There is so much more to being a good salesperson than being able to close a deal.
While yes, the ability to secure and win new business is important for every company’s bottom line, successful salespeople need to be well-rounded professionals with business acumen and relationship-building skills. It’s important to note, however, that these skills don’t come out of nowhere. Having talented sales reps is often a result of investing in effective sales coaching.
According to research conducted by ValueSelling Associates, over half of high-performing businesses that have had sales coaching programs in place for three years or more experience high growth. Sales coaching is a long-term investment that can lead to positive outcomes for organizations that do it right.
How should an organization approach sales coaching to achieve these outcomes? Is it up to managers to provide all the coaching reps need, or are they better off bringing in outside support?
Though sales managers are often tasked with providing some coaching support, they often don’t have the bandwidth to provide structured coaching many reps need – that’s why professional sales coaches who can drive optimal results while giving time back to reps and managers are more valuable than ever.
If you’re considering a future in sales coaching, continue reading to understand the key competencies of the role, common mistakes to avoid, and take the quiz below to test your sales coaching knowledge.
The Traits of a Good Sales Coach
- Supportive and Encouraging
- Able to Give Positive and Constructive Feedback
- Can Adapt to Different Learning Styles
- Create and Execute Actionable Training Plans
- Strong Listening and Communication Skills
Strong sales coaches must be able to collaborate well with others. For example, if a sales coach is developing a training plan for a rep they are working with, their ability to collaborate with the rep’s manager to understand the rep’s current level of performance can make all the difference in creating a relevant training plan.
When sales coaches can openly and effectively collaborate, they are able to create holistic training solutions, providing the best results possible for their clients.
A stellar sales coach must be results-oriented. After all, a company investing in sales coaching is doing so because there is an expected result for their bottom line. The ability to craft an actionable coaching plan and guide a client through it, resulting in improved tangible skills for the rep, is essential for a sales coach.
3. Supportive and Encouraging
Though the individual needs of each client may differ (more on that later), most people do like to feel supported and encouraged when being coached or learning a new skill. Successful sales coaches should be able to provide a supportive safe space for their coaching clients to foster new work habits and feel encouraged throughout the process.
That’s not to say a bit of tough love doesn’t work, however, in many coaching scenarios it isn’t effective when it’s the only approach.
4. Able to Give Positive and Constructive Feedback
Feedback is a powerful tool for improving employee performance. After all, many employees don’t know what they’re doing well — or could improve on — without receiving direct feedback.
In sales coaching, the key is providing both positive and constructive feedback that is actionable. For example, if a sales rep could benefit from improving their cold calling skills, tell them one thing they are currently doing well, one area they can improve in, and provide a tactic they can try on their next cold call for a better result.
No one wants to feel criticized. It is important for reps to understand where their skills currently are and how they can continue building upon their strengths to improve.
5. Can Adapt to Different Learning Styles
It’s important to remember coaching is not one-size-fits-all. Good sales coaches are able to adapt their coaching methods to suit the needs of sales reps who have all different learning styles. Providing a personalized experience can make a valuable difference in creating a sales training plan that works.
Because the role of a sales coach is people-facing, and can involve some vulnerability, effective sales coaches must be able to engage and build positive relationships with their clients. Developing soft skills can not only help your coaching efforts, but possessing these skills makes it easier for you to teach them to your clients.
7. Create and Execute Actionable Training Plans
As important as soft skills and the ability to motivate are, sales coaches can’t be all talk — they must be able to create and guide their clients through effective, actionable coaching plans to build their skill set in sales.
A well-rounded coaching plan should clearly state the goals of the sales rep you are working with, what skills they need to strengthen to reach those goals, and what action they will take to get there. In addition to working with the rep to create this plan, a sales coach should act as a guide, supporting the rep through the process as they work towards their goals.
8. Strong Listening and Communication Skills
Last but certainly not least, sales coaches must possess excellent communication skills.
Good communication is critical for any role in the sales field, and as a coach, when you are working with individuals who have varying skill sets and communication styles, you must be able to share and receive information in different ways. Elements of being a strong communicator include:
- Listening to understand, not respond.
- Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Asking thoughtful questions.
- The ability to break down complex subjects in ways that are straightforward and easy to understand.
Now that you’re clear on what traits make a great sales coach, let’s review some common sales coaching mistakes to avoid.
Common Sales Coaching Mistakes
- Not prioritizing coaching.
- Focusing solely on quota attainment.
- Failing to provide actionable plans
- Coaching each rep the same way.
- Only giving negative feedback.
- Using fear-based tactics.
- Solving the rep’s problems for them.
- Not setting clear expectations.
1. Not prioritizing coaching.
This mistake tends to happen at an organizational level. When looking for ways to bring in more sales, it can be tempting to want to prioritize investments that have a faster impact on the bottom-line.
Many organizations task sales managers with the responsibility to do all the coaching for their reps, which may not be the right fit for all sales teams. According to Sales Readiness Group, the top reasons managers don’t engage in sales coaching include:
- They have too much on their plate: Sales managers are busy, and are often pulled in multiple directions while trying to ensure the success of their team. Because of competing priorities, they may not have the bandwidth to give individual reps the attention they need.
- They don’t have coaching skills: A good manager is not always a good coach. If a sales manager hasn’t had the time or resources to develop the traits of good coaches mentioned earlier in the piece, they could be doing more harm than good.
- Lack of defined coaching processes: If a manager is unable to provide the consistency and structure needed to provide effective coaching, reps may not receive the support they need.
This isn’t to say managers are bad sales coaches — that is simply not true. However, if an organization is only relying on sales managers for coaching, there could be a missed opportunity for improvement.
According to ValueSelling, companies that make long-term investments in structured sales coaching programs achieve higher growth, providing a worthwhile return on investment.
2. Focusing solely on quota attainment.
Yes, meeting (and exceeding) quota is incredibly important for sales teams. After all, sales teams being able to sell is how businesses make their money. However, quota attainment shouldn’t be the sole focus of a sales coaching program.
Though it is the job of a sales rep to hit their quota, there are a number of skills required to do so successfully. The skills and sales knowledge it takes to hit a monthly number should be the focus of a coaching program, not the number itself.
By creating a solid foundation of sales skills, well-coached reps will be able to adapt to a variety of goals. However, when sales coaching is focused too heavily on quota reps can struggle to develop beyond hitting a number that is only representative of their organization’s current goal.
3. Failing to provide actionable plans.
If improved skills and performance as a rep are the what, an actionable coaching plan is the how.
When reps are presented with lofty goals without a road map or guidance on how to achieve them, their goals can feel daunting. By walking reps through coaching plans that require clear, consistent action on their part, they are more likely to gain hands-on experience that will serve them throughout their careers.
4. Coaching each rep the same way.
According to ValueSelling Associates, the best sales training programs support a wide variety of skills. That means the curriculum covers a broad set of sales competencies, and can be adapted based on the needs of the individual rep. In this same study, the five most common sales training areas are:
- Listening and communication skills
- Product and service knowledge
- Presentation skills
- Sales process
- Engaging prospects
Sales is a dynamic field, and all of the skills above are needed to be successful. Though one rep may be an excellent communicator, they may struggle with product and service knowledge. Conversely, they may have a colleague who has stellar product knowledge, but needs extra support with presentation skills.
By providing a comprehensive training program that addresses all of these areas, reps are more likely to have their strengths and weaknesses supported.
5. Only giving negative feedback.
While constructive feedback is important for improving on areas of opportunity, no one wants to be criticized or only given negative feedback relentlessly. It can be highly discouraging and demotivating.
Though feedback strategies such as the "sandwich approach" are controversial, try looking for ways to balance constructive and encouraging feedback in a way that works for the rep. Ultimately, any feedback you give should be genuine, and given with the intention to support the client as they continue to grow in their career.
6. Using fear-based tactics.
Avoid using fear-based tactics in your coaching sessions. Incorporating fear-based elements in your coaching can create a sense of scarcity for reps. Though it may be effective at first, or may appeal to the highly competitive, they aren’t sustainable in the long run and can often lead to sales burnout.
Instead of pitting reps against one another, try leveraging a platform like Kixie to provide encouraging leaderboards to encourage performance, and provide real-time call coaching.
7. Solving the rep’s problems for them.
If you’re more experienced than the reps you’re coaching, or have a strength that aligns with their area of opportunity, it can be tempting to want to jump in and solve their problems for them. Whether that’s interrupting and saving the day during a sales pitch that is going south, or giving them the answer to a challenge they are working through instead of giving them space to find a resolution, these behaviors can do more harm than good.
When reps are struggling, it can be a good time to go back to basics, providing direct actionable feedback to help them improve by one skill at a time. Using a tool such as Gong to capture calls and sales activities of the reps you’re coaching allows you to provide pointed feedback that can help them improve over time.
8. Not setting clear expectations.
As a coach, what are you expecting of the reps you’re working with? Should they be setting their own goals and report back with benchmarks? Would you prefer to walk through these activities together? Is there a specific timeframe they should make progress in? Also, do the reps know what to expect from their coach?
Expectations of everyone involved should be clear. This includes but is not limited to:
- Preferred methods of communication
- How often you will meet and through which platform
- What the rep and coach should bring to be prepared for each meeting
- How long the rep and coach will work together
When the expectations are clear, coaching is a more positive experience for both the coach and client.
Now let’s test your sales coaching knowledge with a brief quiz.
Sales Coach Knowledge Check (Quiz)
For many organizations, sales coaching is a worthwhile investment that supports future success. Check out this post for more sales training ideas.