Sales coaching is the role managers play in developing people, improving performance and achieving goals. Sales coaching is best thought of as a behavior rather than a task where the focus is on helping team members self-assess and self-discover ways to solve problems and grow.
The objectives of sales coaching are to:
- Assess strengths and areas for improvement
- Provide ongoing feedback
- Develop knowledge and skills
- Change Behaviors
- Inspire self-motivation
- Strengthen relationships
Ultimately, the goal of sales coaching is to create an environment where team members feel self-motivated to grow, excel, and take greater responsibility for what they do.
Effective sales coaching is the key to long-term performance improvement and organizational success. In fact, it is the most important job a sales manager has.
In this video, Richardson CMO, Andrea Grodnitzky, discusses the importance of sales coaching, why sales coaching initiatives often fail, and how effective sales coaching is counter-intuitive.
Learn more about what it takes to be a great sales coach in the white paper: Great Coaching is Counter-Intuitive.
Sales Coaching is Important
It takes a certain kind of individual to step into a sales manager role — and an even more unique one to be successful at it. Most sales managers know that they must drive performance through their team if they are ever to have a shot at making their goal.
A team goal simply can’t be achieved by one single sales manager. Yet, sales managers often make Herculean efforts and resort to hero tactics to win deals for their team members.
If you ask a sales manager if mastering sales coaching techniques and skills is an important aspect of their role, most are sure to agree that it is. However, in the fast-paced, modern sales environment it is easy for people to justify not making time for developmental activities.
Objectives and Benefits of Sales Coaching
The main objectives of sales coaching are to:
- Accelerate learning
- Achieve behavior change
- Improve results
All objectives are equally important because they bring about the true benefits of sales coaching, but most managers tend to focus their attention solely on results.
This is a mistake, to be a truly effective sales coaches managers must learn that sales coaching is not about numbers — it is about learning and behavior change.
Numbers are indicators; they tell you where there is success or pain. But numbers only tell half the story. A focus on accelerating learning and affecting behavior change results in sales teams that are better positioned realize the full benefit of building a sales coaching culture.
To truly build a sustained and high-performance coaching culture, one must first understand the true challenges that prevent success.
Common Sales Coaching Challenges
Understanding common challenges to mastering sales coaching and why sales coaching is so difficult to master helps sales managers develop stronger coaching skills.
In coaching a sales team, sales managers should be aware of the following pitfalls:
- Sales managers often can’t see the forest through the trees
- An innate human propensity to tell
- Natural defensiveness
- Managers don’t know what effective sales coaching looks like
- Lack of precision
- The struggle for authenticity
To explore these common challenges in greater detail, download the white paper: Great Sales Coaching is Counter-Intuitive here.
The next step in becoming an effective sales coach is to recognize the difference between effective and ineffective sales coaching approaches.
Effective and Ineffective Sales Coaching Approaches
Not all approaches to sales coaching are created equal, they fall on a continuum from directive to developmental.
In directive coaching the coach serves as an expert, telling the team member what the problem is and what to do to fix.
Conversely, in developmental coaching the coach serves as a resource and asks questions to help the team member self-discover and decide on the best action.
Directive coaching methods are less effective than developmental coaching methods because directive coaching is more about telling or evaluating rather than questioning and developing.
Making the shift to a more developmental approach to sales coaching requires the manager to change the dynamic of how they interact with their team members. It also requires sales managers to learn when to coach.
Understanding When to Coach
A formalized coaching plan is important, but equally important is a manager’s ability to find coachable moments in unplanned conversations.
Knowing how to balance the two opportunities will ensure that sales coaching becomes a part of an organizations culture.
Some examples of formalized coaching opportunities include:
- Pipeline reviews
- Opportunity/deal reviews
- Routine one-on-one meetings
- Pre-call planning for a customer meeting
- Customer meeting debriefs
- Team meetings
Some examples of informal coaching opportunities include:
- When there are signs that things are off track or not working
- When behaviors have been changes successfully and managers want to encourage continuation of those changes
- When a manager has had the opportunity to observe a customer interaction or pattern of behavior
- When a manager receives feedback from internal or external sources
- When sales professionals are asking for help or support
- When follow up is necessary to ensure progress
The key takeaway is that sales managers and leadership should always be ready to pivot into coaching mode to encourage positive behaviors and proactively seek to improve skills.
Example Sales Coaching Activities and Techniques
Adopting effective sales coaching activities and techniques helps teams move towards more self-motivated behavior because it meets inherent psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence.
These techniques will help sales managers become more effective sales coaches.
Preparation for coaching is both an act and a mindset. Managers need to prepare for planned coaching sessions to engage team members, minimize defensiveness, ask thought-provoking questions and share thoughtful perspectives, feedback, and ideas.
Preparation also helps managers ready themselves to spontaneously pivot into coaching mode when the opportunity presents itself.
Sales Coaching Activity: Preparation for a coaching session is often a matter of a few focused minutes. When time is limited it is best to focus efforts on thinking through a preliminary assessment of positives, gaps, and desired outcomes, as well as the evidence that supports the assessment.
The human connection between a manager and a team member gives coaching its power. Without mutual respect and trust, learning won’t take place.
Sales Coaching Activity: Sales managers can position themselves for a productive, open, and collaborative interaction by first connecting with the sales team member on a personal and professional level.
The starting point for improving performance begins with a clear assessment of the current situation and identification of strengths and a gap that represents an opportunity to improve.
The sales manager and the sales professional must align their understanding of the behaviors that need to change this is achieved through questioning and listening.
Sales Coaching Activity: One of the biggest traps in sales coaching is when the coach skips asking for the team member’s perceptions or asks just one question, gets a short answer from the team member, and proceeds to give their view. Asking focused drill-down questions to gain a more complete understanding aids alignment.
Analysis helps sales coaches and the sales professional identify the root issue that is preventing the desired behavior. Identifying the root issue is key because there is little value in fixing the wrong problem.
Sales Coaching Activity: Typically, the underlying root issue can be identified as either a knowledge, skill, or will issue, or a combination of the three. These issues are not always related to poor attitude. Many will-based issues are emotionally rooted in fear. Identifying the underlying fear often reveals a lack of skill or knowledge.
Improving selling skills requires a clear action plan. The sales professional should participate in brainstorming solutions. The sales coach can step in to guide the team member in evaluating those ideas to figure out which solution is best. Participation on the part of the sales professional results in ownership of the solution.
Sales Coaching Activity: Team members can perpetuate the manager’s telling. They are accustomed to being told, so they ask their managers for answers. Sales managers in coaching conversations must be careful to avoid falling into the role of being an expert that tells.
Every sales coaching conversation should end in a commitment to specific behaviors and actions that will strengthen performance. This is the time to ensure that the team member is truly clear on agreed-to actions and next steps that maintain accountability. Even though the sales manager will close the conversation on a business topic, this is also a good time to reinforce the relationship on a human level.
Sales Coaching Activity: Avoid apologizing. Many managers have a tendency to apologize at the end of the conversation. This detracts from credibility and reduces accountability. Offer encouragement, and state belief in the team member’s ability to succeed.
Follow up is the job of a sales coach. The goal of follow up is to affect change, create an atmosphere of accountability, and demonstrate commitment to coaching.
Sales Coaching Activity: Recognizing incremental improvement and providing encouragement will motivate the sales professional to continue down the path to behavior change.
ROI & The Impact of Sales Coaching
A survey of 750 corporations identified formal and established sales coaching programs as the #1 factor among the top 22 factors for driving business results.
Richardson clients agree. Those who have included sales coaching as part of their sales performance improvement solution have reported a number of positive outcomes.
Cargill is a global corporation that provides food, agricultural, financial and industrial products. It is the largest privately held US based corporation by revenue.
As a training partner Richardson provides a comprehensive solution which includes a sales coaching training element. The Cargill management team participated in Richardson’s developmental sales coaching training and made use of manager toolkits.
Some of the ROI of their sales coaching and training efforts are:
- 30% Revenue increase among top performers
- 10+ New large accounts acquired within one business unit
- 2x volume reported in one of their largest accounts
Another client, Ferguson, the largest plumbing wholesaler in North America, also achieved significant impact from developing a stronger coaching culture.
Richardson worked with the Ferguson team to implement a more formalized and standardized sales coaching process. After training the Ferguson team reported the following impact on their business:
- 50 basis point improvement in the trading margin
- 74% of sales team increased sales
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Thomas J. Watson, Former IBM CEO
I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.