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Sales Coaching: The Ultimate Guide

Imagine your sales team performing 19% better -- not just over the next several weeks, but month after month.

Research from the Sales Executive Council (SEC) examined thousands of salespeople and found receiving quality coaching helped them improve long-term performance up to 19%.

A separate study from CSO Insights reveals a correlation between quota attainment and coaching. When coaching skills exceed expectations, 94.8% of reps meet quota. When coaching skills need improvement, only 84.5% hit.

In other words, no other productivity investment has anywhere near the impact of sales coaching.

But what is sales coaching, and how do you do it well? In this guide, we’ll dive into:

What Is Sales Coaching?

At its most basic level, sales coaching is designed to maximize the performance of an individual.

Let’s get a little more specific. Sales coaching is:

  • Ongoing
  • Individualized
  • Meant to reinforce or correct behavior
  • Part of the salesperson’s daily or weekly routine
  • Focused on skills and techniques, not numbers

And what doesn’t fall under the sales coaching umbrella? Telling salespeople exactly what to do (rather than giving them the end goal and letting them figure out the specifics), giving the same advice to every single person, and ignoring individual motivators, strengths, and weaknesses.

Examples of Sales Coaching

To get a better sense of what sales coaching looks like, here are a few examples:

  • Reviewing a call with your salesperson and discussing what went well and where they could improve
  • Having a weekly check-in to talk about the areas of the sales process they’re less confident about and their objectives
  • Shadowing their meeting
  • Going on a ride-along

Benefits of Sales Coaching

As I highlighted in the introduction, sales coaching has a proven effect on your bottom line. But win rates aren’t the only reason you should give your salespeople coaching.

First, coaching improves your retention rates. Rep turnover is a notorious problem in sales -- and while burnout or a bigger salary elsewhere will always tempt some, professional development opportunities will motivate many others to stay. Nine in 10 employees say professional development is “important” or “very important,” and four in 10 specifically want in-house programs.

Second, coaching gives you an opportunity to share best practices. When you notice one rep is using a strategy to great success, you can immediately teach the rest of your team to do the same thing. With sales coaching, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Third, you maximize your investment in sales training. Companies spend billions per year on sales training, but research shows most of the curriculum doesn’t stick. Effective sales training relies on consistent, long-term reinforcement -- which the sales manager can achieve through coaching.

Sales Coaching Models

There are hundreds of different sales coaching models. Many managers are less than enthused about them -- and I understand why.

Some coaching models are designed for any manager with reports, rather than a sales manager and their reps. But sales is an incredibly distinct profession. It requires its own coaching model. If you’re considering a generic model, remember that you’ll probably struggle to adapt it to your own team.

Some models only work with specific methodologies. That can be frustrating if you don’t like the model that you’re supposed to use. Luckily, you can always adapt a hybrid of your prescribed coaching model and one you’re more enthusiastic about.

Some models are overly structured. Look for something flexible that you can use with different sales processes; that way, if you change your strategy, you won’t need a brand-new coaching model.

Sales Coaching Techniques

1) Use data.

It might feel overwhelming to figure out what to focus on -- both team-wide and with individual reps. That’s where data comes into play. Rather than using your gut to guide you, use your CRM to identify where your salespeople could improve.

Wondering what that might look like? You should keep track of funnel stage conversion metrics on a monthly basis. If you notice deal velocity is increasing but close rates are decreasing, you should dig into your reps’ email-to-meeting, meeting-to-demo, and demo-to-close rates (or the applicable metrics for your sales process) to understand where they’re moving too fast. You may see many reps are skipping the discovery call and jumping straight to the demo, which saves time but leads to generic, low-value presentations … therefore decreasing win rates.

In addition, compare each salesperson to their historical performance, the team’s average performance, and/or your top performers’ performances.

Let’s suppose your rep’s average deal size is $500. This quarter, their average was $300. Your best salespeople are averaging $600. With this context, it's clear this rep needs help.

2) Mix up your coaching style.

Selling requires a variety of skills and techniques, so make sure your coaching incorporates multiple styles.

Mike Kunkle, director of sales enablement at Brainshark, recommends varying between:

  • Strategic coaching, or big picture guidance on topics like selling into a specific market, navigating a complex buying process, working with customer champions, etc.
  • Tactical coaching, or nitty-gritty suggestions on starting a relationship, qualifying, etc.
  • Skills coaching, or helping salespeople improve their communication, questioning strategies, rapport-building abilities, etc.

3) Get buy-in.

One of the worst ways to try to change a salesperson’s behavior? Tell them what to do. Most salespeople are fairly independent -- that’s why they’ve chosen to work in sales -- and don’t respond well to being ordered around.

You’ll have far more success if you involve them in the improvement process. That means asking them how they think they performed, what they can do to get better, and which metrics will help them measure their progress.

4) Leverage your best reps.

Salespeople can learn just as much from each other as you. Use that to your advantage -- if one person on the team is crushing it, ask them to share their learnings with everyone else.

To give you an idea, imagine two of your reps are getting great results from prospecting on LinkedIn. Figure out what they’re doing differently. Are they sending a specific message? Targeting a specific set of users? Answering questions in specific groups? These reps should give a presentation on their winning strategy -- perhaps during your next team meeting.

Not only will your other salespeople be eager to imitate them, the group will potentially find an even more effective way to execute this play.

Sales Coaching Best Practices

1) Focus on the middle 60%.

According to research from Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon, authors of The Challenger Sale, most sales managers tend to spend most of their energy coaching the “very best and very worst” salespeople on their team.

Managers feel compelled to help the bottom 20% to get their team to quota. They want to help the top 20% because it’s rewarding.

Consequently, the middle 60% gets the least attention. But Adamson and Dixon explain “the real payoff from good coaching lies among … your core performers.”

After all, the worst-performing salespeople usually aren’t right for the role. You should replace them, not try to train them up.

And the stars show no performance improvement from coaching. So when you’re thinking about which reps to focus your attention on, think of the middle of the pack.

2) Share your vision.

Salespeople want to know like they’re contributing to the company’s success. Not only is it motivating, but it gives them non-monetary fulfillment.

Come up with a mission for your team that goes beyond “Sell X amount of business.” This goal should be specific, actionable, and exciting -- think “Break into A market,” “Become known internally for doing B,” or “Break the company record for C.”

Periodically during team meetings and one-on-ones, share overall progress toward this objective. You should also point out the people who have made significant contributions; for example, “I want to recognize Joella for landing a huge new corporate account, which will definitely increase our visibility in that market.”

3) Learn each salesperson’s drivers.

Everyone is driven by different things. Even if the majority of your reps are motivated by making money, their specific financial goals probably vary widely. One salesperson might be paying off their student loans, while another may be saving up for a house. Some salespeople are primarily in sales because they love the autonomy.

To identify how you can engage your reps, HubSpot sales director Dan Tyre recommends asking what they want to accomplish in both their personal and professional lives.

“This will not only show you the type of person they are, but also give you insight into what things will motivate them the most,” he explains.

Tyre follows up with these questions:

  1. Are you motivated right now?
  2. What motivates you long term?
  3. What can you do to motivate yourself?
  4. How will I know if you are not motivated?
  5. What do you want me to do if you don’t appear motivated?

Having these insights will allow you to tailor your coaching style to each rep.

4) Use incentives effectively.

Sales contests and incentives should change behaviors, not reinforce existing ones. That’s why offering $100 to the first rep to make a sale that day probably isn’t helpful.

Figure out what your salespeople aren’t doing that you’d like them to -- and design your contest around that action.

To illustrate, maybe your reps are focusing too heavily on product A because it requires less technical knowledge than product B. You might give an extra bonus to every salesperson who sells more than X units of product B.

5) Give personal rewards.

Tyre is a big believer in giving individual prizes. These should be tied to the specific rep’s goals -- to give you an idea, if she’s working on increasing her call-to-meetings rate, you might tell her you’ll take her to a fancy lunch once she improves it by Y percent.

Not sure what to offer as a prize? Here’s where knowing every salesperson’s motivators is handy. You can also directly ask them, “What can I give you as a prize for achieving [objective]?” People know themselves better than anyone.

Sales coaching is both an art and a science. It's one of -- it not the -- most important compoments of sales management. Do it well, and your team's results will speak for you.

HubSpot CRM