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Sales Coaching 101, The What, Why & How


What exactly is sales coaching and what does sales coaching entail? You hear a lot about sales coaching these days. It’s one of the key skills of the modern sales manager.  In this blog post I'm going to provide an overview of sales coaching.  Think of it is as sales coaching 101, the what, why and how.  

Sales coaching is the role sales managers and recruiting managers play in developing their people, improving their performance and achieving sales and recruiting goals.  Sales coaching is the key to replicating top performing sales and recruiting behaviors sales coaching 101, the what, why and howacross your organization and increasing overall quota attainment.  Sales coaching is best thought of as a behavior, not a task, where the  manager is focused on helping team members self-assess, self-diagnose and self-discover ways to improve performance and achieve break-through results. Common objectives of sales coaching are to: 

  • Assess strengths and identify areas/opportunities for optimizing performance
  • Provide ongoing feedback
  • Develop knowledge and skills
  • Change behaviors
  • Inspire self-motivation
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Develop trust

Managing on the other hand is simply the process of communicating vision and strategy. It includes setting objectives, assessing performance and managing and facilitating the administration of those objectives. Managing is more about “telling” others which tasks to execute and focus on and ensuring people are completing those tasks and following processes. 

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 their own actions.  Effective sales coaching is the key to long-term performance improvement and organizational success. It is BY FAR the most important responsibility a sales or recruiting manager has.

Think of sales management as "old school" and sales coaching as "new school." 

It takes a certain kind of individual to step into a sales leadership role, but an even more unique one to be successful. What many recruiting managers and sales managers fail to understand and recognize is that they must change their behavior and adopt new skills in order to lead and cultivate improved performance through their team.  Without recognizing this change and adopting the necessary skills, sales managers will never have a legitimate shot at making their number.  Achieving team quota attainment simply can’t be achieved by one single sales manager or one single sales rep. Yet sales managers often make Herculean efforts and resort to hero tactics in an effort to win deals for their team members and achieve team quota. Yet if you ask a sales manager if mastering sales coaching techniques and skills is an important aspect of their role, they will tell you that it is. But the reality is very few managers justify making time for developing coaching skills.

Objectives and Benefits to Sales Coaching

Some of the objectives and benefits of sales coaching include:

  1. Accelerate learning, adoption of new skills, knowledge and behaviors
  2. Achieve behavior change
  3. Improve effectiveness
  4. Improve results
  5. Replicating success across the organization to effectively scale
  6. Reduce employee turnover

Each objective is equally important because they bring about the true benefits of sales coaching, but most managers tend to focus exclusively on results.  This is a mistake because you can't coach to, or manage to results exclusively.  To be an effective sales coach, sales managers must learn that coaching is not about numbers, it's about learning and inspiring behavioral change.  Numbers are simply indicators that just tell you what is happening.  But numbers only tell part of the story. The numbers don't tell sales managers why there is success or why there is a struggle.  The numbers also don't tell sales managers how to resolve the struggle and improve the resultsTo truly build a high-performing sales culture, sales managers must first understand the true challenges that prevent success. This happens through coaching.

Common Sales Coaching Challenges

Below are some of the most common pitfalls sales managers face when trying to coach a sales team:

  • Can't find/justify the time to coach sales reps (managers MUST MAKE the time)
  • It's human nature and easier to just "tell" reps what to do (feedback is not coaching)
  • Coaching doesn't feel natural, it is counter-intuitive
  • Sales managers don’t know what effective sales coaching looks and sounds like
  • Sales managers don't know where to begin with coaching
  • Sales managers tend to think and believe they're supposed to have all of the answers, struggle to admit weaknesses, be authentic

Effective & Ineffective Sales Coaching Approaches

If you were to ask ten sales reps to define sales coaching you might get ten slightly different answers. Sales coaching falls on a continuum from directive coaching or telling (not good) to developmental coaching.  With directive coaching (this tends to be the common approach I see managers apply) the manager plays the role of expert in which they focus on telling the team member what their issue is and how to fix it. While there is a time and place for directive coaching, typically during a crisis situation, this is NOT coaching.  In fact, leaders who deploy this type of coaching rob his or her people of their creative thinking, decision making ability and the ability to solve problems on their own because they become dependent upon the leader to always answer their questions and tell them what to do.  Ironically, the leader robs their people of self-accountability, the very behavior all leaders want their employees to own and embrace.

Conversely, in developmental coaching the manager serves as a facilitator and leads by asking questions to help the team member self-discover and decide on their own the best course of action.  Telling is less effective than developmental coaching because telling is more about directing, judging and/or evaluating rather than questioning and developing and allowing the recruiter or sales rep learn on their own.

Making the shift to a more developmental coaching approach 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.

Keep in mind that there are seven essential coaching skills for engaging your people in developmental coaching and there are multiple ways to structure your sales coaching.

When to Coach

Having a formalized coaching plan is important, but equally important is a manager’s ability to find "teaching moments."  Good teaching moments could be when a manager hears a rep on a sales call or in a sales meeting.  Knowing how to balance the two sales coachingcoaching opportunities will ensure that sales coaching becomes a part of your organizations culture.  Examples of formalized coaching opportunities include:

  • Pipeline review
  • Video based training and coaching
  • Sales Onboarding 
  • Deal storming
  • Weekly one-on-one meetings
  • Active coaching time (manager actively listens and/or participates in sales calls)
  • Rep rides
  • Pre-call planning for a customer call or meeting
  • Sales meeting debriefs

Examples of informal coaching opportunities include:

  • When there are signs that a rep is going down the wrong path
  • During and immediately following a change in sales process
  • During and immediately following the roll-out of sales training or new sales methodology
  • When managers want to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors
  • When a manager has had the opportunity to observe a customer interaction or a specific pattern of behavior
  • When a manager receives feedback from internal or external sources
  • When sales professionals are asking for help or support 

The key takeaway is that sales managers should understand how to transition from being a sales manager to being a sales coach and should always be ready to pivot into coaching mode to encourage positive behaviors.  To learn more about sales coaching and creating a sales coaching culture, download our eBook, How to Create a Coaching Culture Through Accountability and Empowerment

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