Sales Coaching 101: How to Help Your Sales Representatives Succeed

sales coaching

Strong sales coaching is critical for sales success. Research shows that sales representatives who receive effective coaching can increase their win rate by 54% within a year and a half of starting a coaching program. Furthermore, overall turnover can decrease by 12% simply by implementing good coaching.

But despite the benefits of coaching, many sales managers just aren’t providing it. 73% of sales managers spend less than 5% of their time coaching sales representatives. The biggest reason for this scary statistic? 47% of sales managers say they don’t know how to coach.

Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned! Here are seven best practices for sales coaching:

1. Provide feedback regularly and immediately.

Effective coaching is only effective in an organizational culture in which giving and receiving feedback is the norm. To establish a feedback culture on your team, don’t wait for scheduled evaluations to offer feedback to your sales reps. When you see a good opportunity to provide feedback (including positive reinforcement), take it. This helps your representatives learn to appreciate feedback as part of the learning process.

It’s helpful to model effective feedback-giving skills to your team. Begin with something positive. This helps sales reps to relax so they can more clearly understand what else you have to say. When you do offer criticism, include actionable feedback that your rep can start to practice right away. Leave the door open for them to discuss the issue in the future. Once this practice becomes common on your team, sales reps will become comfortable in giving and receiving feedback.

2. Create a tailored coaching program based on each rep’s strengths and weaknesses.

The best coaches don’t use one-size-fits-all techniques. You need to really understand your representatives individually: their strengths, weaknesses, and how they best learn new information.

Sales representatives’ numbers give insight into overall performance, but they don’t necessarily indicate the root cause of performance issues. Lagging numbers can be the result of many potential problems. Is the representative unable to get buy-in from prospects during cold calls? Are they failing to ask prospects the right questions during the qualification process? Do they lack sufficient product knowledge? Or is it a matter of personal problems affecting performance?

If you’re going to help your representative get past these roadblocks, you need to figure out what’s getting in the way of their success. It’s also helpful to better understand representatives’ strengths so that reps can take full advantage of their talents.

3. Utilize data in the sales coaching process.

Sometimes receiving feedback can feel pretty subjective. Data takes the fuzziness out of it and allows you to clearly communicate with your representatives. Although data doesn’t always prescribe precise solutions, it’s great for starting conversations: “From the data we see that your cold calls aren’t having the results we’d like to see. Do you know why that might be?”

Sometimes, representatives might not understand a particular metric and why it’s relevant. It’s your job to walk them through it in a way that makes sense to them. Once representatives understand what different sales metrics mean and why they’re important, they can monitor their own progress.

4. Ask the right questions to figure out where your direct reports need help.

Many inexperienced sales coaches believe that coaching is all about telling their reps what to do. That’s a backwards way to coach. Before you can provide effective guidance to your reps, you need to ask them questions about how things are going. This allows you to figure out where the representative needs the most help in a way that’s truly collaborative.

Your questions should be specific. Vague questions like “what do you need help with?” or “how are things going?” are incredibly frustrating for sales representatives, and rarely yield useful information. And while asking about specific deals can be helpful, you should also go into the details of sales representatives’ processes and work habits. Focus on “how” instead of “what”: How do you prospect? How do you follow up on phone calls?

5. Discuss the beginning and middle of the pipeline with sales representatives—not just end results.

It’s natural to focus on final quarterly numbers and nearly closed deals with your representatives. But you can actually have more impact when you focus the early parts of the pipeline. By reviewing the deals that are still in the earlier stages, you can help set your sales representative up for success. Talk about next steps, what resources they can draw on to move the prospect through the pipeline, etc.

Coaching your reps through the early and middle stages of the pipeline will help them close deals and learn good habits for setting up future deals.

6. Focus on one area for improvement at a time.

Giving sales reps too many things to work on at the same time is overwhelming. Instead, select one area at a time for them to focus on. So they might focus on developing better product knowledge or improving sales follow-ups.

Provide concrete suggestions for what they can do to improve, and point them towards appropriate resources. Once they’ve shown noticeable improvement in that one area, they can move on to something else with greater confidence.

7. Come up with a plan of action for improvement and hold sales representatives accountable for their growth.

For your sales coaching to have noticeable impact, you can’t just end your conversation and hope that it works. Good documentation helps coaching sessions to really stick. After every coaching session, ask the sales representative to create a record of your discussion. The document should include topics discussed and mutually agreed upon goals for improvement. Then, you should check in regularly to make sure that progress towards these goals is underway.

Although you may need to alter the plan to accommodate new developments, there always should be a clearly documented plan. The existence of a plan helps hold representatives accountable for what they learn in sales coaching sessions.

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Senior Marketing Manager @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.