The Ultimate sales coaching guide

Introduction

“Everyone needs a coach.”

Bill Gates used this phrase to open his TED Talk with impact. Interestingly, the point he emphasizes — and the single common attribute of all high-performing individuals, from CEO billionaires and singers on The Voice, to Hollywood celebrities and Olympic athletes — is the best of the best have great coaches. Sales managers and reps need great coaches, too.

Sales coaching is all about looking forward and developing your people to increase their performance, and it’s growing in importance. High-revenue growth companies are reaping the rewards; 54% of high-performing companies are using sales coaching more than in the past, and 60% use sales coaching as an integrated part of a sales training program.

These are a few of the research findings from a study on "Maximizing Performance with Sales Coaching."

Investing in sales coaching pays off. There is a cause and effect relationship between developing your people and your sales results. Although this may seem like common sense, too many companies ignore the connection or don’t act on it. Research shows that 53% of individuals who work at companies that achieve high-revenue growth believe sales coaching is always or almost always effective. In essence, these high-revenue growth companies invest more in coaching and get better results than lower revenue growth companies.

Coaching is about looking forward and developing people.”

Sales Coach

What is Sales Coaching?

Sales coaching is a process of developing people to reach their next level of excellence and performance by helping them master skills and overcome obstacles to success. Coaching is a critical component of continuous improvement.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of coaching — tactical, in-the-moment coaching and more strategic coaching. Tactical coaching includes observation of sales calls and interaction with immediate feedback. Strategic coaching includes advancing opportunities, maximizing territory and call planning. Both types of coaching are valuable.

Sales coaching involves providing constructive, truthful and specific feedback. Rather than telling the team what to do, or doing the job themselves, a sales coach:

  • Guides reps to discover how to achieve their objectives
  • Corrects behaviors that don’t have an impact
  • Reinforces behaviors that lead to success
  • Develops skills

It’s important for both sales managers and sales reps to realize that even when you are at the top of your game, it is difficult to maintain that level of performance by yourself. No one can be successful long term, alone and in a vacuum. Success requires a team effort.

Teaching and training involve an expert teacher who imparts knowledge to their students.

Coaching involves the belief that the individual has the answers to their own problems within them.

Mentoring is similar to coaching. There is general agreement that a mentor is a guide who is more skilled, knowledgeable and experienced, who helps someone to learn or develop faster than they might do alone.

What is Sales Coaching
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What’s the Difference between a
Sales Coach, Sales Trainer, and Sales Manager?

A coach, trainer and manager are three different roles.

  • • A sales coach is a trusted expert who helps optimize performance through guidance and perspective. Coaching is all about looking forward and developing people.

  • • A sales trainer, on the other hand, is an instructor who teaches foundational skills through structured lessons. Training is where skills are developed through repetitive practice, trial and error, and muscle memory.

  • • A sales manager is focused on achieving and exceeding revenue numbers. Often, it’s a challenge for sales managers to understand that they need to provide both training and coaching to their team.

They don’t necessarily know how to coach, especially if they are focused on getting the sales manager’s job done effectively or have not been trained to coach other salespeople — plus, managing and coaching are very different skillsets. This is why your best performing sales leaders are not necessarily your best coaches if they are thrown into the role.

By implementing this trifecta of sales coaching, training and management, you’ll have a well-rounded team prepared to manage conversations with buyers, turn those buyers into customers, and ultimately reach or exceed their revenue goals.

  • Coaching
  • Managing
  • Training
  • Developer

  • Teacher

  • Evaluator

  • Resource

  • Instructor

  • Expert

  • Questioner/ Collaborator

  • Structured Lessons

  • Directive Communication

Why Should You Consider
Sales Coaching?

Training develops salespeople, coaching develops sales champions. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), the average company can expect a return of seven times their initial investment in coaching.

Sales coaching is the most effective method to reinforce the skills learned in sales training. According to the Association for Talent Development, 70% of the skills gained during sales training will be lost within three months without reinforcement.

Sales coaching involves listening to reps and focusing on what support they need to be successful. It accelerates training by providing individualized attention for each rep. Coaching reinforces what was learned and keeps performance consistent over time. And, did you know that 63% of salespeople demonstrate behaviors that actually drive their performance down?

That’s right — research published by Harvard Business Review found that only a third of sales teams actually perform consistently. The study says that CEOs were investing more than ever in their salesforces, but results weren’t improving. To understand this disconnect, researchers observed 800 sales professionals in live sales meetings and discovered eight behavioral tendencies that can be improved upon with sales coaching. This is where managers have a large role to play.

After all, building capability is a top priority for CXOs, and according to McKinsey, coaching sales reps has the biggest impact on capability development. Without focused coaching to introduce behavioral change in your reps, it’s quite possible that your reps may never ramp up effectively. Ultimately, sales coaching for the sake of coaching isn’t enough. For managers to coach effectively, it is crucial to have a structured process where managers can identify gaps and resolve them. Otherwise, you’re just leaving your sales success and revenue to chance. Even the best reps can utilize some tips to improve their behaviors and win rates.

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Who Should Receive Sales Coaching?

For your sales function to operate at a high level, every sales-related role should be supported with coaching. Baseball coaches don’t just work with the pitcher and the best hitter. They work individually with every player to optimize skills, reinforce lessons learned, and provide opportunities for growth. A few star players may win a few games, but only a well-honed team will win across the entire season.

Research bears out this notion. Serving the entire sales organization with sales coaching enables the sales function to operate at a high level. High-growth companies provide sales coaching to a variety of sales roles, including customer service reps, external/field sales reps, business development personnel, and internal/digital sales reps.

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What is the Sales Manager’s Role in Adopting Sales Coaching?

Managers should naturally take on the role of a sales coach, as they are already leading and monitoring performance of their teams every day.

Coaching is a collection of guided skills and strategies that enable a leader to change other people’s behavior in a way needed to achieve better results. Encouraging this change requires a unique relationship and agreement between you as the coach and the other person. It also requires a special kind of tailored communication and tactics. Here’s how you can start:

Define requirements upfront

Getting other people to change requires an agreement between you and the salesperson. When you don’t have that relationship agreement in place with each member of your sales team, you may struggle with enabling change.

For ongoing coaching sessions to really move the performance needle, you and your team must begin with a common goal. It’s essential to brief your team and set expectations upfront.

Both you and the salesperson need to agree on a couple of things before getting started:

Hold each other accountable

Be disciplined and make a commitment with each other to adhere to a schedule, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. Block non-negotiable time on both of your calendars as a recurring meeting invite so all sessions are scheduled in advance. Inevitably, unforeseen things pop up, and that’s ok as long as you reschedule—not cancel— the sales coaching session as soon as possible. Staying accountable and being consistent is the key to making progress.

Define specific sales goals

To narrow down the list of possible things to improve, both you and the salesperson have to look at that salesperson’s strengths and weaknesses and negotiate the short list of things on which to focus.

You both have to agree on how the pipeline and other sales key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used as the barometer for measuring progress.

Be clear about roles

Your role is to help the sales rep develop a major account sales strategy, brainstorm new ideas, discuss challenges, and provide solutions. The sales rep must be open to new ideas and strategies, have a willingness to change and adapt, and stay accountable but realistic with their sales goals.

Demonstrate excitement and commitment

To be a great coach, you need to care deeply about your team, have a positive attitude, and show an excitement and commitment to coaching. One way to demonstrate this is to develop a vision of what your team could become.

    Impact suggests the following question prompts for you to reflect upon:

  • Where do I see myself in one year?
  • Where do I see the team in one year?
  • How will we get there?
  • What can I do to support the team?
  • What challenges should we anticipate?
  • Why is achieving the vision important?
  • As you start to think about and write your vision, remember to keep it action-oriented. Break down each month or quarter into short term sales goals that are more tangible for the team to understand and tactical for achieving results.

    Then, share your vision with your team, ask for their feedback, and get everyone to buy in. Change isn’t always easy for people, so the more you can involve them, the more likely the team will move towards the goal together.

Gain skills as a coach

Even a coach needs a coach. Coaching is a skill set, and coaches need to refine their skills just as sales reps need to build and refine theirs. Often the sales manager is the coach for sales reps within an organization. And that coach has to possess the same expertise that they want the sales reps to have.

A coach must not only have expertise, but also be “consciously competent.” It’s one thing to know how to sell successfully, but it’s another to know how to build that same skillset in other sales reps. There are sales coaching programs for sales managers that build on the selling framework you use and provide a common skillset and toolset, allowing everybody on your sales team to speak the same language and play the same game.

Coaching involves assessment, communication, demonstrations, practice, observation, and effectively communicating feedback. While coaching often involves role modeling, it is not effective when the coach takes over and does the job themselves. Can you imagine a world class coach of an athlete competing instead of the athlete?

Be a role model

By being a role model for your sales team, you’re setting a precedent for how you expect them to act. If you let emails linger and answer them a week later, guess what your team is going to think is acceptable?

    Here’s a list of steps you can take to demonstrate leadership to your team:

  • Treat your team respectfully. Let them know you appreciate their efforts.
  • Provide honest and detailed feedback on a regular basis.
  • Ask employees for their feedback of you.
  • Own up to your mistakes. Never blame your slip-ups on someone else.
  • Be mindful of how you respond to changes. Provide an outlet for your team to share their concerns instead of participating in deconstructive gossip.
  • Follow the rules and policies that are put in place. As a leader, you’re modeling the behavior that’s expected of your team.
  • Teams emulate their manager’s behavior. That’s why it’s important for you to understand that you are a role model and leader.

Recognize your team

As a sales manager, you want more customers, higher margins, more market share. Your team members want to be recognized for their achievements and given the opportunity to grow and excel.

When you see your team members doing something right, such as trying a new tactic they recently learned, or pushing beyond an obstacle, give them praise — and, recognize and reward your team beyond expected commissions. Creating a culture of recognition is one way to keep your sales team motivated.

One tactic you can implement is having a virtual team cocktail party whenever an individual hits their quota or does something great. This kind of praise and recognition creates a team-oriented mindset in the sales department, and motivates the team to not only work harder, but also work together.

Often the best part of the coach’s job is recognition, and as Ken Blanchard puts it: “Catch them doing something right.”

Review action plan and commitments

Schedule time separately with each team member to review the sales goals you mutually defined upfront, provide constructive feedback, and measure progress. During these briefings, you can also ensure that each person has the time to practice and apply your coaching tips. It’s important to review action plans and commitments to keep your team motivated and increase sales performance.

Ultimately, sales coaching helps reps understand what they need to do personally to progress, and holds them accountable, resulting in a long-term improvement in performance.

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What is the Sales Coaching Process?

Sales coaching is an ongoing process that includes six steps. To achieve continuous improvement, coaching never stops. That’s why the sales coaching process is cyclical instead of linear.

The six steps of the sales coaching process are:

  • 01

    Assess —

    The sales coaching process begins with a sales assessment. Gather, analyze, and interpret the sales performance of the individual who needs sales coaching. During the assessment, look for any knowledge gaps in the person’s sales techniques and note the most important changes the individual can make in order to improve. From this, you can develop a customized plan to improve the individual’s sales performance.

  • 02

    Communicate —

    For ongoing coaching sessions to really make a difference, you need to set expectations upfront and communicate your observations from the assessment. Provide individuals with an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses and recommend new tactics to help the sales reps improve.

  • 03

    Demonstrate —

    To develop the appropriate skills, you can model behavior and use role-play exercises to simulate the interaction between the buyer and sales rep.

  • 04

    Practice —

    Now it’s time for the sales rep to put the skills and behaviors they’ve learned from coaching into action during sales calls and meetings.

  • 05

    Observe —

    Carefully watch the individual during sales calls and role-playing exercises, making note of what the sales representative did well, common mistakes, and areas for improvement. Keep an attentive eye on the amount of effort sales reps are making to correct problems as well as significant improvements.

  • 06

    Feedback —

    The last step of the sales coaching cycle is for you to provide constructive, honest, and specific feedback while at the same time preserving relationships. Coaching feedback should be positive, motivating, and timely to help an individual improve sales performance. Great sales coaches know that the purpose of feedback is to enhance probability of winning business, not to expose faults.

At the heart of coaching is questioning and thoughtful inquiry, collaboration, and getting buy-in. In turn, the coachable sales rep must have insight to self-assess their own performance, and be open to feedback, constructive correction, and recognition.

Sales Coaching Process

What Makes a Great Sales Coach?

Herman Boone, the high school football coach who inspired the Denzel Washington film Remember the Titans, is stellar example of a great coach. He cared deeply about his team, had very high personal standards, and possessed the ability to communicate well and instill trust.

Great sales coaches have these same qualities. These traits combined with a “let’s be the best that we can be” philosophy, and a positive attitude, get people to the next level of performance.

I care deeply about my people.

I have very high personal standards.

I have a very high level of skill and knowledge.

Why coach? It works.

What are the Most Effective
Sales Coaching Skills?

Best-in-class baseball teams coach their players on how to throw, catch and hit, as well as game strategy and tactics. Best-in-class sales coaching programs cover a wide range of skills too. Training Industry research found that five skills were always or almost always effective when supported by sales coaching in high-growth companies:

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Listening & Communication Skills
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Product & Service Knowledge
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Presentation Skills
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Sales Process
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Engaging Prospects

For a coaching program to be successful, it can’t focus on a limited set of competencies. No two sales engagements are the same, and sellers need a broad skill set to consult with their clients and close deals. One rep, working with large, established clients, should take a different approach than another, who works with smaller clients that are new to the business. While their selling skills may be largely the same, how they position the solution to the client can (and likely should) be different. An effective coaching program meets all of these needs, while working within the same methodology.

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What are the Top Methods
to Develop Sales Coaches
within Your Organization?

There are a number of ways to build coaching competencies within your company. You might hire others to train the team on coaching or develop a mentoring program.

The top four methods that high-growth companies use to develop sales coaches within their organizations:

• Pair existing coaches with new coaches

• Provide training courses aimed at basic coaching competencies

• Send potential coaches to external programs or certification courses

• Hire external coaches to train internal coaches

How do you find the right sales coach?

There are a variety of ways you can find the right sales coach, including people from inside and outside of your company. Although it’s ideal to empower your sales managers to be coaches, it takes time to develop the coaching culture required for this manager-driven coaching to happen and produce results.

High-growth companies rely on external professional sales coaches as well as internal high-performing sales reps, experienced sales reps, sales managers, sales leaders and peer sales coaches to augment their managers’ coaching capacity.

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When organizations source professional sales coaches from external providers, they often find them to be a key part of their sales training strategy. In fact, 34% of high-growth companies use outsourced sales coaches to a large or very large extent, and 43% of companies with effective coaching programs rely on outsourced sales coaches.

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What are the Barriers to Performance Development?

Part of sales coaching is identifying the barriers to sales performance.

Sales coaches can determine whether the root causes of a particular sales performance challenge relates to one of these three things: “Skill, Will, or Hill.”

Skill: The Ability, Knowledge and Experience to Do the Job Well

    Is the performance issue resulting from lack of a sales professional’s skill or ability in a particular area? A sales coach is able to diagnose the level of each person’s skill weakness:

  • Are they rusty after not using the skill for a while? A printed job aid or “cheat sheet” might be the solution.
  • Was the salesperson taught the skill but simply isn’t good at it? Practicing the skill with a sales coach can help.
  • Did they never learn the skill? Start with basic sales training, then practice with a mentor.
Hill: The Ease or Difficulty in the Environment

Are the obstacles to sales performance issues stemming from barriers in the work environment and organizational processes? How easy or difficult is the environment and processes? A common obstacle to sales success is that people don’t know what’s expected of them. Perhaps sales goals are not specific enough or communicated well.

At a bank, for example, a salesperson may not have the authority or time required to learn about a customer’s financial situation, suggest relevant solutions, and close the sale. Salespeople may need more workspace or other resources, such as product information sheets, brochures, websites or mobile applications.

Will: The Attitude, Motivation and Desire to Succeed

Is the performance issue a lack of a salesperson’s motivation to achieve success? Ultimately, attitude and motivation comes from within each person. But you can influence salespeople through consistent, fair rewards and consequences.
Tangible rewards such as money or prizes are obvious motivators—as long as you’re rewarding the correct, well-defined behaviors. It’s also effective to publicly celebrate and privately acknowledge a salesperson’s efforts.

In addition to sharing performance results and providing constructive feedback, coaches encourage salespeople to envision how well they’ll do with the proven sales techniques they’re learning. The more a sales coach persuades them to anticipate success and rewards from these actions, they more likely they’ll fulfill that prophecy.

What are the Benefits of Sales Coaching?

Improving sales performance and increasing revenue are only two of the many benefits of sales coaching. When you focus on developing salespeople and provide them with the training and skills to improve, your business will experience many benefits.

Great sales managers know that revenue goals aren’t going to be met unless they invest in developing their teams. There is a cause and effect relationship between developing your people and achieving your results.

Research shows that high performing companies expect significant outcomes from their investment in sales coaching:

  • 75% of high performing companies expect individual productivity to increase
  • 70% expect individual skill levels to advance
  • 67% anticipate an increase in company performance
  • 62% look to more employee engagement
  • 58% anticipate increased retention rates
  • 58% expect supporting leadership development
  • 48% look to reducing workplace issues

When salespeople, especially the Gen Z and Millennial generations, receive great coaching they feel like the company they work for cares about providing them with professional development and this is a reason for them to stay. In sales, the longer the rep stays at a particular company and within a territory the better relationship they develop with clients and the more effective they’ll be.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Results
from a Sales Coaching Program?

Successful sales coaching programs require patience.

Coaching is a sales transformation that takes some time — but it’s worth it! Two-thirds (67%) of companies whose formal coaching programs have been in place for at least three years have experienced high revenue growth.

The most successful companies are catching on; over half of high-performing companies report using sales coaching more now than they did in the past.

Sales Coaching Timeline

Research found that organizations with the most successful sales coaching programs invest two or three years — at least — to get it off the ground. When you expect quick results and move on after a year, your company won’t achieve the sales results you’re looking for.

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How Do You Measure the Impact of
Your Sales Coaching Program?

Measuring the impact of your sales coaching program is of critical importance, as sales metrics are a reflection of what’s already working and indicators of where to go next.

If you rely on looking at a single outcome to gauge the success of your sales coaching program, you have an incomplete picture of its performance. Sales coaching isn’t about moving the needle — it’s about moving a whole set of needles.

This process requires some specificity in measurement. Companies with the best sales coaching programs measure the impact of coaching in many ways to get a complete picture of their performance. These companies are not only moving a set of needles; they also know which needles they’re moving and by how much. Research shows that high-growth companies measure the impact of coaching in many ways.

High-growth Companies Measure the Impact of Sales Coaching in Many Ways
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Conclusion — The Value of Investing
in a Sales Coaching Program

Bill Gates was right — everyone does need a coach. Sales leaders who are passionate about building their team members’ skills, improving their performance and achieving bottom-line growth have the patience to invest in an ongoing, formal coaching program for at least two to three years.

Coaching is a critical component of continuous improvement. Training Industry reports that while some companies have defined periods of coaching engagement, 29% of companies make coaching an ongoing priority. Winning sales leaders understand the importance of doing so, and they invest in training their managers on how to coach while investing in their reps. They ensure that their salespeople learn a wide range of skills to be able to navigate each unique sales engagement they encounter. Most importantly, they learn to measure success and determine how value-based selling makes an impact.

Your company can benefit from increased revenue too by investing in a valuable sales coaching program. Connect with us to discuss how sales coaching can help the players in your organization hit home runs.

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