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Strategies for Effective Sales Coaching

| 8 min read


Casual interactions between managers and sales reps are not enough to provide the sales force with coaching that has real value. Sellers need structured, thoughtful coaching sessions to truly improve their ability to have effective conversations with customers and prospects.

Enabling sales teams with the content and tools they need for outreach is important, but enabling sales managers with the knowledge and resources they need to be effective coaches for their team is just as critical.

Many sales managers today are former top-performing reps that got promoted. While this means they have invaluable insight into the product, how to capture the attention of various buyer personas, and what it takes to be successful in sales, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to help their team get to that level.

Sales enablement teams need to help sales managers provide effective coaching by instilling an understanding of why it is critical, where and when they should provide coaching, and how to do it in a meaningful way.

Why is Coaching Critical?

Some level of sales training is common in most sales organizations, but coaching takes that training a step further. Going beyond the tactical level of skills training and workshops, sales coaching is strategic. It is a continuous process of helping sales reps optimize their behaviors to improve performance and recognize how they can do so.

Effective sales coaching can unlock the potential of middle and low-performing reps and transform them into high performers. At the same time, it can help top performers maintain their pace and reach the next level faster.

When guiding sales managers in coaching their teams, emphasize that the purpose of sales coaching is to enable reps to be able to act and respond eloquently in situations they may encounter in their day-to-day as a seller. Their performance against key metrics such as quota attainment and lead conversion can certainly indicate where an individual rep is lagging, but without coaching it is difficult for a manager to be able to pinpoint the behaviors that are leading to those outcomes and the specific areas they need to improve on.

“Understanding where a particular rep may need some coaching around a certain skill set is important,” said Gregory McBeth, head of revenue at Node.io. “It’s really about finding that balance, and the coaching that I’m going to give to one person in one situation is not the same coaching that I’ll give another person in another situation.”

Where & When to Coach

For the most effective sales coaching, managers must meet the field where they are at. Sales managers are consistently strapped for time and spread thin with priorities. At the same time, every minute that sales reps spend not selling during their day means potential opportunities missed.

With time constraints on both ends, it is important that sales coaching does not get pushed to the back burner. To drive participation in the coaching program, establish a consistent cadence but require a minimal time commitment.

Regular one-on-ones between managers and reps should also occur on a consistent basis, but they need to be thought of and treated differently than coaching.

“Sales managers on average report giving sales coaching three to four hours per month,” said Jenna Cronin, director of sales enablement at Unbabel. “Sales reps report receiving one hour per month. So, when you ask your manager, ‘are you coaching your reps?’, they say, ‘oh, I talk to my people all the time’. Well, okay, but that wasn’t the question. We need to define what it is and maybe give them some assistance with those agendas, or what that looks like.”

Perhaps brief one-on-one check-ins to walk through account activity and tactical goals occur weekly, but more focused and intentional coaching sessions happen monthly. That way, sales managers can stay up-to-date on how their reps are doing, but have the time to focus on and discuss specific behaviors during longer, strategic sessions.

Sales enablement professionals can help bring value to these sessions by providing a methodology for sales coaching that managers can apply to individual issues and scenarios.

How to Coach

Create a simple process that can be easily tailored to different situations and, most importantly, can be repeated.

John Dougan, director of global sales and productivity at Workday, and his team built a program aimed at doing exactly that: breaking down sales coaching into a simple model that is easy to understand, teach, and adapt to any issue.

This model divides the sales coaching process into three parts: observation, assessment, and coaching. Using a 70:20:10 framework, 10% of the program focuses on teaching the participants something new. They are given 15 minutes’ worth of consumable information in the form of videos, audio, or written components that explores a common scenario a sales rep might encounter in their daily routine.

The next 20% relies on socialization. Two weeks after they received the new material have had a chance to digest it, participants join together for 90 minutes to dive deeper into the concepts with peers.

“We’re giving them an opportunity to socialize and discuss the practices they’re learning in one-on-one coaching calls, in team meetings, in a variety of different ways for them to socialize what they’re learning,” said Dougan.

The remaining 70% of the program focuses on providing participants with the circumstantial capabilities to practice the framework every day.

The 70:20:10 cycle repeats itself every month, which over time instills the same methodology in their approach to problem-solving, equipping them to tackle issues beyond just what they learn in the program.

“When you drip feed someone over a 12-month period, what they eventually become well-versed in is using that methodology for circumstantial gain and then the opportunity when it arises to deal with a circumstance that hasn’t been approached, and they apply the same framework naturally,” said Dougan.

While this is just one example of many successful coaching frameworks, this particular approach is effective because it is consistent. Participants in the program know exactly what to expect from the format, the mandated time commitment is reasonable, and the repetition of the same model helps them learn how to apply the same skills to circumstances that extend beyond the program.

Coaching is an important vehicle to drive sales performance and productivity, and it’s an area that should top the list of priorities for sales enablement. Guiding sales managers through the process, from why it is important to how it can be structured, will enable them to give meaningful, impactful coaching to their sales reps.