How to create the optimal environment for B2B sales coaching

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Modern B2B sales organizations understand how essential it is to train, maintain and retain sales talent. That's why sales coaching is a foundational element to many sales enablement programs.

Sales coaching is the key to working out what’s not working - what is - and enabling reps to own their performance and achieve better outcomes, regardless of whether reps struggle with new technology, a lack of experience in nurturing a customer relationship, weaknesses in presentation skills or product know-how. 

However, solid coaching programs aren’t ubiquitous despite their importance. CSO Insights found in 2019 that most organizations leave coaching up to individual managers or develop coaching guidelines that aren’t followed or implemented. 

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Coaching an essential part of sales enablement

The importance of coaching has only increased over the past two years as the pandemic shifted many B2B sales digital. Bain & Company found that 92% of B2B buyers preferred virtual sales interactions. It’s no wonder that 58% of reps in May 2020 expected their roles to change permanently in the wake of Covid-19. Coaching and developing a strong sales team equipped with skills and tools for the digital landscape isn’t optional — in fact, it’s table stakes.

Effective, performance-based coaching that tracks results over time is a key enabler for successful sales. Unlike training, which primarily focuses on transferring knowledge, sales coaching focuses on support and supplementing skills. It’s a process of active listening and guidance and creates pathways for personal progress and evaluation of growth.

Instituting a robust coaching program creates an environment in which reps can adapt to challenges like constant upskilling, rapid digitization and increasingly limited face time with customers. At the same time, coaching enhances rep competencies, increases their confidence and effectiveness and nurtures a sense of community among the team and broader company.

Here are a few key considerations for creating an optimal coaching environment in your sales organization.

 

  1. 1. Encourage collaboration

The model of brash sales teams competing against each other in silos not only fails individual sales reps by effectively leaving them on their own, but it also impacts the larger organization by incentivizing selfishness and discouraging cooperation. A more successful approach encourages reps to solicit honest feedback and to share their struggles and creates a culture in which there’s always room for growth, questions are welcome and collaboration is preferred over competition.

 

  1. 2. Expand focus beyond the numbers

Part of the paradigm shift away from competitive sales teams to more effective collaborative ones means less focus on quantitative metrics and more on qualitative KPIs and progress in rep learning and effectiveness. While target numbers are still essential to any sales organization, an optimal coaching environment commits to developing sales competency through collaborative goal-setting. Coaches should create a relaxed and positive environment in coaching sessions, offer an affirming attitude, encourage two-way dialogue and welcome an open, honest conversation about objectives and expectations.

By shifting emphasis to the process of improvement, organizations can be confident that reps are absorbing new skills and working on building the foundation that will ultimately drive better results. This enables a holistic view of performance but also recognizes other facets of rep experience — professional development, personal growth, contributions to a collaborative environment, openness to learning — as vital elements of long-term success for the sales organization.

 

  1. 3. Merge analysis and expertise

Creating an optimal coaching environment also means arming reps with resources that make their jobs easier. The shift to virtual selling began well before 2020, though there’s no question the pandemic accelerated the shift and that revenue is now driven by digital interactions. To accommodate buyers’ changing expectations and preference for self-service and omnichannel communications, coaching should include how reps can fuse intuition and expertise with data and technology. Nothing can (or should) replace decades of deep vertical sales experience, but supplementing that talent with tools blends the best of both worlds.

Sales enablement solutions can capture historical data, trends, resource effectiveness, preferred communication options and more, creating data-driven insights to supplement soft skills. But organizations have to commit to making those tools part of the coaching process and ensure that reps understand how to best use new technology.

In 2020, Gartner predicted that 60% of B2B sales organizations would move from experience- and intuition-based selling to data-driven sales by 2025, so organizations that adequately prepare their reps for digitalization have a head start on future-proofing their sales teams.

 

Final thoughts 

Far from being an afterthought, sales coaching should be a key element of any sales organization, because it works. Recent analysis found that more formal sales coaching programs led to significantly better performance than informal or random approaches to coaching.

Sales organizations have been acutely impacted by industry changes. Sales coaching programs can respond and position reps for success by pursuing an intentional, collaborative and holistic approach designed to optimize growth and performance. 

The original version of this blog was published on Forbes.com, view it here. 

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