then, match their self-assessment against their actual performance data. Based on the results, you can determine their skill strengths and weaknesses. Coach them so that they simultaneously refine their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses.
Focus on specific tactics
It is no secret that different clients need different tactics to close a deal. In fact, even different stages of a sale with the same client may need different methods. It is, thus, only wise that sales performance coaching for sales teams includes guidance about which tactic to use when.
During the crucial first call, is it better if your sales rep leads with observations instead of questions? When building relationships, should they use the SPIN sales methodology or the MEDDIC sales methodology? Does it make sense to arrive at the pitch meeting early on or on time? All these questions can be hashed out and tested during the coaching process.
Evergreen sales coaching principles
The aim of sales coaching is to provide an environment for sales professionals to become capable and empowered. The following evergreen principles help to build that environment while encouraging improvement in sales performance.
Get to know the person being coached
At its heart, sales coaching is guiding and advising rather than straight-up educating. You need to spend time getting to know the coachee’s individual strengths and weaknesses before you begin coaching them.
Quotas and compensation are not enough to keep a team motivated. If they were, there would be no need for sales coaching. So first, the coach needs to find out what motivates the coachee. The best way to do this? Repeatedly ask ‘why?’ to get to the bottom of what they do.
Also, ask them what stops them from reaching for more or enhancing their performance. ‘Why not?’ is a good question to find the roots of their hesitations. The answer they give will be the big obstacle you consistently attempt to overcome during your coaching sessions.
Develop a systematic coaching structure
A formal, well-structured sales coaching program encourages buy-in from the leadership and brings an element of seriousness and commitment for the parties involved. The structure can detail:
The areas to focus on (based on information gathered from the last step)
The cadence of the live sessions
Learning materials (videos, quizzes, articles) that will be referenced and used
The goals and objectives that the manager hopes the rep will achieve by the end of the coaching
A well-developed sales coaching plan fosters transparency for leaders, managers, and reps. It also clarifies the level of commitment that would be required. Reps can divide their time and energy in alignment with the coaching plan developed without being surprised by the investment required.
Ask and listen
This is an enduring principle throughout the sales coaching process. Listen more than you talk.
This does not mean you should remain silent when the coachee is seeking advice or guidance. It means to guide and lead by asking questions and giving reps a chance to discover the answer to their dilemmas themselves. More often than not, reps might stumble upon the correct answer or insight while talking to you. Try questions like:
What do you think went wrong?
Is this something you’ve faced before?
How did you tackle it then?
Asking questions is also necessary to gather feedback about how the sales coaching sessions are going. Do not assume. Instead, ask questions like:
What do you need from me to achieve your goals?
Is there any aspect of coaching you would like to focus on more?
Is the pace alright?
Do you need more time for integration and implementation?
Add a little gamification spice
Nothing adds flavor and brings motivation quite like healthy competition- even if it’s just with one’s own self. So, encourage a little healthy competition by gamifying reps’ participation in coaching sessions. Some examples of rewards include: monetary incentives, Amazon gift cards, extra holiday bonus, or even their choice of purchase within a certain budget.
These rewards can be given:
For reaching specific milestones
Exhibiting improvement by application of new strategies
Bettering one’s personal metrics like win rates and closed deals
The cycle of positive reinforcement created keeps the reps engaged.
The primary goal of gamification is not to inspire motivation where there is none (although it can do that as well). It is to make the journey of improvement as enjoyable and rewarding as hitting goals and quotas on a regular basis.
Have the data handy at all times
If crucial data like call recordings, deal analytics, etc. are not being stringently recorded in your organization, then that needs to change. The reason is simple: what gets measured, gets improved. These measurements can show if coaching efforts are having a significant impact or not.
Possible metrics you could track for your sales team include:
Performance of a sales rep/ manager at the time of starting coaching
The time they spend on honing a particular skill/ tactic, and
Variation in performance once the knowledge starts being tested in the field
By tracking this information, you can measure improvements in the manager’s and rep’s performance. If the results aren't satisfactory, you can change the approach.
Sales coaching techniques
If you’re at a loss about how to structure your sales coaching sessions, below are some popular sales coaching techniques that you can use to get started:
This is one of the most common sales coaching models and works by asking four questions:
Goals: Where do you want to be?
Reality: Where are you now?
Options: What are the options/ ways to achieve your goals?
Will: Which option are you willing to use?
Pros: Helps to clarify goals and the available methods to achieve them
Cons: Doesn’t elaborate on any method to achieve the set goals and is a bit superficial
This is one of the most common sales coaching models and works by asking four questions:
Outcome- The objective of the coaching session is defined by outlining the goals the coachee wants to achieve
Scale- The coach and the coachee look at the goals set and determine where the latter is w.r.t the goals by using a scale of 1-10
Know-how- The coach helps the coachee understand what skills, knowledge, and training the latter will need to achieve the set goals
Affirm & action- The next step is to affirm any actions the coachee is taking already. Are they helpful in attaining their goals? Or do they need to be changed in some way?
Review: In the next session, the coach begins by holding the coachee accountable and reviewing what steps they took to achieve their goals. The focus is on progress made rather than what wasn’t done.
Pros: Helps to lay out an action plan and achieve goals through positive reinforcement, feedback, and baby steps
Cons: Doesn’t encourage assessment of what’s lacking which might hinder long-term progress
This sales coaching technique focuses on listening and exploring rather than providing straight-up answers. The steps include:
Contract: The process begins with outlining the guidelines of how the session would proceed
Listen: Ask tough questions of your coachee and practice active listening to get to the heart of their issues
Explore: Discuss with them how their current modus operandi might be keeping them professionally stuck
Action: Help them to consider the various actions they can take to progress and arrive upon a final solution
Review: The last step is the differing trait of this model. Here, feedback is given to the coach instead of the coachee.
Pros: Includes feedback on the coach’s performance which encourages continuous improvement of coaching sessions
Cons: No space for reviewing how well the coachee implemented the required actions
Once you’ve evaluated how to set up a sales coaching program in your organization, it’s time to bring in the tools that will help you optimize it.
What tool would be best? Why, a sales coaching software, of course! The right ones allow sales reps to conduct high-quality calls and close deals sooner than they would have without technological aid.
Interested in learning more about the specific ways sales coaching software can help?