Effective Sales Coaching: 4-Step Framework
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In today’s business environment of rapid innovation and intensifying competition, it’s no longer an option to leave coaching up to chance. The more formal sales coaching is, the better the performance impact. Research by CSO Insights found that organizations with a dynamic, well-integrated coaching program achieved an average win rate of 55.2%, 13.4 points higher than those with a random approach and 8.8 points higher than the average win rate of all respondents.
The key to effective coaching is to provide a structured, guided approach that enables frontline managers to coach their teams in a consistent and actionable way. To do so, enablement practitioners can provide a clear framework for coaching that empowers rep development and drives accountability.
“Coaching allows us to feel like we’re worth the investment,” said Jenn Haskell, director of global sales enablement and training at Everbridge. “We’re not making an assumption that you’ve already got the skill-set. We’re acknowledging that the skill-set is there, but we’re going to tap into it. We’re going to hone your craft, and we’re going to take it to the next level.”
By enabling reps and managers with a structured coaching framework, sales enablement can have a marked impact on coaching effectiveness and its results. Structured coaching ensures reps maintain consistent behavior, sustain high sales results, and follow a sales process.
Here is a four-step framework for leading effective sales coaching conversations that enable managers to best support reps.
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A summary of the “when and what” that will be covered in the next coaching session, pre-work ensures ample preparation and establishes expectations for the coaching process.
Setting expectations for what both managers and reps hope to get out of coaching can often be overlooked. However, pre-work is an important step to aligning on a solid game plan for the session, anticipating what might occur, and deciding what reps and managers anticipate as a result.
Sales enablement can work with reps to ensure they come armed with the information necessary to maximize the productivity of coaching conversations. Putting action items and questions in writing will help coaches assess whether the rep is able to accomplish everything they set out to do.
Prior to the coaching session, reps should be on point to fill out the following sections of the coaching framework to submit to their managers, who can then adjust or add other items as needed:
- Agenda: Include three to four items to guide the conversation set by the rep. Managers should review the pre-work and note any additional areas that they’d like to hone in on with reps so that both parties can prepare for the meeting.
- Questions: To enhance this step even further, enablement can provide reps with a brief questionnaire to fill out and submit for a pre-read prior to the meeting covering any necessary background or introducing new information. Likewise, managers can prepare one to two questions for the rep to come prepared to discuss in order to maximize the benefits of the information shared.
While it is important for both parties to come prepared, it is just as important to ensure the coaching process leaves room for candid discussion and feedback to generate truly meaningful coaching conversations.
“One of the core components to a successful coaching framework is really just being able to dig in and have a very transparent, open, vulnerable discussion with the sales reps to get them to open up and describe what their current challenges are,” said Evangeline Earl, senior corporate sales trainer for Granite Telecommunications. “Really get them to start thinking, and be very consciously aware of where their gaps may be. That’s one way where we’re able to start to pull out from the sales rep themselves different areas that they might be struggling with or different challenges they see.”
However, it is critical that managers follow the agenda set by the rep and allow the rep to speak openly. The conversation is a two-way dialogue between both parties, with managers focused on listening intently and asking probing questions to help guide reps through critical thinking and spark creativity.
“I connect with them and I give them the time that they deserve,” said Haskell. “I know every single rep. I know not just about their accounts and the money and revenue generation side of things, I know about them personally. I make them stakeholders in their own success. The second that you enroll them in having a say, right then and there, is inspiring to a sales rep.”
To help stimulate conversations focused on seller competence and confidence, Haskell recommends asking the following questions:
- What keeps them up at night that I can help with?
- What process isn’t as efficient as it can be that I can streamline?
- What areas of the business are we missing that I can advocate for?
Referring to the takeaways listed within the framework will help keep coaches and reps accountable to the key concepts or realizations confronted during the coaching session. By providing clarity and allowing for reps to track their improvement over time, a record of topics of high importance helps navigate from reps’ goals to desired outcomes when implementing personal action plans.
At the close of each coaching conversation, managers and reps need to align on next steps and agree upon an action plan — with crystal clear shared commitments and defined goals — to complete prior to the next session. Committing to specific outcomes increases accountability. As recommended by Tim Chapman, et. al’s “Coaching Winning Sales Teams: Insights,” consider asking the following questions to seek commitment:
- What are the actions we agreed on?
- How confident are you carrying out these actions?
- When do you think you’ll be able to have these actions completed?
- How will I know you’ve completed these actions?
- What support do you need?
A recent study reported that people are 65% more likely to meet their commitments when they make them public, written, and reviewed. Publicly define what the rep is expected to achieve and the objectives they are responsible for fulfilling. Further, clarify what the rep is going to do between now and the next session to put them on the path to the greatest success. Consider these strategies to help guide managers in establishing specific action plans:
- Set Goals:
- Establish specific KPIs: Coaches must align with enablement on metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching process. Keeping the strategic goals in mind can help coaches hone in on the key results they need to see from their team in order to improve performance through coaching. The rep should outline the specific steps they plan to take in order to reach the desired result.
- Limit priorities: An action plan is not a laundry list of every email response and meeting the rep is participating in that week, but rather a summary of the most important activities to drive towards their goals. Focus on listing out just one to three per session.
- Clarify Next Steps:
- Implement deadlines: Set deadlines to allow for frequent performance assessments, as well as address any issues that arise before they impact overall outcomes, to ensure that certain milestones are met or the overall objectives are achieved.
- Delegate responsibilities: Coaching will engage with many different roles and responsibilities. Delegate duties to the responsible party early so that they know what is needed from them and when.
“If it’s not happening consistently, if there aren’t goals, if there isn’t a level of accountability that comes from it, then I just don’t think that you see that progress,” said Stacey Justice, vice president of sales enablement at productivity at HashiCorp.
Close tracking of goals helps increase manager buy-in and ensure reps feel responsible for progress made, rather than the feeling of disconnect that can often result from reps being left to their own devices. Furthermore, it makes it easier to have enforceable consequences if a rep does not commit to their own development, or if a manager does not dedicate time and effort to coaching.
Follow-ups are opportunities to review what is working and what’s not. To maximize effectiveness, managers and reps should review progress against the commitments agreed to in the action plan. Focus on:
- Results: Review results to action plan’s defined objectives together, focusing on addressing any gaps, practicing skills, or reinforcing strengths.
- Challenges and Obstacles: Discuss any challenges that inhibited reps from doing what they committed to. Touch on any areas that need addressing, such as lack of execution or time working on unproductive activities, to increase pressure on reps to make improvements. Adjust priorities to ensure reps are working on the right things.
“The coaching framework that we have…really creates a basis for a meaningful discussion and a journey to improvement,” said Terry Mitchell, director of sales enablement at Fujifilm. “We do this in a bit of a safe environment. The managers really saw the value in helping their team improve their skills, and they bought in pretty quickly.”
Good sales coaching is not about telling reps exactly what to do, giving the same advice to every rep, and ignoring individual motivators, strengths, and weaknesses. Rather, effective sales coaching is iterative, individualized, and inclusive. The reality is that no two sales reps are the same, so it’s important to tailor coaching programs to meet their needs. Sales enablement can invest in a dynamic coaching approach to maximize rep performance.
The coaching framework is designed to provide a formal process and culture of coaching accountability to ensure that managers focus on the most important areas. As a result, every rep can be adequately supported and equipped to effectively reach their personal quota as well as the team’s quota and goals.