A Guide to Agile Sales Coaching
Coaching Your Team to Find Their Stride
Selling and buying have changed dramatically. This upheaval has left sellers uncertain of what direction to take. Traditional approaches that are familiar to tenured sellers are not as effective as they once were. Meanwhile, new sellers are struggling to get up to speed amid accelerating change.
Sellers of all backgrounds need the support of a coach to help them find their stride. However, coaching must also change. Periodic, formal sit-down discussions no longer work in a setting of constant disruption. Coaching must be ongoing. It must help sellers quickly develop skills in the field. Moreover, those skills must have direct relevance to what is happening today.
Incremental growth is key to lasting change and adaptation in the moment. Coaches need an agile approach.
Agile coaching aims to make the developmental process iterative and flexible. This means coaching in a successive series of interactions that each address the current challenge at hand.
We call this process of ongoing improvement Sprint Coaching. Click here to learn about the program.
Defining Agile Sales Coaching
Agile sales coaching taps into the power of incremental change. This approach encourages sellers to get better a little at a time. The agile coaching process follows a repeatable cycle consisting of three parts: prepare, engage, advance. This enables the manager to adapt and adjust to a variety of seller challenges.
When teams adopt the sprint coaching approach the seller’s relationship with the manager transforms. Sellers take ownership of their own performance and development and the coach becomes a supportive presence rather than a managerial one. The result is trust, confidence, and better performance
Here, we show the actions and mindset behind the prepare, engage, and advance cycle. The result is a modern approach to coaching that builds the seller’s internal drive.
Prepare for the Coaching Conversation
Preparation for coaching is both an act and a mindset. This critical first step is what enables the coach to engage sellers, minimize defensiveness, ask thought-provoking questions, and share perspective, feedback, and ideas. Preparation is also about being ready to pivot to coaching mode when the moment presents itself.
Know The Purpose
The purpose of a coaching conversation can surface anytime during the management cadence. For example, the coach might spot an opportunity for improvement during a pipeline review or during an assessment of a high-value opportunity.
The coach can identify priority topics based on an overall assessment of strengths and opportunities for improvement. These assessments should come from observations of real pursuits unfolding in the moment.
The central goal is to identify the topic to be addressed in the conversation. This is an important time to review notes from prior meetings with the seller and look at all relevant data, and reporting. The preparation phase is also a valuable opportunity to observe the seller’s customer conversations whenever possible.
The coach forms a preliminary assessment based on their observations. Arriving at this assessment means asking themselves four key questions:
- Where are we? (Positives and Gaps)
- Where do we need to be? (Desired Outcomes)
- Why aren’t we there yet? (Root Issues)
- What can we do? (Action)
The answers to these questions provides only part of the picture. A full assessment must include the seller’s perceptions. It is important for the coach to validate their own assumptions during the conversation with the seller.
The key is to begin to understand the potential, underlying root issues. When these become clear it is possible to explore the actions that can address those root issues.
Know The Plan
For the manager to fully know their plan, they must be able to visualize the conversation. Doing so means thinking about the questions that will be asked and trying to anticipate the seller’s assessment and reactions.
This forethought is also important for keeping the conversation focused and concise. Limit feedback to one or two priority focus points to ensure the coaching conversation is limited to between 15 and 20 minutes.
Finally, the coach must consider how they will position feedback with the help of supporting evidence. This step is important because it demonstrates to the seller that the coach has given the conversation the attention it deserves and that their feedback is based on more than opinion.
Engage in the Conversation
The engage phase of Sprint Coaching is where behavior change starts to occur. This part of the sprint consists of three parts: connect, coach, and commit. The coach and the seller align on the purpose, move through mutual exploration and idea sharing, then conclude with agreed actions. This approach works because it is built around a collaborative framework.
Connect with the Seller
The connect model offers a structured set of best practices to help set the focus and time for an honest, open, and collaborative coaching discussion.
This model consists of three parts:
- Set the Stage: Setting the stage means establishing a safe, collaborative setting. For virtual coaching conversations take time to establish a quiet calm space that is free from interruption. This is the time to build rapport and state intention to support.
- Set the Context: This is a chance to summarize what led to the discussion. Context setting is also about recapping prior discussions and commitments which reinforces accountability. Remember to take detailed notes to record topics covered in each conversation.
- Set the Purpose: People feel at ease when they know what is coming. Effective coaches do so by stating the purpose of the conversation, reviewing the agenda, and checking for feedback. The best coaches use neutral language to manage emotions and reinforce their intent to support, and not judge.
The heart of the coaching conversation lies in the manager’s ability to engage in a collaborative process to help sellers self-assess and self-discover ways to leverage strengths and improve performance through effective problem-solving.
Effective coaching happens across three phases: assess, analyze, and address. Coaches should apply each of these three steps in this order when they pursue each part of the coaching model:
- Assess: The coach first asks the seller how they are progressing against their goals, what is working well, and where the seller sees unmet challenges. Once they’ve heard the seller’s assessment, they can offer theirs. This begins with a reinforcement of the positives and an explanation of where they see gaps that represent areas for improvement.
- Analyze: The coach helps the seller get to the root of the problem by asking the seller to describe their challenges, then works with the seller to define if f the challenge is knowledge, skill, or mindset issue.
- Address: The coach helps the seller brainstorm solutions, then guides the seller in evaluating those ideas so they can make the best decision and take ownership of the plan. Once the plan is clear the coach and the seller can reinforce the plan with role play.
Gain Commitment to Action
Every coaching conversation should end in a commitment to specific behaviors and actions that will strengthen the seller’s performance. Commitment is about taking everything that has been discussed so far and distilling it into clear, actionable steps that heighten the seller’s sense of accountability.
- Confirm the Plan: The coach has the seller summarize the things they are personally committed to doing differently outlining specific actions that will help them achieve their goals.
- Establish a Follow-up Cadence: The coach outlines a specific plan for follow up. This means setting a specific date and time and getting clear on what the follow-up discussion will cover.
- Reinforce Support: The coach closes the conversation by asking if there is anything else they can do and provides sincere encouragement. Importantly, this encouragement does not start and end during the formal coaching conversation, it should be offered continuously in less formal settings.
Does this sound a bit complicated? Don’t worry, we’ve summarized the Sprint Coaching program in a two-minute take, you can download it by clicking here.
Advance Continuous Improvement
Advancing is about affecting change, creating an atmosphere of accountability, and progressing the coaching relationship after every conversation.
The Advance Model provides a set of best practices for systematically ensuring that the coach and their sellers continue to learn as they strengthen performance.
Seek Feedback from the Sales Team
The coach needs to do some self-reflection before seeking feedback. They should consider what they did well, and where there are opportunities to improve. With these questions answered they can begin to ask sellers for feedback.
Any commonalities between the coach’s self-reflection and the comments from sellers should be considered important areas of focus.
Formally Summarize Notes
The sales coach should keep a record of discussions to ensure continuity. They must remember to enter agreed-upon action steps in a calendar to facilitate follow-up.
Coaching is a long game. It is easy to become distracted with other internal initiatives, trends in the market, and quarterly goals. A record is what keeps the coach and the seller anchored to a plan.
Use Agile Coaching to Drive Meaningful Improvement
Effective coaching is what builds, grows, and inspires success across the team.
Click here to request a meeting with a member of the Richardson Sales Performance team to discuss how we can help your sales organization learn and apply the Sprint Coaching methodology.
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