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:
A full appreciation of the psychology of sales.
An understanding of the sales process from prospecting to closing.
An ability to inspire and encourage people.
An arsenal of tips and techniques to improve performance.
The thoroughness and determination to see a challenge through.
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.
Why is Sales Coaching Important?
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.
Top Sales Coaching Skills
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:
What part of the process do you find most promising, and why?
How would your prospects describe working with you?
What strategies and steps would you use to work on X task?
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.
Sales Coaching Techniques That Work
Schedule a regular check-in. Sales managers should plan regular get-togethers with their team to ensure progress is being made. Ad hoc arrangements can allow too much time to elapse between encounters and lessons can slip. A meeting roughly every two weeks is ideal. This can be via the telephone or a Virtual Sales Training session will work just fine.
Reserve time for mentoring. Make sure you set aside specific hours to talk to your salespeople. Think how successful therapists operate – they keep regular, timed hours, setting time aside to focus on their clients. This makes the subject feel listened to and appreciated, and it means you have time to take notes, concentrate and focus.
Don’t be afraid to use metrics. KPIs are important – they are what make sales teams answerable to senior executives and act as an overall measure of performance. They also mean you can track improvements over time and demonstrate the effectiveness of your coaching. Don’t necessarily lead with individual performance indicators – this can seem too aggressive – but keep track of how your team is improving across a range of measures which can range from sales funnel metrics and closing ratios through to the age of opportunities and sales velocity
Focus on mindset. The attitude and mindset of a salesperson can prove either their secret weapon or their Achilles heel. Major changes can be implemented if the subject starts feeling optimistic about their ability and chance of success. This doesn’t mean being blasé about failure, but it does require a degree of acceptance. After all, for even the best salespeople, less than a quarter are likely to meet their quotas in any given year.
Use visuals to back-up theory. Interestingly, for a profession that relies so fully on communication, too few coaches use visual aids such as diagrams, graphs, video, or visual metaphors to make a point. Using images can be both effective and refreshing to an audience that spends so much of their day in verbal or written communication. From team leaderboards to graphs of performance improvement, to examples of great selling, visual aids enliven any coaching session.
Go one-on-one when possible. If you’re delivering feedback, or you want your sales rep to really open up about how difficult their role is proving, giving them some personal time can help. Nobody likes to be critiqued in front of their colleagues, but people generally do appreciate honest feedback. When time permits, a few minutes one-on-one can contribute significantly to motivation.
Make it challenging. Salespeople by their very nature love a challenge. Don’t be afraid to have them try a new strategy and report back. Set a sales target that is a stretch to achieve. You may find your team will be more motivated if only one or two succeed than if everyone gets there on first attempt.
Make it personal. If you’ve faced a difficult sales scenario, particularly if you’ve made rookie errors, then do share what you’ve experienced and learned. This will increase trust and render your coaching more relatable and truthful. Let them learn from your mistakes.
Focus on one gain at a time. When too many areas for improvement are identified it becomes difficult to achieve real progress. Break down the task into constituent parts and work on each one in a sensible order of priority.
Require self-evaluation. It can be revealing and instructive to get salespeople to rate their own current performance on various tasks. For instance, you might ask them to grade themselves at the start of a series of coaching meetings on listening, pitching, follow-up and closing. You’ll then be able to compare this self-assessment with objective performance metrics. You can also ask your team to self-assess several weeks into the improvement program and compare the results. If you’re interested in taking a self-assessment yourself, please check out our Sales Competency Assessment or our Sales Skills Test.
Remember to inspire and motivate. Your presentation can’t all be nuts and bolts. You need to sell the sizzle of sales! Remember why you got into the business in the first place, and the incredible places your role has brought you to. Share this enthusiasm and make your audience feel that an equally inspiring journey can be taken by them too.
Review some calls. There’s a reason why your company records its sales calls. They can be a great resource for demonstrating where reps perform well or badly. Make sure you ask the permission of the rep whose performance is being judged before you share it with the group. Ask your audience to identify highlights and mistakes. For inside sales reps who solely reply on calls then this is a critical activity.
Coaching is a two-way street. Don’t deliver lectures; invite conversation. Make sure you are not the only person speaking or you’ll lose your audience quickly. Crucially, make sure you listen and incorporate valid points being raised. When your listeners are actively engaged, they will remember the session more, and they’ll stay alert.
Discuss motivation itself. Finding out what motivates your salespeople can provide the key to improving their performance. It won’t be the same for every individual – some are motivated by bonuses, some want to be top of the leaderboard, while others may relish the pleasure of making customers happy and closing deals. Whatever motivation means to each person, make sure they have the means to stay keen.
Remember to take notes. You can return to the statements people made about themselves at the start of a session, or set of sessions, and compare it with where they ended up. Think about how a therapist will tend to write a few simple notes while their patient is speaking. If a therapist wrote nothing down, wouldn’t you feel suspicious?
Follow a formal process. Whatever way you choose to coach, make sure you follow a set program, with metrics, challenges, and evaluation. When you find a formula that works, refine it, write it down, and stick to it where possible. There are plenty of sales coaching models that you can follow.
Recommend resources. If there are books, sales movies, podcasts, or other media which have inspired you, make sure you recommend these resources. You can even start a “motivational book club” to discuss lessons gleaned from some of the classic sales texts or stories. This gives you a chance to borrow from the expertise of umpteen sales gurus.
Focus on the middle. Your highest achieving sales reps need little encouragement or advice, and the worst-performing may simply be unsuited to a sales role. Therefore, it makes more sense to concentrate on the middle 60% who stand the best chance of improvement.
Extol brand virtues. If your sales team love what they’re selling, they’ll find it easier to wax lyrical about your product, convince customers, and close deals. Makes sure everyone has had a chance to use the product and is knowledgeable about its benefits and features. Lead by example by demonstrating that you can convincingly express appreciation for what you’re selling.
Incentivize the greater goal. Rather than making monetary or prestige incentives linked to individual performance, consider rewarding a team for a concerted effort to improve sales. If individuals are singled out for praise, tie rewards to an area of specific improvement for that rep. For example, for a salesperson who has difficulty selling technical products, incentivize increased sales of those specific items.
21: Roleplay challenging scenarios. Ask your team what common sales objections they receive from prospects and then role play dealing with those issues. Make sure everyone takes a turn at being both the salesperson and the customer. Take notes and point out areas where an opportunity was missed, or where a clever strategy was adopted.
Here are 2 bonus sales coaching techniques…
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.
What are the Benefits of Sales Coaching?
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.