Implementing a solid sales coaching program can have a transformative and lasting impact on your sales team and your business as a whole. Regular coaching helps sales reps to realize (and then reach) their fullest potential, since learning from an experienced mentor is the best way to improve and expand upon their existing skill set.
And yet, despite the obvious benefits of internal sales coaching, many companies have either failed to commit to this practice, or have neglected the techniques that will generate the greatest results.
Why is sales coaching important?
Sales coaching is the process of mentoring sales representatives through a personal, one-on-one relationship with a manager or qualified peer. The most influential coaching helps reps self-evaluate their performance and explore areas in need of improvement, so they feel a greater sense of ownership in their role.
Generally speaking, coaching enables sales reps to develop their soft skills (such as negotiation), which are an integral part of sales effectiveness but difficult to master in a more traditional classroom setting.
Consistent, customized sales coaching is directly linked to your company’s success and your employees’ satisfaction. Not only does targeted coaching ensure none of your reps slip through the cracks, but it builds stronger working relationships and unlocks higher sales performance, which ultimately has a hand in driving retention and revenue.
What’s more, your customers also benefit from sales coaching because they’re able to consult with highly knowledgeable and capable representatives who understand their products (or services) inside and out.
What is the difference between sales training and coaching?
In the grand scheme of sales readiness, sales coaching lands between onboarding and training. But even though sales training and coaching are both continuous processes, there are some notable differences between the two. For example, training scenarios typically involve a manager who’s leading a discussion on broad or strategic objectives. Coaches, on the other hand, are often meant to listen more than they talk, as a way to help reps uncover inefficiencies all on their own. Put simply, coaches help sales professionals improve their abilities on an individual level, whereas sales training seeks to impart information, often on a larger group of people.
Top 5 sales coaching tips and techniques
Sales coaching is an ongoing process that aims to improve your sales reps’ performance and support them as they tackle necessary changes or action steps. The top sales coaching techniques for modern businesses include: taking a personalized approach, considering your team’s wellbeing, prioritizing self-evaluation, asking reps to develop an action plan, and embracing a narrow focus when it comes to improvements.
1. Take a personalized approach
While there’s certainly ample advice out there on how best to coach your reps, it’s important to remember there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach. That’s why our list begins with an encouragement to account for each rep’s individual needs, as well as their unique strengths and weaknesses within the workplace. Regardless of whether you're coaching someone who’s in their first month of employment or someone who’s already an established seller with your company, personalized coaching is bound to have a big impact.
The most effective coaching doesn’t follow a strict formula; rather, it ebbs and flows according to who you’re coaching and what they need at that moment. This will require you to have direct knowledge of every team member. If you have dozens of reps working for you, then the easiest, most efficient way to get to know each seller is to set up a few informal meetings before coaching officially begins. This way, you can get a better sense of who they are, how they sell, and where their skills fit within your current dynamic.
In addition to making time for this one-on-one engagement, another way to implement a personalized approach for coaching is to provide reps with professional development opportunities.
According to LinkedIn, as many as 94% of employees said they’d stay at a job longer if leadership invested in their career – and sales reps are no exception. With that in mind, you can maximize your coaching efforts by empowering personal growth via training sessions, seminars and book (or podcast) recommendations tailored to the rep’s interests.
2. Consider your team’s wellbeing
Although it can be difficult to address, it’s your responsibility as a leader to consider your team’s wellbeing – mental health included.
Sales Health Alliance, a consulting group focused on the mental health concerns of modern sales teams, recently conducted a survey of 300 sales professionals from North America. Two in five participants (i.e., 40%) reported they struggle with their mental health, which is double the CDC’s recorded rate for the general workforce. These statistics are a clear indication of the widespread nature of mental health issues within sales departments today.
The transition to remote work environments has undeniably influenced these numbers, as sales representatives have had to overhaul their routines while still meeting their goals. This virtual selling – in conjunction with pandemic isolation – has laid the groundwork for mental and emotional strain, even for those reps who once thrived in their role. And yet, this situation presents a unique opportunity for sales coaching to come in and help turn the tide.
It might feel a bit strange to start, but asking reps about their mental state is likely to be well-received. The idea is to ask casual, open-ended questions during your weekly check-ins, where the rep has space to share while you practice active listening. Asking something like, ‘how are you feeling about your workload?’ is a great way to create open communication and build trust with your team. Ultimately, that trust can lead to a healthier state of mind, which then translates to more satisfaction at work and more productivity throughout the workday.
3. Prioritize reps’ self-evaluation
Sales coaching should always be a two-way street, meaning you’re not simply telling reps what to do, but you’re engaging in balanced conversation with everyone on your team. For this reason, it’s important to prioritize self-evaluation for every seller. This is especially critical given that most managers spend just a few days out of the month with each rep, and therefore may experience a bit of disconnect when it’s time to evaluate performance. The objective, then, is for sales reps to conduct a self-evaluation based on their own observations.
The key to encouraging this type of evaluation is to refrain from diving into your feedback right off the bat; instead, you’re wise to pose leading questions that will allow the rep to guide the evaluation on their own. You might ask: “What were your greatest challenges over the last quarter?” Or: “What have your wins (and losses) taught you that you can apply to future client interactions?” If reps are able to bring this level of self-awareness to their job performance, there’s no doubt it will breed more confidence which is the foundation for exceptional selling.
In conjunction with self-evaluation, you can also promote autonomy among your team by allowing reps to set goals for themselves. While less effective managers handpick improvement goals for their teams (and then wonder why there isn’t more buy-in), the best sales managers don’t always try to determine focus. These leaders allow employees to make their own suggestions for customized goals, so long as they’re actionable, measurable and impactful.
4. Ask reps to develop an action plan
Similar to the way sales reps should be involved in the evaluation process, another functional, yet compelling coaching technique is to ask your sales team to develop their own action plans. To make their goal-setting more concrete and attainable, reps can formulate an action plan that outlines a clear path toward their specific goals. Ideally, this plan should provide practical steps reps can take to achieve their desired outcomes within a well-defined timeline.
A good action plan will include a primary goal – such as completing a dozen calls the first week of the month – as well as individual steps to facilitate this. These steps might look like identifying potential customers, initiating discovery calls or scheduling calls with top prospects. Putting this plan on paper or recording it in your CRM system can solidify each rep’s action steps, and allow them to better visualize what needs to get done.
But perhaps the most important component of a quality action plan is the accountability that comes along with it.
An effective coach is one who understands that once an action plan is in place, it’s up to them to make sure it’s put into motion.
To fully support their team, coaches must ask pointed questions about the progress reps are making or the challenges they’re currently facing. Alternatively, you can also review action plan activity in your CRM, particularly if your preferred platform leverages automatic activity logging alongside task lists.
5. Embrace a narrow focus
It might seem like tackling multiple areas of improvement at the same time would lead to greater progress or speedier results, but the truth is that this strategy is likely to cause frustration and/or a feeling of burnout. This is because your reps will have their attention pulled in different directions. Instead, it’s much smarter for your sales team to concentrate on one area, as this acute focus lends itself to more accuracy, consistency and measurable gains (like closed deals).
By taking things one step at a time, you can help reps avoid overwhelm and provide adequate support as they navigate new or unforeseen challenges on the road to meeting their goals. On top of that, moving at an intentional pace presents an opportunity to discover what’s working, and then turn those successes into standard practice. For instance, if there’s a certain script that’s really connecting with customers, that dialogue can be used by reps company-wide.
In other words, your top-performing sellers are encouraged to share their skills and expertise with their fellow representatives, so your team benefits across the board. Healthy competition is one thing, but when people hoard their knowledge to the detriment of others, no one wins. As sales manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure the highest earners (and earnest newcomers) not only narrow their focus, but work in collaboration with one another whenever applicable.
How to improve the effectiveness of sales coaching
Even if you execute on all these techniques, there will likely still be room to elevate your coaching methods. The best way to enhance your coaching’s influence (and your leadership as a whole) is by incorporating the right technology into your approach.
With the help of Pitcher Coaching, you can prepare, coach and train your sales force to use your key messaging more effectively as they engage with both customers and prospects. Pitcher Coaching also helps your team meet their specific targets and helps them stay aligned with your company’s strategy.
To learn more about Pitcher Coaching, request a demo today.