Written by Sean McPheat |
One of the key skills that any sales manager, head of sales or director of sales can master is the art of Sales Coaching.
The bottom line is that it’s all about sales improvement. So, let’s look at what sales coaching is, why it’s so important and then we’ll move onto some sales coaching tips and techniques.
The Coaching Federation describes sales coaching as “an interactive process to help individuals and organisations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improving others’ ability to set goals, take action, make better decisions and make full use of their natural strengths.”
Sales coaching is all about developing your team. Stretching your high achievers and improving those who are struggling. It helps to be an excellent salesperson yourself, but what’s more important is to have the ability to communicate practical methods for performance improvement and inspiring your sales team to better themselves.
Harvard Business Review points out that the coaching role can’t entail a one-size-fits-all approach. As they note, “coaching is about clarifying relevant behaviours and whether the issue is motivation or ability.” Sales coaching is about the mental attitude of the salesperson as much as it is about what techniques they use to make a sale.
Some call this the skill and the will.
The key skills of a sales coach include:
Over the years I’ve developed a set of useful sales coaching tips and skills which can help a sales manager to improve their sales team’s performance. We cover these and a lot more within the Sales Management Training we deliver. Below I’ve listed just 21 of them. I hope this list is practical, useful, and revealing.
When you’re managing a sales team of any size, you ideally want to ensure consistency and parity between sales reps. In other words, you want everyone reading from the same script and applying the same approach and sales process. It doesn’t help team cohesion if one rep’s calls are twice the length of another’s, even though both reps’ conversion rates are about the same.
Sales coaching enables you to forensically investigate what’s limiting some of your reps from achieving their potential, which benefits everyone. A coaching approach, rather than a disciplinary one, motivates underperforming reps without assigning blame or creating a punishing atmosphere.
A good sales coach is a successful sales professional who leads by example, someone who reps both want to consult and emulate. Having a great sales coach on your team provides a valuable and always available resource for new reps struggling with the sometimes-steep learning curve that sales can present.
There are a few general skills that a good sales coach will develop, allowing them to perform this invaluable role.
2. Asking Questions
3. Being Empathic
4. Consensus Building
Let’s look at these abilities in a little more detail.
Listening. It’s important to begin by listening to a rep’s issues and concerns before stepping in to offer solutions. Asking open questions to prompt free responses and learning how to divulge the subtext of what a rep is saying, are value parts of the listening process. A top coach will take notes and lead by active listening, before offering their opinions and ideas.
Asking Questions. To get at the truth behind a difficulty a rep is facing, it’s vital to ask the right questions, in the correct format, at the right time. You may get more insight by asking a rep why they think they’re currently having troubling closing a sale, than by offering your analysis upfront and discovering whether they agree.
Every rep is different, of course, and some lines of questioning will work better with certain personalities. Good sales coaches get to know their sales teams and develop an intuitive understanding of which strategy will work with each team member.
Hubspot offer a useful half dozen questions to ask to dig into the truth behind underperformance. These include:
As you can see, most of these questions are open and allow the rep to use their imagination, memory, and creativity to construct a response.
Being Empathic. Linked to the process of listening and asking questions, is the employment of empathy, the ability to see the world the way another does (to “walk a mile in their shoes”). Being able to relate your own experiences to the challenges a rep is facing can be helpful, so long as you don’t always insist that your way of responding to difficulties is the right way. Empathy, to a certain extent is innate and cannot be taught, but it can be enhanced and exercised like a muscle.
Consensus Building. At the end of the day, you want your team to work together, to adopt the same playbooks and approaches, so you need to develop the skill of getting others to agree with the established team sales strategy (or collectively agree a new one). Negotiation and consensus building is a key skill to learn and develop to become an excellent sales coach.
Motivating. It may seem like an obvious point, but if you can stimulate and excite a rep by focusing on the achievement of goals, the attendant rewards, or a sense of deep satisfaction, then that individual is likelier to perform better. If your team members leave one-to-one sessions feeling hyped up about hitting the phones, then you are a great motivator.
Sweeteners and prizes can help, of course. Much has been written about activities and rewards to help motivate a sales team, including running competitions, setting short term goals, and building in more breaks from cold calling. Designing the right reward program is also a key aspect of being an effective motivator.
Monitoring. Lastly, it’s important to have an overview across the sales team, and stay up to date with who’s doing well and who’s struggling. This doesn’t require micromanagement, but it would be advantageous to walk the sales floor now and gain, use team performance dashboards and analytics, and hold regular meetings, so that you have clear and complete oversight.
There are other skills to develop, including the ability to use new technologies, analyze data and communicate effectively with senior management, but the six core skills described above will most likely be the ones you turn to every day.
Bonus 1 – Side By Side Listening
Sitting by the side of your sales reps as they make calls is one of the most valuable things you can do to improve their performance.
After a call ask them this:
“How did that go on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the best possible outcome?”
What we’re doing here is critically evaluating their performance through them.
Now if they gave themselves a score of 7 for example, ask them:
“What could you have done to make it an 8 or a 9?”
By evaluating their performance in this way, they will make small incremental steps and will improve over time.
By improving from a 7 to an 8 might just take 1 or 2 things. To jump to a 10 might seem too big a jump!
Bonus 2 – Never Leave A Coaching Session Without Action
So many coaching sessions die a death at the end.
The Sales Manager and rep have a good chat but then nothing comes of it!
Don’t fall into this trap.
Instead, always ask your salesperson to summarise the key points made during the coaching session. Never do this yourself.
By doing this you train your sales team to really listen in because if they know they have got to summarise the discussion then they will be all ears believe me!
Also, never leave the room without agreeing a set of actions of who is going to do what and when. Have specific dates, have specific actions, and follow through on them during the next time you review them.
The benefits of sales coaching cannot be underestimated. As Forbes magazine points out, “top performers couldn’t be more different. One characteristic that routinely sets them apart is their habit of always staying open to ongoing training, coaching and development.”
The best sales professionals have a unique blend of confidence and humility. In other words, while they have the extroversion and self-belief necessary to close a sale, they also know that they could always have done better. In the space between good and excellent performance, the sales coach can make an invaluable contribution, providing tools and strategies (as well as encouragement) for performance enhancement.
For the struggling salesperson, the coach can provide a different role, helping them make urgent, remedial changes, or (worst case scenario) helping them realize that sales might not be for them. This latter eventuality might still be the best outcome for both rep and employer, since the rep is free to find their true calling, and the company can replace them with a candidate of higher promise.
Of course, sales coaches themselves know that there’s room for improvement.
Hopefully, instituting some of the tips and techniques in this list will achieve this end.
Please contact us to discuss any Selling Skills Training or Telesales Training for your teams. We also offer niche programmes such as Account Management Courses and Social Selling Training.
Updated on: 11 August, 2022
Originally published: 5 October, 2017
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