The Sales Coach's Companion: 25 Sales Coaching Tips from the Experts
Transform your organization with these sales coaching best practices and social selling tips from the experts.
March 9, 2016
Sales leaders who embrace sales coaching can transform their team into quota-crushing superstars. According to research from CEB, salespeople who receive three hours of sales coaching a month exceed quota, boost revenue by 25%, and increase the average close rate by 70%.
To help you equip your team to succeed, we put together a collection of social selling tips, lessons, and sales coaching best practices from thought leaders in the sales profession.
The following advice can help you formulate your coaching strategy, encourage continual learning, and create a collaborative environment that breeds success.
Start at the Top
It’s important for everyone in management to share a vision of your coaching program’s purpose and process. From the C-suite to the sales managers on the ground, a clear and consistent vision will help you get buy-in from your team.
1. Agree on a shared definition of coaching
“Everyone, from the executive vice president of sales down to the frontline sales manager, needs to share the same definition of what good coaching is. Good coaching includes observation and feedback, certainly, but also strategy development, creating opportunities for practice, and even detailed help in meeting preparation.” Scott Edinger, Founder, Edinger Consulting Group
2. Integrate coaching into a holistic approach
“Your sales coaching strategy should sit alongside your sales training strategy and your sales mentoring strategy. That means your sales coaching program should fit within the broader context of training and development programs available and be designed to help sellers perform better.” Brian Lambert, Consulting Practice Lead, Sales Enablement, Oxygen Learning
3. Create a coaching culture
“The interesting part of sales coaching is that once you identify (and share) individual and team goals and accomplishments you will create an environment where coaching teams, sharing successes and learning from mistakes are values that are encouraged.” Elay Cohen, CEO & Co-Founder, SalesHood
4. Practice what you preach
“One of the most important qualities of a good leader is for you to lead by example, to be a role model, to be the kind of person that everyone else looks up to and wants to be like. One of the characteristics of leaders is that they carry themselves at all times, even when no one is watching, as if everyone was watching.” – Brian Tracy, Speaker, Author, CEO Bryan Tracy International
Invest in the Process
Good coaching takes time. While time is a limited resource for busy sales managers, investing time in individual coaching will make you far more effective than applying a generic approach to the entire team.
5. Take time to learn your team
“In order to be a highly effective coach, you need to understand the natural abilities of each person you plan to grow and create a clear plan to do this. This means creating strategies to maximize their innate strengths and provide them with opportunities to use and grow those strengths. It also means recognizing any weaknesses they may have and building workarounds to keep those weaknesses from getting in their way.” Matt Sunshine, Managing Partner, The Center for Sales Strategy
6. Focus efforts on those who will benefit most
“Rather than focusing on the leaders and the laggards, coach the middle 2/3 of reps who have both the room for improvement and the incentive to be top performers. In fact, a study from HBR showed that coaching has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization.” Shelley Cernel, Senior Marketing Manager, Knowledge Tree
7. See each person as an individual
“Today, top sales reps want to work for leaders who are invested in their success, can show them a path to quota and will help them develop both their sales skills and general business skills.” Jay Larson, CEO, Birst
8. Build trust by taking a genuine interest
“Trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving. Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness, and empathy are the best.” Jonathan Farrington, Managing Partner, Jonathan Farrington & Associates
9. Spend time observing salespeople in action
“The best sales managers know that it all starts with spending time out in the field, coaching salespeople, rather than simply looking at the scores. They ride with them to the appointments, ask them questions about their plans for the call, give them feedback on what they did right, and help them to continually improve.” Matt Sunshine
10. Let go of the one-size-fits-all approach
“Specific plans and focuses need to be set based on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Only by tailoring the approach to each person can a uniformly strong sales department be created.” Doug Chapman, Learning & Development Consultant, Thales Training & Consultancy
11. Keep your coaching timely
“For effective real-world training to happen, a competent leader needs to listen in on sales calls, review recordings, and analyze the person’s performance to offer timely and specific feedback. This should ideally happen hours after the experience so the feedback is fresh and the salesperson can reflect on the experience.” Andrew Fayad, CEO, eLearning Mind
12. Make it part of your daily routine
“Create a feedback loop that becomes part of your day-to-day management routine. Don’t let your annual review be the only time you discuss performance with your employees. Spend time together, in-person or virtually, in real-time discussing opportunities for development.” – Vishal Shah, Director of Customer Services, APAC, Pearson VUE
Encourage Dialog that Leads to Self-Discovery
Some managers use the terms “feedback” and “coaching” interchangeably, but the two have very different goals. Feedback aims to correct a single behavior by handing down a new rule from on high. Coaching sessions foster a dialog that encourages salespeople to discover their own opportunities for improvement.
13. Have reps prepare for each session
“Have your reps prepare a very brief summary of their month-to-date activities, pipe gen, and revenue numbers (with some related commentary) before your 1:1. Not only does it save tons of time, but it helps develop muscle memory around the self-diagnosis of their own sales funnel.” David Priemer, Vice President Commercial Sales, Salesforce
14. Set an agenda
“A proper coaching session should be like a productive work out where you plan the regimen in advance. The best 1:1’s include an agenda framework to keep both participants on track. Some topics can be chosen by the manager, some by the team member, with time baked in for “other business." David Priemer
15. Listen more than you talk
“In a 1:1 session, the manager should only do 10% of the talking and 90% of the listening (the opposite of how many 1:1’s actually work).” Ben Horowitz, Principal, Andreessen Horowitz
16. Allow time for reps to think
“Non-reactivity on the part of the coach gives the person being coached room to roam from perspective to perspective, from one incomplete thought to another until they begin to become whole thoughts and the basis for growth.” Douglas Riddle, Global Director, Coaching Services and Assessment Portfolio, Center for Creative Leadership
17. Ask open questions
“To create momentum for change, effective coaches use the power of questioning. Open questioning creates an environment where the sales rep thinks through areas of focus and change, offering proactive methods to achieve targets.” Steven Rosen, Executive Coach, Coaching & Leadership Development
18. Start with high-level concerns before narrowing down
“Your sales coaching conversations will build naturally if you develop your questions from general to specific. If you get too specific too soon in your sales coaching conversations, you’ll experience awkward moments that interrupt the flow of your discussions and slow down the coaching process.” Peri Shawn, Coach, Coaching and Sales Institute
19. Encourage reps to go deeper
“When you are able to get them talking about their ideas and beliefs underlying their actions, then you are better able to coach them. This is because you will be dealing with the root cause of their behavior, whether it is positive or negative.” Sarah Wirth, Vice President Member Services, EcSELL Institute
Facilitate Self-Directed Improvement
Once the salesperson has a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, you can equip them to make improvements. If the improvement plan comes from the salesperson, they will continue coaching themselves between sessions.
20. Let them take the lead
“We are constantly amazed by how much people will do when they are not told what to do by management. You can’t manage self-confidence into people.” Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO, General Electric (1981-2001)
21. Emphasize intrinsic motivation
“Coaching should address reps’ strengths and activities independently of the manager’s analysis. Therefore, if a rep responds to coaching, the desire to change comes from within. They seek a better self-analysis, and this is obviously a much more powerful motivator.” Jeff Hoffman, President and Founder, M.J. Hoffman and Associates
22. Encourage self-evaluation
“The purpose behind asking questions first is to promote self-discovery by the salesperson, since self-discovery is the most persuasive motivator of behavior change… A salesperson is much more likely to change a behavior if they discover the gap themselves.” David Jacoby, Managing Partner, Sales Readiness Group
23. Enable reps to own the process
“We often find that people are very aware and often extremely critical of their own performance, and likely the one or two points they make are right on target if we give them a chance to analyze their own performance instead of telling them what do. Not only will they be more likely to “own” the solution, but they will often surprise you with the suggestions and insights they bring.” Ray Makela, Managing Director, Sales Readiness Group
24. Foster self-awareness for self-guided growth
“When doing a post call debrief or skill assessment, it is critical to have the sales person guide the process and self-evaluate. As a sales manager you may only be in the field with the rep one or two days a month. The goal is to encourage the sales rep to evaluate how they did on each call even when you are not in the field with them. This can lead to greater self-awareness by your sales reps.” Steven Rosen
25. Provide guidance, not mandates
“What managers do not understand is that help to a rep is getting the resources they need, not telling them what to do.” Brian Burns, Host, The Brutal Truth about Sales & Selling Podcast
Successful sales organizations use coaching as a foundation of their sales philosophy, not just a one-off training opportunity. Use the advice in this post to create a coaching environment that motivates your salespeople to continually improve.
For more social selling tips and advice on leading your organization, download our new eBook: Crossing the Chasm: How To Capitalize on the Social Selling Trend.