Sales coaching is nothing to scoff at. It gets results. Serious results.
Organizations that make coaching a priority see sales production increase 30%. With coaching, the percentage of salespeople who hit goals jumps 20% and win rates go up 25%. Bonus: Salespeople’s engagement and retention go up 20% with coaching, according to research from Saleshacker.com
Even better, no one has to be a superstar coach: Just average coaching sessions can lead to a 6 to 8% boost in performance, according to Harvard Business Review researchers.
Point is: Just do it!
Any coaching is better than no coaching.
Here’s help, whether you’re a coaching neophyte, a seasoned leader or a sales pro who wants to get better. We have 10 proven tools, techniques and ideologies for effective sales coaching.
Define your mission
Effective sales coaching is rooted in positive reinforcement. It’s not about strict directives or sweeping, one-size-fits-all advice.
Decide if your coaching program is formal or informal.
Under formal, lay out a time frame for meetings and follow-ups (most likely to fit within sales goal deadlines). Define expectations for the coach and the salesperson before, during and after the coaching session.
An informal plan may be less regimented, but it relies on the manager’s commitment to schedule coaching time and find coachable moments in impromptu situations.
Formal or informal, ideally all coaching is:
- geared solely for the individual
- built on previous sessions
- reinforced to correct behaviors
- focused on individual motivators, strengths and weaknesses
- part of each salesperson’s routine, and
- focused on skills, techniques and attitudes rather than numbers.
Make coaching a priority for everyone
Harvard Business School researchers found most organizations focus coaching on the “tails” – the very best and the very worst salespeople on their teams. The salespeople who make quota, win some, lose some and keep the boat afloat are often forgotten in the push to the make the best legendary and worst mediocre at best.
“Coaching should never just be about bringing up the B players to become A players,” says Patrick Morrissey, General Manager, Revenue Optimization Business Unit at Upland Software. “Everyone benefits from understanding more about customers, the market and what you need to do for them.”
As a manager, you want to – must, actually – schedule coaching time for everyone on your team. Even if you’re good at using coaching moments when they happen organically, schedule time to go on calls, sit down to talk about success and failure and meet to share progress and stories.
Chat more, direct less
Remember first: Coaching is a conversation, not a directive.
Coaching is meant to help salespeople identify and clarify goals, recognize challenges and take ownership for achieving the former and overcoming the latter. As the coach, you want to listen closely and share positive ideas, not train or preach.
To kick off or encourage good conversations, try these questions:
- If you had to do something right now, what do you think would be a good step forward?
- How is X working for you right now?
- I have an idea for this situation, but what would you do?
- Since X is going so well right now, what do you see as your biggest opportunity to capitalize on that?
- Why is that? (You can ask this question over and over to get to the heart of a matter that’s important.)
Build up, don’t beat down
Sales coaching is meant to be a positive, enlightening, motivational experience. We might sound a bit idealistic here, but we’re serious. There are times for serious, hard numbers-based, soul-searching conversations.
Sales coaching is positive. Focus on good behaviors and how to do more of them. Talk about what’s gone right and how to repeat that kind of business. Conversely, hard-number conversations tend to focus more on data and missed goals.
A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be
– Tom Landry
Sales coaching is enlightening. Help salespeople identify what they’ve done well and what could use improvement. Show them the effects of their good work. Conversely, hard-number conversations tend to focus more on inadequate or poor behaviors that lead to failure.
Sales coaching is motivational. It’s a time to tout what salespeople have done and share what you believe they can do. Conversely, hard-number conversations include discussions on disappointments and direction on how to move beyond those.
Cover the big 4
Most coaching sessions should at least touch on these four important topics:
- Personal updates. Ask about what’s going on their lives outside of sales – family, hobbies, travel, philanthropy, sports, arts, etc. It helps the coach understand salespeople and their motivators better.
- Activity update. Look briefly at data to see what’s going well and what needs a boost. But don’t dwell on numbers. That’s a different meeting.
- Customer/prospect/meeting update. Again, don’t dwell too long on the details. Look for opportunities to ask questions to help reps diagnose and solve customer issues.
- Help. Open up the conversation to questions about anything that’s weighing on their minds and how you might be able to help. And offer help, whether they ask for it or not.
Talk, then commit
Sales coaching will be ineffective if salespeople and managers aren’t committed to changing or modifying. Salespeople might not feel responsible for trying new things or making changes that are discussed in a coaching event. But it’s a different story if the manager follows up with an email that asks them to confirm commitment to try or change.
When managers and salespeople commit to what was discussed in one coaching session, they set themselves up to overcome challenges, improve performance and come to the next meeting with more ideas on what’s going well and what could use a second look.
Have an agenda
Formal or informal, coaching needs to have some sort of organization and goal. You don’t need an all-out agenda, but when you go into a coaching situation, both manager and salesperson need to know what they’re in for.
You can do this by preparing for coaching sessions with questions such as:
- What is the salesperson’s personal goal? (This is something that should’ve been established in the last coaching session or in a goal-setting/review situation)
- How responsive was the salesperson to previous commitments to change, improve or try new things?
- What new commitments will help the salesperson get even closer to the personal goal?
- How can I help this salesperson make changes, try new approaches and hit the goal?
- How can we measure success?
- What does the salesperson need from me beyond the coaching session?
You’ll want to share this “agenda” with the salesperson so he or she knows what to expect and how to prepare with some self-assessment. The salesperson will also have time to recognize areas where he or she would like some direction or motivation.
Go ahead and beat the dead horse
As a coach, consider yourself a nagger. If you don’t “nag,” there’s a chance the coaching won’t work.
Why? People forget what they learn. Quickly. Eventually permanently. That’s according to the long-standing Forgetting Curve. It’s research that’s been proven over and over, and it shows people forget about 70% of what they’ve learned within 24 hours of hearing it – and 90% within a week.
But – and it’s a big BUT – if you continue to remind them of what you talked about – whether it was a new skill, behavior tweak or attitude adjustment – they’re much more likely to remember and act on it. The key is to ask them to recall what you talked about. Then re-emphasize the positive coaching and build on it.
Go beyond the one-on-one
“Nothing impacts the performance of a sales rep more than their manager,” says EcSell Institute researchers Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth in their study Sales Coaching: No Longer a Soft Skill.
They found these coaching practices (beyond one-on-ones) are effective:
- Team meetings. You want to talk about common goals and the progress toward them. Recognize, educate and motivate by sharing good news and solutions to common issues.
- Joint call plans. These are often quick meetings where salespeople can share essential information on an upcoming joint sales call, and the coach can encourage positive behaviors.
- Sales call evals. After the joint sales call, coaches can write an evaluation and talk about the skills they saw in action.
- Career development chats. At least annually, sales coaches want to talk with their people about their personal and professional goals and plans to meet them.
Measure your effectiveness
Coaching may require a softer skill set and may affect less quantifiable sales skills such as morale and drive. But just like everything else in sales, you want to measure the effectiveness of sales coaching.
Recognize that one of the challenges in coaching is that it doesn’t usually make an immediate impact. Results may not show up in the next quarter. One early detection spot to check for an impact is the average deal cycle length, according to research from CSO Insights.
Want to check on results even sooner? Watch the numbers that feed into the deal cycle – conversion rates, follow-up meetings after first contact. If you don’t see a rise in these kinds of indicators, it might be time to step in for more coaching and adjust the approach.