sales coaching unleashed

Sales Coaching Unleashed: Insights from 15 Experts

While most company executives and sales leaders understand and stress the importance of coaching their salespeople to improve performance, the reality is that too many front-line sales managers aren’t doing it enough… or well. Sales coaching has in some ways been a hot topic for quite a long time, but it seems like most organizations still aren’t doing it consistently. What is it about sales coaching that makes it such an on-going challenge?

We asked a number of the foremost thought leaders in sales and sales management to demystify sales coaching and provide tips that can help companies begin to build the coaching culture they’re looking for within their sales organization. What we found? Coaching isn’t elusive or difficult; it just requires focus, intention and a systems approach.

We’ve shared these extremely valuable insights, to the tune of 7,500 words, to help you gain new perspectives on sales coaching. Get comfortable and take a deep dive, or click an individual below to jump straight to his or her contribution.

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david brock

DAVID BROCK

CEO, Partners in EXCELLENCE
Author, Sales Manager Survival Guide

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Both what we’ve seen with our clients and the research data support that coaching drives higher levels of individual and organizational performance.  We have seen tremendous improvements in developing and executing winning/value-based deal strategies, call strategies, account planning, customer satisfaction/retention.  Summed up these result in higher performance to goal, higher levels of sales productivity/efficiency, reduced CPOD.  We’ve also seen coaching have a longer term impact on organizational performance, primarily measured by significantly reduced voluntary and involuntary attrition.  

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

There are several key factors holding managers back from doing more coaching:   

  • Managers don’t know that coaching is a key part of their jobs and their biggest lever to driving performance.   
  • They don’t know how to coach.   
  • They don’t get good coaching from their managers or have good role models to learn from. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

Address the issues above, and make coaching – both the amount of time spent and the impact (quality) of coaching – part of the performance expectations and their performance reviews. 

Make coaching - both the amount of time and the impact (quality of coaching) - part of the performance expectations and their performance reviews.

David Brock

alice heiman

ALICE HEIMAN

Founder & CSO, Alice Heiman, LLC

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Salespeople who receive coaching move up or out very quickly which is extremely cost effective to any company. The companies I work with that provide effective coaching consistently have increased the performance of their team and their sales revenue. The biggest difference is that behavior change comes more quickly with effective and consistent coaching.  

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

The number one thing that holds them back from coaching is the knowledge of how to coach. They may be telling you they are coaching their teams but what they are doing is managing. So although managers report that they are coaching, when you ask the salespeople they report they are not being coached. The other factor I hear is time. They simply don’t have the time to coach. Many are attending meetings, preparing reports, putting out fires and micro-managing. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

From the most senior level, coaching must be a priority.

Alice Heiman

The first step is to understand the difference between managing and coaching and to ensure the sales leaders are well trained to do both. Once trained to coach effectively, sales managers need to be held accountable for coaching by their own managers. The managers of the sales leaders should be trained to coach and should be modeling the behavior. 

From the most senior level, coaching must be a priority, otherwise, those are supposed to be doing the coaching are constantly pulled away on other tasks. Make coaching a priority, train everyone and hold them accountable. Then your sales team will benefit greatly and you will see results very quickly. 

anthony iannarino

ANTHONY IANNARINO

International Speaker & Best-Selling Author
Author, Eat Their Lunch, The Sales Blog

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

If we are being honest, there aren’t too many companies that actually have a coaching practice. Sales managers mostly do what they saw their sales managers do when they were an individual contributor. Those that do have a real coaching practice produce better results, not because they aren’t still focused on managing deals, but because they spend time helping the individuals on their team improve personally and professionally.

When there is no real coaching, managers treat everyone the same, without looking at their strengths and their liabilities and helping them play to their strengths while minimizing the things they do that harm their results. The improvement in the individual is the starting point for improvement in results. Instead of spending time looking at the scoreboard, they spend time helping their players improve their game.

Sales managers mostly do what they saw their sales managers do when they were an individual contributor.

Anthony Iannarino

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

How many sales managers do you know who were brought up under a sales manager that knew how to coach using a non-directive framework? How many do you know who used a competency model to determine in what areas each individual on their team needed to improve in order to improve their performance? 

What prevents sales managers from doing more coaching is that they don’t recognize its importance to their results, they don’t have a good model, and they believe they are too busy, even when every conversation offers an opportunity to coach. Were they to coach the individuals on their team, they would likely immediately become the best leader anyone on their team has ever had. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

First, explore different coaching models and train your team to coach. As a leader, you have to hold people accountable for the changes necessary to improve results, and that means requiring your managers to coach and holding them accountable for coaching. Give your team a model. 

Next, it’s important to develop a competency model. It’s much easier to coach individuals when you can recognize the areas in which they need to improve. A good competency model is going to include character traits, as well as the skills necessary to succeed in sales. 

If you are a sales leader, the best things you can do is go first and start coaching. 

rob jeppsen

ROB JEPPSEN

Founder/CEO, Xvoyant

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

I’ve found that coaching is arguably the single-most impactful catalyst to performance. I suspected this as I worked as a sales leader for small- to medium-sized companies earlier in my career.  But I learned about why coaching really matters as I led sales at a large, publicly traded financial institution. I was on the hook for over $2B in new sales and had nearly 1000 people we led. I found very quickly our success would come in the ability our front line managers had in creating impact in the development and growth of each of our salespeople. 

Creating spreadsheets and dashboards and leaderboards weren’t changing behavior.  Having contests and “fake motivation” weren’t changing behavior either.  I realized we needed leaders to connect to each individual regardless of their performance level…and help create individualized plans for each member of our team.   

As we enabled the leaders instead of only enabling the salespeople we found almost immediate impact. Leaders took an active role in helping each person on our team find their next level and it was cool to see how transformational it was. I left that organization with 72% hitting goal.  

Now that I work with sales organizations around the world that build leadership and coaching systems, I’ve seen at least five ways coaching makes a difference: 

  • Production – Increased total sales across the team.
  • Performance – Higher percentage of reps hitting quota.
  • Adoption – Improved usage of other systems (like CRM).
  • Retention – Reduced rep turnover. In my experience, coaching increases retention by double digits.
  • Win Rate – Higher percentage of deals won. We consistently see north of 20% lift in win rates for organizations with strong coaching cultures.

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

The biggest reason companies and managers struggle with coaching is a lack of a coaching process. Companies standardize how they sell. They train salespeople about messaging, products, and case studies. They provide scripts and tools. The goal is to have a single way they engage the customers in their market. The same is rarely said about how companies develop the people on their team.

Coaching is generally something the reps and the leaders are both in favor of, but there are many misconceptions in what makes for great coaching. I find that over 80% of the time sales leaders self-identify as being “great” at coaching. When we speak to the reps on those teams, 52% of the time they say coaching never happens and only 13% of the time do they say the coaching is helpful. 

I believe less than 5% of sales organizations have a structured “coaching process.” Compare this to 98% of these same teams having some kind of existing sales process and you can see why there is so much variance. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

Commit to Coaching

I’ve learned that it is culture first, skills second.  Step 1 is to create a coaching culture.  This means there is an “expectancy” that EVERYONE will have 1:1s at regularly scheduled times. Reps need an expectancy they will have their 1:1, they know what will be discussed, and that this meeting is 100% about their personal development and success. This is very likely the only meeting they will have that is 100% about them and they need to expect it to be their most strategic meeting they have. 

Likewise, leaders need an expectancy that they need to provide meaningful 1:1s and get good at them… just like a rep needs to provide meaningful sales experiences and get good at them. 

Reps won’t take coaching seriously and neither will leaders unless there is first a culture… an expectancy… that coaching will happen and the experience will be a good one with leaders that are skilled in helping an individual move from current state to future state. 

Create a Coaching Process 

Great coaching is remarkably similar to great selling. Great reps need to discover a need, understand why it matters and then help a prospect commit to solving the problem. Great leaders discover needs in reps, help understand why those needs matter, and then help a rep commit to improving and finding their personal next level. 

Create a process so both the leaders AND the reps know what to expect. The process must include standard frequency, focus points, data sources, collaboration, and follow up. Also, be sure to have a collaborative opportunity for your reps. Let them have a way to share what they want to discuss before the 1:1 so the leader can be prepared to respond rather than wing it. This is important in making the 1:1 highly strategic. You know your 1:1s are really working when the reps come to you with the things THEY want to talk about rather than sitting back wondering what you are expecting to discuss. 

Great coaching is remarkably similar to great selling. Great reps need to discover a need, understand why it matters and then help a prospect commit to solving the problem. Great leaders discover needs in reps, help understand why those needs matter, and then help a rep commit to improving and finding their personal next level. 

Rob Jeppsen

Measure “Coachability” 

This is a big deal and will throw gas on your coaching fire. Doing it is easier than you think. Every 1:1 should have at least one coaching goal.  These are NEVER “close this deal;” They are specific activities a salesperson commits to do as a result of your 1:1. The only person that has to say yes is a salesperson… never a customer. For example, you may have found a specific rep has fewer demos because they don’t make as many prospect calls as their peers. In this case, a goal to execute a certain number of prospect calls would be appropriate. If they are making the right number of calls and it seems they aren’t converting, setting a goal to listen to specific calls that do convert and identifying what is missing from their own calls would be another good coaching goal. Coaching goals can be around any activity or skill associated with your specific sales process. 

Coaching goals can be activities to create movement in an opportunity or activities to help fuel performance as measured in the Sales Equation.  If every goal is tied to opportunity management or performance management it is much easier to get salespeople to buy in. This is how you avoid micromanagement. Then, simply measure how often an individual accomplishes their coaching goal and how often they don’t. This will show you which reps are responsive to coaching and which aren’t.  All you ask them to do is what they commit to do. It is simple, it works, and when reps see you are measuring this, I’ve yet to find a rep that wants to label themselves as “uncoachable.” 

jason jordan

JASON JORDAN

Sales Management Expert and Best-Selling Author
Author, Cracking the Sales Management Code

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

The question should be: When have I NOT seen GOOD sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance. Good sales coaching is like a hug or a beautiful day – It always makes a difference. The problem is that sales managers often think that any time spent with their reps equals sales coaching.  Good sales coaching changes salespeople’s behavior and their decision-making. If a sales manager exits a ‘coaching session’ and hasn’t changed either of those, they’ve wasted their time and their rep’s.

Good sales coaching changes salespeople’s behavior and their decision-making. If a sales manager exits a ‘coaching session’ and hasn’t changed either of those, they’ve wasted their time and their rep’s.

Jason Jordan

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

Well, companies don’t do coaching – managers do. But I’ve come to believe that companies (or at least senior leaders) are ironically the primary forces holding back their managers from coaching. Many companies expect their sales managers to simply ride herd and do forecasts, rather than investing their time in one-on-one development. They won’t admit this, but it’s true. Real sales coaching will take place as soon as the VP of Sales is smart enough to stand in front of the sales force and declare, “Coaching is more important than forecasts!”

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

Define it, prioritize it, and then get out of the way.

mike kunkle

MIKE KUNKLE

VP of Sales Enablement Services, SPARXiQ
Author, Sales Coaching Excellence Training Program

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

The surprising answer, perhaps, is both yes and no. This question is a little like asking whether exercise makes a difference in a weight-loss effort. If you still overeat and make poor food choices, and exercise once a week at low effort levels, the answer is almost certainly “no.” It’s the same with coaching, and I think this is a critical point for company executives and sales leaders to understand. Sales coaching, done well, done consistently (a regular cadence), within a developmental, supportive, coaching culture, can have an absolutely massive impact on sales performance. Implement it poorly, however, and coaching is just another initiative that will get a bad rap and not produce an ROI.

Here are two quick cases from my past:

Company roll-out: Managers completed their coaching training in late Q1. They implemented wisely with coaching for the coaches and integrated coaching into a competency development effort for sales reps, and a sales management operating system (regular cadence). By year-end, the company had a revenue lift of more than 34%, finishing the year over quota. The company also reported a decrease in rep turnover, along with faster ramp-up times for new sales hires.

Division pilot: In only four months after training, the manager’s division performance improved by 36% over the previous quarter. His team improved profitability by 11% with a greatly improved win rate (two key focus areas that he selected for his division, based on analytic methods taught in the coaching program).

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

Sometimes, they think they are coaching when they’re really just providing feedback.

Mike Kunkle

There are often multiple factors at play. Here are a few I’ve seen repeatedly. 

  • Leaders weren’t coached or weren’t part of an organization with a coaching culture, and haven’t seen it make a huge difference. 
  • It’s a flavor of the month (or quarter) initiative, meaning there’s little reinforcement, little follow-up, and no accountability. 
  • It’s not implemented as a change management project, meaning it’s not “systematized” to become “the way we do things around here.”
  • Companies ask sales managers to do way too many things that don’t relate to their core responsibility to lead, manage, develop, and improve their team.
  • And sometimes, they think they are coaching, when they’re really just providing feedback. Often managers have to give the same feedback, over and over, with little behavioral change or improved results. Feedback is an important part of coaching, just like directive field training should be a part of a coaching regime. But those alone don’t guarantee results and won’t always lead to improved skill levels or better results. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

First, select a program that helps managers target behaviors that matter and will drive results.  

Random coaching produces random results. Make it purposeful. Ensure that the program helps managers decide whether field training or coaching is the right solution to the performance problem they identify. Lastly, and this is the somewhat easier part, ensure the program teaches the managers good training and coaching skills that will engage reps and guide them to change behaviors and get better results.  

Next, implement wisely.  

We’ve started to get away from training reps and hoping they’ll magically improve afterward, but we still seem to use that hopeful, magical thinking with manager training. How will you remove the barriers that likely exist in your company that prevent managers from coaching more? Who will coach or guide them as they improve? What support will they receive as they implement? What reports or tools can reduce their time analyzing performance? How will you measure their progress? Who will hold them accountable? How will you get managers into a regular cadence of coaching? What systems, tools, and technology will support them and make it easier to insert coaching into their daily workflow? Answer these questions, and you will have a far greater likelihood of getting the results from your coaching program that you need and want. 

To access a free download of the Sales Coaching Excellence eBook from MIke Kunkle, click here.

dave kurlan

DAVE KURLAN

CEO, Objective Management Group

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Sales coaching makes a huge difference in sales performance!  Sales managers from Kurlan & Associates clients who spent at least half of their time coaching salespeople saw revenue on their teams grow at a faster rate and a higher percentage than sales managers who did not make the change.

They not only increased the amount of time they spent coaching, but they also increased the frequency and effectiveness of their coaching. Rather than the traditional “how did it go?” opener, they learned to debrief recent sales calls, strategize the conversation of upcoming calls, and properly engage on joint sales calls.

While this change is difficult for most sales managers, those who push through and make the required change are rewarded monetarily and eventually by promotion through the ranks.

While this change is difficult for most sales managers, those who push through and make the required change are rewarded monetarily and eventually by promotion through the ranks.

Dave Kurlan

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

There are two major challenges that prevent sales managers from conducting more coaching: (1) Many sales managers still carry a quota and are responsible for personal sales.  In many cases, they sell more than half of their salespeople combined!  Since sales managers are usually compensated much more generously for their personal sales than their team sales, money, ego and time are in constant conflict with the need to coach.  (2) Most sales managers aren’t very good at coaching, and their salespeople get little value from the coaching,  As a result, neither sales manager nor salesperson want to waste their time having a conversation that fails to help.

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

I look at it as a 10-step process:

Step 1 – Sales Managers are relieved from personal sales requirements

Step 2 – Compensation is reworked based on coaching effectiveness

Step 3 – Coaching is required for continued employment.

Step 4 – Sales Managers are shown how to build a proper coaching environment

Step 5 – Sales Managers are trained to coach effectively

Step 6– Sales Managers are coached to effectively coach their salespeople

Step 7 – Sales Managers are held accountable to a specific number of coaching conversations per day and per salesperson

Step 8 – KPIs are established to facilitate the accountability in Step 7

Step 9 – 3, 6 and 12 month reviews of their coaching with examples of successes

Step 10 – Uncoachable salespeople who are under performing are replaced.

Tinique Lenderman

TINIQUE LENDERMAN

Director of Sales Effectiveness Services, SPARXiQ

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Coaching generally is successful at an organization when it is seen as genuinely helpful and focused on sales rep development.  It’s also important to not just focus on low-performers. Put effort into coaching middle and even higher performing reps who have the capacity and desire to improve. I’ve seen this lead to a 25% improvement in win rates within 6 months.

It's important to not just focus on low-performers.

Tinique Lenderman

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

It’s usually a cultural problem. Many companies lack the coaching culture that would give managers the time needed to invest in coaching well and often. In many cases, there is no support for coaching from senior leaders. They believe they support it in principle, and want it, but there is a lack of process, accountability and training.

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

A leadership culture that emphasizes training, regular feedback, and opportunities for growth creates a more engaged and energized workforce.

  1. Leaders need to lead by example
  2. Formally train your managers to coach
  3. Build a standard coaching cadence/routine
  4. Hold managers accountable for developing employees
dave lewark

DAVE LEWARK

Manager, Enterprise Accounts, Xactly Corp.

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Sadly, more frequently than not, it is the opposite from managers based on many challenges like time and the pressures of tactical, upward reporting that seems to increase throughout the year. When I have seen coaching work, it seems to work best when it is individualized to that rep’s needs, current capabilities and is delivered in a method to which they react well.

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

Similar to how training can be one of the first things that is cut when times get tough, I don’t believe that companies truly connect the dots with sales training/coaching and successful outcomes. They just don’t understand and value it and, thus, do not invest in it.  It takes some degree of effort to hold the managers accountable and requires training that helps managers learn how to coach the individual. Most managers want to coach, but they seem to lack skills and time. When things get busy, coaching loses priority with no accountability. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

The sales organization needs to speak in the language, embrace it and embed it in everything they do. 

Dave Lewark

Commitment – It needs to be driven from the top down and leadership must commit to the investment, both to start is and to sustain it.

Patience – It is not an overnight fix; track, measure, and adjust… all while being patient. It is a marathon and will likely require a year or more to reap the rewards.

Culture – just as it needs to be driven from the top down, it has to be part of the DNA and has to be something managers and sellers do regularly. No excuses. The sales organization needs to speak in the language, embrace it and embed it in everything they do.  

carole mahoney

CAROLE MAHONEY

Founder & Chief Sales Coach, Unbound Growth

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Companies who make sales coaching a priority sell more, do it faster, and keep both their customers and sellers longer. All of this leads to revenue growth that costs less. There are also the intangibles like culture and attracting top talent. 

Data from over 1.9 million sales professionals tells us that when managers have been trained how to coach and spend the time to do so consistently see a 49% increase in the sales abilities of their sellers. 

What I have personally seen companies achieve when they implement coaching is an average 50% increase in quota attainment, an increase customer retention to just over 98% (which is important for any subscription-based business model) and longer retention of top sales people.

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

Companies are held back from coaching often due to cultural issues. In the absence of a true coaching culture, there are questions and uncertainties around things like:

  • The difference between training and coaching
  • Seller buy-in for coaching
  • How to coach
  • When to coach
  • What to coach to
  • How to measure the impact of coaching
  • The perceived time it takes coach
  • Misaligned management priorities and subsequent time management gaps

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

One thing that gets overlooked when many companies think about implementing coaching is that they limit the coaching to front-line sellers. Managers and VPs need coaches as well. The content won’t be exactly the same for every role, but the framework for coaching should be applicable to all levels of the sales organization.

A framework for individual coaching should start with the personally meaningful goals of the coachee that are visualized and written down, with an action plan that is shared and reported on regularly. This helps both the coach and the coachee understand the “why” that will support the behavioral changes that need to happen in coaching. I call it the fire in the belly that keeps us running.

Next, get an objective evaluation of the coachee’s strengths that have made them successful as well as the weaknesses that stand in their way of continued improvement. This applies to the skillsets and well as the mindsets and beliefs that support the execution of those sales specific skillsets. This is important thanks to what is called the Dunning Kruger Effect. It describes our very human ability to overestimate our strengths and underestimate our weaknesses. It also describes the bias a manager may have in evaluating their team because the things that are easy for them they assume are easy for others. This is especially true for those who were top performers prior to their management promotion.

To encourage coachees to opt-in to coaching, agendas for coaching sessions should be driven by the coachee according to what is happening in their pipeline or environment now, or what their objective evaluation reveals they need to focus on.

Carole Mahoney

Of course coaching won’t happen if it doesn’t get scheduled. To keep coaching actionable and not overwhelming, I recommend coaching sessions to 20-25 minutes and done multiple times a week, ideally every day. 

Content should be focused on skill development, mindset implications, deal creation and movement (the earlier in the sales process the better), as well conversational behaviors. To encourage coachees to opt-in to coaching, agendas for coaching sessions should be driven by the coachee according to what is happening in their pipeline or environment now, or what their objective evaluation reveals they need to focus on.

Role play, call review, email review, even social media interaction should all be cards on the table for coaching sessions. However the coachee is communicating should be a part of their coaching sessions (or as I like to call them- practice, drill and rehearse sessions).

With these coaching fundamentals in place, I have seen sellers on plan become top performers in 6 months. 

anita nielsen

ANITA NIELSEN

President, LDK Advisory Services

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Simply put, with consistent and effective sales coaching, more sales professionals meet their performance targets. Although performance metrics may have some variation amongst organizations, I typically see an increase in key performance metrics such as close rate, new logos, and deal size. Additionally, I have observed that sales organizations truly focused on developing their sales professionals through a disciplined coaching program see increased engagement and productivity and decreased turnover. 

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

I think managers are held back from doing more coaching for several reasons including fear and lack of skillset, capability or methodology. Sadly, though, I find the main reason organizations don’t devote as much time and investment in coaching is because the culture is fundamentally reactive. I have heard sales leaders say that they just don’t have time to do sales coaching right so they choose not to do it at all. Scary. 

That’s not all, there’s more flawed logic. Some sales leaders would rather spend money on shiny new technology or some flavor of the month “quick fix” sales training. Neither of these work without the additional investment in driving the adoption of the shiny new technology or reinforcing the knowledge and skills taught in sales training. As such, rarely do we see a tangible positive outcome on performance for reactive initiatives such as one-off training or tech investments without a disciplined approach to adoption. Basically, you’ve got a tale of “penny-wise and pound foolish.” Companies and sales leaders need to understand that sales coaching is a long-term, proactive investment in the ongoing learning and development of sales professionals and in sustainable, profitable growth. Unfortunately, in reactive mode, it’s too hard to get to this thought process.

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

I think the first thing is a shift in mindset. Companies have to stop thinking that sales leaders will just “do the coaching” or that weekly 1:1s are coaching. Organizational leaders need to recognize that sales coaching requires a specific skillset, a defined methodology and ongoing discipline. It’s a long-term investment and it’s arguably the most valuable investment that can be made toward achieving growth and profitability, for the long term. 

Once the mindset shifts, then the corresponding behavior needs to happen: the investment in a formal sales coaching process or framework needs to be made and sales leaders must adopt the framework and develop coaching skills. This is no small feat given the fact that the majority of sales managers were promoted because they were high performing sales professionals who wanted career progression. 

The skillsets, motivators and mindset of a top sales professional is typically vastly different from that of a sales performance coach. A decision has to be made, upon evaluating the sales managers, about how best to prepare them to not just manage sales professionals, but to lead and coach them to achieving their highest potential and optimal performance. Beyond that, once the investment is made, it comes down to effective implementation of the identified methodology, including the metrics to assess the change in performance.  

The skillsets, motivators and mindset of a top sales professional is typically vastly different from that of a sales performance coach.

Anita Nielsen

rob peterson

ROB PETERSON

Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Sales , Editor (Journal of Selling)
Northern Illinois University

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

Similar to any other skill in life, sales performance will benefit from an external voice, a different perspective, or often a more informed partner guiding the way. A brand-new hire is like a sponge, everything is new: processes, acumen, buyer smoke screens, internal obstacles at their own sales organization.

Perhaps the best thing my VP of sales showed us was to have a “fire sale” once a year to clear out all the deadwood who had no intention of buying. We were so young and green that we wanted to hold onto every prospect and did not give the best ones the most care. It was easy to exit all those people who were never going to buy and skinny our pipelines to more productive prospects. It was simple, and truly did not crush our overall margins since so few took us up on the opportunity, but it did allow us to thin the herd of unproductive leads.

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

The smart ones are coaching, either because corporate gets it or they don’t mind ignoring corporate to a certain degree and say no to yet another pipeline meeting. You can only create so many reports with the proper TPS Cover Sheet before you’ve had enough. What made the manager a great sales rep was the care and value they delivered to the client. It should be the same for the sales manager: the care and value delivered to the rep.

However, for whatever reason, we load up front line managers with a horde of semi-busy work. Depending on the industry you could spend a large part of every day on forecasting and pipeline issues – and yet not add much value to the conversation – but you certainly moved the deck chairs around a lot on the Titanic.  

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

Managers must see the value and be trained, but also must have something taken off their plates if you want more from them.

Rob Peterson

Like any initiative, there must be buy-in the top, and each level down to the rep. It must be seen as a diagnostic tool to help improve performance, certainly make its way to the pocketbook eventually. The rep must in turn raise their hand and say, “I am willing to be coached.” If not, people are just going through motions. 

Whether it be an internal creation, or an external hire, an early win is needed. Implementation will not be uniformed, but the sales managers must see the value and be trained, but also must have something taken off their plates if you want more from them. You just lob this grenade over the wall and hope for the best it will have near zero ROI.

If your products differentiate why buyers purchase, set up on a nice website and let them do it. But, if you are in a competitive industry, where your people make a difference, where complex problem and value adding helps defeat the competition, then coaching is be a natural part of the system.

First, you need to develop a culture of coaching for it to work and be sustainable. It’s worth noting that some of the most accomplished names have had coaches, even at the top of their game…ala Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Adele, Garry Kasparov, heck, even Babe Ruth was known to listen to coaching tips.    

roy raanini

ROY RAANANI

President and Co-Founder, Chorus.ai

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

I find it interesting that we refer to Phil Jackson as a coach, but a sales manager, director or VP as a ‘manager’. Every professional athlete has a coach and spends much more time studying game film and closing skill gaps. Why don’t we refer to sales managers, directors and VPs as our coaches?

The majority of our customers are high performing sales organizations that want to get better every quarter and gain their unfair share of the market. They see 20-30% improvement in quota attainment and less performance variability across reps. Top performing reps are also the heaviest Chorus users because they want to improve their craft – learning from their experiences and from others.

Every professional athlete has a coach and spends much more time studying game film and closing skill gaps. Why don't we refer to sales managers, directors and VPs as our coaches?

Roy Raanini

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

The decision to build a culture of self-awareness, growth mindset, collaboration and accountability can take time. Managers are already stretched thin. They are joining (and often leading) too many calls instead of a scalable approach to building up key skills across their entire team. They waste time trying to wrap their heads around where opportunities sit, getting up to speed on deals, preparing for calls, and pressure testing forecasts because they don’t have access to the data and insights (and Salesforce is rarely up-to-date). 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

I’m a believer in decentralizing knowledge away from being something that only the managers share. A single manager isn’t going to be the best at each sales function – prospecting, discovery, sharing customer stories, negotiating, etc. Build libraries of the best examples of each skill from the reps that do them best and create a culture where reps learn from one another as well as from the manager.

Tools like Chorus help with this, but a big part of the process is first addressing the cultural issues I mentioned above.

We’ve put a lot of resources onto www.chorus.ai in our Resource Center. Check it out, and let us know how we can help.

lori richardson

LORI RICHARDSON

Founder and CEO, Score More Sales
Founder and President, Women Sales Pros

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

I’ve worked with companies directly who increase sales conversations by 800% and reps and teams doubling and tripling deal closure. More importantly, I’ve seen sales coaches coach on how to not waste time by spending too much on unqualified opportunities, thereby giving endless amount of hours back for focus on the right things. 

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

There is not a clear common agreement on what sales coaching really is. It’s not deal coaching, although that is a part of it. We believe there are clear, learnable, and measurable components to being a strong sales coach. So many sales leaders think that coaching is about whether reps have hit quota or not – and what’s in their way, so they can help bring deals to closure. In reality it is about ongoing learning for the rep being coached to understand the process, and nuances of professional selling, which bounces between data / science and craft. Sales coaching includes lessons and action plans.

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

Done well, coaching should be something to look forward to, not another issue that may cause negative stress. 

Lori Richardson

First, don’t think that a sales tool or technology creates coaching; it aids in helping coaches coach.

Understand that adults learn through repetition and reinforcement. Learning and coaching needs to be bite-sized and repeated. Done well, coaching should be something to look forward to, not another issue that may cause negative stress.  

At the organizational level, evaluate how your sales managers coach and create an environment where mistakes are welcome and everyone learns.  

Above all else, coach frequently and consistently. 

tamara schenk

TAMARA SCHENK

International Speaker and Author (Sales Enablement)
Strategic Advisor, Showpad

How have you seen sales coaching make a difference in a company’s sales performance?

I have seen sales coaching making a significant impact on sales effectiveness year after year. In my previous sales enablement leadership role I experienced that sales coaching, adequately implemented, made a huge impact. In my role as an analyst and research director, I observed year after year that sales coaching, properly implemented, delivered two-digit improvements on win rates and quota attainment, compared to the study’s average performance results. 

Sales coaching is a natural ongoing process that should follow each training service. I learned to look at training as initiation and at sales coaching as an ongoing way to drive adoption and reinforcement of the initial investments in sales enablement services. 

What holds companies and sales managers back from doing more coaching?

There are a couple of reasons I hear time and time again. One is, and that’s a hidden one, the belief that sales coaching is not required to be successful. Sales leaders who were never coached and had a successful sales career themselves tend to believe that it’s just a waste of time. What they don’t factor in is that selling nowadays is a lot more complicated, challenging, and demanding than it was two decades ago. So, we require different approaches. 

Another reason is “we have no time for coaching.” This is fascinating because sales coaching drives two-digit improvements of, for instance, win rates, as proven in various studies. Why would we not make time to achieve these levels of performance, and focus less on more reports, more stats, more troubleshooting? 

Usually, this time reason is based on the first, hidden reason. So, we are dealing with mindset, beliefs, and solidified thought-forms. Those have to be cleared, but that’s only possible if people recognize that their decisions around coaching (not making it a priority) are based on their beliefs, ignoring proven data and research. 

And the third reason is, “we tried it, but it didn’t work.” That’s usually the case if there are misconceptions about sales coaching. It’s not activity management; instead, sales coaching is a structured conversation based on asking questions to allow the coachee to recognize areas for improvement and getting the person to commit to the required actions to take to improve the outcome. 

What steps can companies take to implement sales coaching effectively?

First, it’s about establishing the business case for sales coaching and getting senior executives’ buy-in.

Second, it’s about getting everyone on the same page what sales coaching is and what it isn’t, across the sales force. It’s important to build a coaching process that serves as a mirror to the actual buying process to allow opportunity coaching, skills, and funnel coaching to take place as part of the sales process. 

Third, it’s about developing the related coaching skills in sales managers or assigned sales coaches, combined with implementing a sales coaching process and framework to ensure that sales coaching can take place as part of the overall selling process landscape. Sales coaching cannot just be announced and demanded. Instead, sales coaching has to be adequately implemented. And that requires building sales coaching skills in sales managers or specialized sales coaches. 

Sales coaching cannot just be announced and demanded. Instead, sales coaching has to be adequately implemented.

Tamara Schenk

Finally, it’s about changing the way sales managers are measured and assessed. Their coaching efforts and, later on, their coaching impact should become a part of the sales managers’ KPIs that they are measured on. 

While building a coaching culture in this way seems like a big step, managers can also start small. I often make the case that a sales manager with eight salespeople can get started with 30 minutes of opportunity coaching per person per week. That’s four hours a week, ten percent of their regular working time. Then, after they see the first results, they could add another 30 min for funnel coaching or skills coaching. 

We hope that you’ve gained some valuable insight into your own organization’s coaching opportunities as you work to continually build a stronger culture of coaching among sales managers. 

Click here to learn how SPARXiQ helps companies improve sales performance by hiring, training, and developing top sales talent.

If you are interested in downloading our free Sales Coaching Excellence eBook, click the link below.

eBook: Sales Coaching Excellence

The Path to a Best-in-Class Sales Force

The term “sales coaching” does not just refer to everyday sales management or sales leadership. We are talking about something much more specific. Download this eBook to learn how to equip your front line sales managers with the right tools to develop a best-in-class sales force through effective sales coaching.

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