4 Practical Ways to Bring Focus and Discipline to Your Sales Coaching

December 7, 2015


Based on the book Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach, by Linda Richardson, this is the fourth post in a series that summarizes the key themes of the books and highlights best practices. In the previous post we covered the essentials around needed coaching skills and effective feedback. In this post, we provide an overview of the focus and discipline that goes into sales coaching.

Effective sales coaching is not a once-and-done exercise: it takes an ongoing commitment to training and guiding your sales reps to steadily and continuously improve their abilities and performance. To that end, the book Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach emphasizes “focus” and “discipline” as the important management dimension of sales coaching.

In Merriam-Webster, focus means “to fix (as one's attention) steadily toward a central objective” and “discipline” means “to train to do something by controlling [your] behavior.” Along those lines, the book author underscores dedication, setting clear objectives, and consistent, quality coaching. This can come in the form of noticing progress or issues, providing ongoing support and feedback, and following up.

Here are four practical tips the book shares for doing just that.

  1. Plan to coach.

Since effective sales coaching requires focus and discipline, the best approach is to plan coaching rather than treat it as an ad-hoc, spontaneous exercise. With that in mind, work with your sales reps to develop quarterly sales coaching plans. By including their input, you better gain buy-in for their involvement while also clarifying expectations.

  1. Split your time 80/20.

With a goal of empowering your reps to be self-sufficient, the majority (80%) of your management time should be focused on coaching. To determine how much time to spend with each sales rep, you’ll need to consider factors such as the nature and complexity of your business, each rep’s skill level and tenure, and how well the team works together. According to the book, the ideal number of direct reports on a sales team is 6-8 salespeople per manager. And the ideal number of sales managers per regional manager is 4-5. Given that, it recommends the following as a rule of thumb: allocate a minimum of three hours of 1:1 coaching each month for each salesperson.

The book also offers a formula for figuring out how to allocate your time across your team.

  • Top performers: Schedule at least one sales coaching meeting a month with these reps and recruit them to help others on the team.
  • Mid-tier performers. Dedicate 60% of your coaching time to this group.
  • Underperformers. Don’t make the classic mistake of spending too much time with reps who fail to deliver. Research shows you can only help 5-6% of these reps improve. That said, plan to spend 40% of your time here.
  1. One focus/15 minutes.

If you focus on one thing or issue in each session, you should be able to get through each session in 15 minutes or less.

  1. Prepare and follow up.

Put serious preparation into your coaching and consistently follow up so your reps know you take sales coaching seriously. Once you’ve gotten into a routine and have developed your quarterly coaching plans, your prep times should get shorter and shorter. Preparation can include research into how the rep is progressing against goals, revisiting the coaching plan, and reviewing the agreement you and the rep struck in the previous coaching session. Remember to go into each coaching meeting with a measurable outcome in mind and questions you plan to ask the rep. And follow up after each session to see how the rep is performing against the goal and to provide additional guidance and encouragement.

Check in soon for the next post in this series, in which we will review different sales coaching strategies. In the meantime, sign up for our blog to stay in the know on this and other sales-related topics.