The Complete Guide to Sales Coaching
The sales landscape is continuously evolving, and as such, so must the skills of a sales team. And these days, selling has never been more difficult. And like every function in your business, your sales team also needs sales coaching to help them meet their target goals.
According to a study by Richardson Sales Performance Training, some of the top challenges salespeople face include competing with a low-cost provider, maintaining consistency in performance across the team, and creating competitive differentiation.
But while focusing on day-to-day activities like sales forecasting, preparing for meetings, and, well, selling, it’s just as important to work on developing your team’s sales skills as a whole.
After all, the only way to improve your sales numbers is to improve your team’s ability to sell. That’s where sales coaching comes into play.
In this post, we’re taking an in-depth look at sales coaching, why it’s vital to the success of any sales team, and how you can make it work for your unique needs.
Navigate this post:
- What is sales coaching?
- What are the benefits of sales coaching?
- How to decide who to coach (and when to coach)
- Types of sales coaching
- Challenges in sales coaching and how to overcome them
- How to measure the impact of sales coaching
- How the right sales coaching program leads to happier sales teams
As a sales manager, perhaps you’ve dealt with some of these issues with your team:
- Certain reps aren’t closing deals and aren’t motivated to evolve their skills
- The sales department isn’t reaching quota because some reps aren’t hitting their numbers
- You’ve had a high turnover rate in the last 6-12 months
- You’re having a hard time motivating your team to succeed
These issues can be detrimental to a sales team, and therefore the company as a whole. Investing in proper sales coaching can help mitigate these issues.
But what exactly is sales coaching?
Sales coaching involves managers helping their team develop essential sales behaviors—like adaptability, confidence, and customer collaboration—enhance their performance, encourage self-discovery, and develop solutions to their unique challenges.
This is not to be confused with sales training, which is facilitated by the sales enablement team and focuses on improving specific sales skills such as objection handling, prospecting, and active listening.
Sales coaching isn’t a one-and-done solution.
The continuous nature of sales coaching ensures your team is constantly working on their skills, reflecting on their performance and growth, and applying their learnings to real-life sales scenarios.
In addition, sales coaching helps managers:
- Fix behaviors or tactics that don’t work
- Get to the root of what’s preventing their team from closing more sales
- Develop skills that boost sales numbers and improve their team overall
- Practice skills like prospecting, closing, and qualifying
- Establish confidence
- Provide their team with the tools and resources to hone skills
Although sales coaching is customized to each individual on your team, this strategy doesn’t involve micromanaging sales reps or giving blanket advice that overlooks individual struggles, challenges, and strengths.
Depending on your team, industry, and market, sales coaching consists of various elements designed to help your team’s specific needs and challenges, which is determined by the sales manager. This can include:
- Individualized coaching that fits your reps unique needs
- Reviewing a sales call and discussing the pros and cons
- Workshopping a sales rep’s conversations with different customers at various stages of the buyer’s journey
Tim Conroy, an integral part of the Sales and Marketing Learning and Development department at Applied Materials, spoke with Greg Moore, the host of Miller Heiman Group’s podcast Move the Deal, and had this to say about the importance of sales coaching:
“Most of the time sales managers have arrived at their position because they’re outstanding either at sales or management or being effective in certain management capabilities like driving revenue or market share. But I think what they can do to benefit the organization is develop their own sales organization,” says Conroy.
“If I look at the primary method that they can [use to] develop their organization, [it] is through coaching and mentoring. That’s where I think the focus is the most impactful. I think it’s where it’s the least focused because of time constraints, and also a lot of sales managers wait for people to come to them for advice.”
Now that you know what sales coaching is, let’s take a look at the impact sales coaching can have on a team.
Aside from boosting sales numbers, there are many benefits to investing in sales coaching.
1. Reduce sales team turnover
According to a Bridge Group report, the typical sales rep turnover rate is about 34% per year. This is nearly triple the average employee turnover rate compared to other industries.
Sales see a higher turnover rate due to factors, including a lack of connection to leadership, low compensation, inadequate mentorship opportunities, and little room to grow.
High employee turnover rates are harmful to a company’s bottom line. According to the 2019 Retention report from the Work Institute, the average cost to lose a U.S. worker is $15,000. What’s more, turnover costs have continued to rise since 2010, doubling $331 billion to $617 billion due to executives tacking on expenses to try to compensate for the loss of an employee. In turn, this inhibits overall company-wide growth. Costs of that extent can be detrimental to a business.
Not only does turnover come at a cost to companies, but it has a negative impact on employee morale. The loss of a colleague or an increase in workload due to the absence of said colleague can deflate team spirit.
On the flip side, employees who feel supported and encouraged to develop are far more likely to remain in their current role.
2. Enhance the overall performance of your team
A team that is motivated to improve together—and independently—will benefit the entire company.
Strengthening your team’s performance involves focusing on three essential functions:
Teaching the hard skills required to perform
If your team doesn’t have the proficiency to perform well in a sales environment, it’ll be difficult for them to succeed. Sales coaching involves instilling hard sales skills, like product knowledge, client relationship building, active listening, and much more. These skills are built upon over continuous learning, and reps should be encouraged to refine their skills on their own as well.
Boosting the morale of the sales team
A happy sales team is a productive sales team. Great sales coaching will empower your sales reps to work on their own skills and become better salespeople.
Using insights, like close rate, length of sales cycle, and more from your customer relationship management (CRM) software can create realistic sales quotas and achievable incentive targets that, when met, have huge benefits for employee morale. Keeping your team motivated about their work will benefit the company as a whole.
Improving the confidence of your sales reps
In tandem with boosting your sales team’s morale, sales coaching enhances your reps’ confidence. If your reps are confident, they’re more apt to work with higher quality leads and close more sales.
Sales coaching allows reps to work on the unique challenges—like connecting with customers, pitching, and closing—they encounter individually and work through those obstacles to boost their confidence. This is achieved by continuous reinforcement from sales managers.
“So, the sales manager, to do what they need to [do to] develop their team, can help with relearning, help with coaching, and the process of work so that the knowledge stays and is retained by the salesperson, and their effectiveness will ultimately be greater over time,” says Conroy.
“I call it Coaching in the Flow. And it’s really that doing the coaching while the account, salesperson, or rep is doing their selling and capturing in the moment real-time feedback, analyzing what’s going on, starting new behaviors and trying to stop old behaviors.”
In other words, reps need continuous support from managers to cement core sales skills and build confidence over time.
3. Foster a collaborative team environment that benefits everyone
Sales coaching presents the opportunity for both managers and reps to learn and grow as a team.
Managers can focus on how to lead their team better and generate more success for the company. To do this, sales managers can use sales coaching as a time to invest in building relationships with their team.
A great way to do this is to set aside time during certain meetings or at the beginning of each sales coaching session for a non-work-related conversation to get to know team members better. Building authentic relationships with your team gives managers additional insight into where they can help each sales rep. For example, a recent drop off in performance could be the direct result of a personal matter. By creating an environment that encourages your team to lean on one another, you set the whole team up for long-term success.
Sales reps, on the other hand, can focus on refining their skills by putting their training into action. These skills aren’t developed overnight and require continued practice. The sales reps who are committed to improving will see success much faster than those who aren’t.
Sales coaching is all about setting expectations. A team needs to know what their goals are, what they need to achieve, and how to do it successfully. Without benchmarking expectations, there is no unified direction from which a team can use for guidance of their future success.
When it comes to figuring out who should get sales coaching, it may feel overwhelming. Should you coach the entire team? Or should you coach sales reps who need it the most?
James White, the U.K.’s leading prospect conversion expert, recommends that companies consider a two-pronged approach to sales coaching. He advises companies to invest in sales coaching for the team as a whole and individually.
Let’s take a look at each.
Sales Coaching for the Entire Team
White recommends including sessions around general, yet essential, sales topics like objection handling, prospecting, and closing. White also advises paying attention to the sales reps who aren’t enthusiastic about getting sales coaching.
“If there’s someone on that sales team that doesn’t feel they can gain value from getting coached, that’s a wider concern for me,” said White. “If I’m a sales manager and I’ve got a salesperson saying, ‘I don’t want to be coached at all. I don’t need to be coached,’ that would be a bigger concern for me.”
While it’s essential to focus on the team as a whole, it’s equally important to ask yourself: Does investing in sales coaching for the entire team make sense for the company?
According to a study published in the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, participants cited sales coaching as the primary method of improving salesperson performance.
What’s more, research from the Sales Readiness Group found that high-performing organizations—or teams where more than 75% of sales reps reach quota—receive more coaching from managers. In other words, providing the entire sales team with proper coaching can lead to excellent results.
Sales Coaching for Individuals
White also advises on 1:1 coaching for each salesperson to work on the specific weaknesses or challenges holding them back.
It’s best to consider each sales rep’s performance as a whole using metrics like:
- Opportunities in pipeline
- Emails to replies
- Calls to conversations
- Lead to close ratio
- Time spent selling
- Opportunity win rate
- Sales to date
That way, you can create a customized training plan based on their needs.
Most sales managers focus on their least performing reps and their star reps. If bottom-tier reps are consistently underperforming—even with sales coaching—it’s crucial to get to the core of why that’s happening.
“There are A, B, and C players. I believe you focus on A and B with straight up sales coaching, getting the marginal lift there is perfect and can work,” said Richard Harris, the founder of Harris Consulting Group.“For C players it’s about figuring out what’s happening in their world and life, because something is off. [You] need to figure out what’s happening in their head emotionally, not just push them to close.”
On the other hand, the top-performing reps might not necessarily need all the coaching that other sales reps need. However, it is vital to invest in their professional development as well.
There are countless sales coaching programs available. The sales experts at Brainshark recommend selecting a program that focuses on three core components of sales coaching: strategic, tactical, and skill-specific.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements:
- Strategic coaching: This type of coaching focuses on selling to customers in a specific market, working with top customers, understanding the nuances of the buyer’s journey, and more. It’s a critical part of sales coaching because it helps reps understand the why and how of what they’re doing.
- Tactical coaching: Tactical training entails more detail-oriented advice or guidance, like how to deal with difficult situations, how to nurture a relationship with a customer, and other critical sales skills.
- Skills-specific coaching: This training helps reps hone in specific skills crucial to a successful sales career, like communication, lead nurturing, and selling. Part of skills-specific training may involve learning how to use (or more efficiently use) a CRM. A CRM like Freshworks CRM provides teams with sales activities, so you can identify the performance of your reps. From the first interaction to close and every touchpoint in between, a CRM streamlines tracking customer relationships. Best of all, some CRM software——use AI to drive sales quicker by analyzing each deal and offering insights on how reps should move forward.
A combination of these elements makes for a comprehensive sales coaching program tailored to each salesperson’s needs. But of course, each training will have its own unique framework.
So, how can sales leaders determine which coaching type she needs to implement within her organization? This can be done in three simple steps:
1. Analyze the performance of your team both as a whole and on an individual level
Understanding how your team is working as one and as independents will help you determine what your team needs from a training perspective. For example, your CRM will help you track important metrics like customer fit, close rate, and upsell rate, which can help you shape your sales coaching plan. This is especially useful if your team is distributed globally.
Perhaps your team is lacking a selling strategy and you’d like to allocate more training in that area. Or, if your team is struggling with common sales situations like objections, it’s smart to dedicate time to tactical training.
2. Gather feedback from your team
There’s no better way to learn what your team needs to focus on that by asking them outright. As the sales manager, you ultimately have the final say in what type of coaching you invest in, but you may find that reps need training in other areas.
Create and distribute a survey that asks questions like:
- What are your greatest sales skills?
- What type of sales training do you wish you had more of?
- What are your biggest obstacles with sales?
These questions will uncover the core of what your team needs to work on during training and will help you decide on the type of training.
3. Implement, assess, and modify (as needed)
Once you’ve selected a coaching style, be sure to evaluate its impact on your reps at different stages. This way, you can gauge how receptive reps are to the type of training, and make modifications if necessary.
It’s important to remember that an impactful sales coaching program will not be a one-size-fits-all program. You must adapt the training to fit the unique characteristics of your team.
Like with any training, sales coaching comes with its fair share of difficulties. These difficulties often lead to teams abandoning their programs or letting them fizzle out.
As a sales manager, it’s essential to understand the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of your team getting the most from sales coaching and how you can keep your team on track.
Here’s a look at some of the most significant challenges.
Challenge 1: It’s difficult to make time for sales coaching
Allocating time for sales coaching can be a significant problem for sales teams. Successful sales coaching requires consistent, dedicated time, which many managers are short of.
In fact, according to a report from CSO Insights, over 47% of sales managers spend less than 30 minutes per week on coaching. What’s more, Conroy cites the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve as a major factor in why sales reps lose their learned knowledge without repetition. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is a theory that explains why memory is lost over time.
Solution: Allocate set time each week for sales coaching
The best way to ensure you stick to your sales coaching practice is to dedicate time every week. Poll your team on the best day and time of the week to meet for coaching.
“With continual reinforcement and relearning over a certain period, say, for example, every couple of days or every week, that learning curve starts to flatten out and stay higher,” says Conroy. “So effectively, you can reverse the Ebbinghaus Curve through relearning, micro learning, reinforcement, and what I would consider a key component of that is coaching.”
If after a few weeks reps start to trail off or make excuses as to why they cannot attend, create incentives or match reps up with one another for accountability. Also, sticking with a consistent schedule will help ensure the program is completed as intended. Sales teams are short on time but allocating set hours during the week will hold everyone accountable.
Challenge 2: The program isn’t tailored to your reps
Not all sales teams have the same weaknesses or strengths. What’s more, many sales coaching programs tend to lean on the generic side, which isn’t typically helpful for making real change.
A lot of sales coaches will just use their model without understanding the situation in the marketplace that they’re in or they won’t understand the client. It’s very difficult if you come in as a sales coach and don’t take time to understand the client that you’re working with.
– James White, the U.K.’s leading prospect conversion expert
Solution: Opt for a custom sales coaching program
It’s vital for sales coaching to be tailored to your reps’ unique needs. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to see any tangible growth.
Instead, invest in a program that looks at each rep’s performance and develops a customized roadmap to help them establish the skills they need to be successful.
Challenge 3: The goals aren’t clear
It’s tough to see any tangible success from a sales coaching program that doesn’t have clear goals or objectives. Teaching your reps how to improve their skills without a straightforward, defined path for each training will be difficult.
Solution: Set tangible goals for reps
Defining what success looks like for your team after each coaching session will help you measure progress. Success should be measured on both the individual level and the team level.
Goals can range from reaching your quota for the quarter to increasing the number of quality leads a rep engages. Just be sure to set qualitative goals. That way, your team has a clear objective to reach.
If you’re stuck on goal-setting, think back to why you’re investing in sales coaching. Are you trying to build a stronger, more agile sales team? Do you want your reps to consistently hit quota? Are you looking to maximize your CRM?
Think about where your team is currently at and where you want to be in the future.
Challenge 4: It’s difficult to motivate your team
Motivation is a crucial factor in sales and for overall employee happiness and success. The British telecom firm, B.T., found that happy employees not only were more productive, but they yielded 13% higher sales than their unmotivated colleagues.
Not only does a lack of motivation impact your company’s culture and employee experience, but it can harm your bottom line as well. With all the other responsibilities sales reps have on their plates, spending time doing anything else may feel counterproductive.
Solution: Get to know your team
If you’re finding it challenging to motivate your team, get to know them on a deeper level. Your team is made up of real humans with real thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Understanding your team on that level will reveal their motivators and help you ignite that spark.
A few ways to get to know your team better include:
- Team building exercises
- Virtual team events like happy hours or lunches
- Townhall meetings that encourage sharing of professional goals and aspirations
- Foster a work environment built on authenticity and vulnerability
Sales Coaching techniques and tips by sales managers
There are many schools of thought on sales coaching—and how to be successful in sales, in general. However, there are a few core techniques that will elevate any sales coaching program. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top sales coaching tips.
1. Leverage your CRM data
Data is vital when determining the health and performance of your sales team. Your CRM software determines which areas your team needs to work on the most—like closing or vetting leads. For example, if your data indicates a dropoff at a certain customer touchpoint—like email or phone—you can add training on how to improve that in your program.
A CRM like Freshworks CRM enables teams to see data including visitor intent, Predictive Contact Scoring, and AI-based Deal Insights, allowing for more impactful decision making regarding which leads to pursue, how best to close a deal per a customer’s unique behavior, and more, all from one comprehensive dashboard.
As a sales manager, the end benefit is that all of your decisions regarding sales coaching are backed by qualitative metrics to support your position. For your sales force, this will help them understand the ‘why’ behind your actions when it comes to their coaching.
The metrics in your CRM inform the foundation of sales coaching.
2. Create a custom coaching plan for each sales rep
Because not all of your sales reps have the same struggles, it’s important to analyze them on an individual level and determine how best to serve each rep with sales coaching from the start.
For example, if Rep A has a hard time determining which leads are worth pursuing, their custom coaching plan should include training on how to properly vet leads. These plans should be evaluated quarterly (or more often if you find necessary) to make sure they’re still relevant to each rep’s goals.
“We do a lot of role-playing during our sales coaching sessions,” says Kirk Ambrose, Vice President at BIS Digital. “We put sales reps in different positions where they have to present solutions to common sales problems. I’ll ask, ‘Walk me through this process. How would you approach X?’ Every sales rep might explain something differently, but you have to keep things consistent.”
3. Recruit your top-performers to help coach
Your top salespeople are your top salespeople for a reason. It could be beneficial for other reps to see how they would handle a particular situation—especially with them being part of the same company.
A few ways top salespeople can teach other reps include:
- Share successful call scripts and email templates
- Allow reps to listen as they take a call with a potential customer
- Hold sessions where reps can ask questions like, “How do you handle objections?”
This is a great way to create a collaborative environment among the sales team as well.
Understanding how sales coaching is impacting your business is critical in determining its effectiveness. Here are the most significant measurements of a successful sales coaching program.
There’s a boost in sales numbers
If your team sees an increase in sales numbers consistently, it’s safe to say that coaching has made a positive impact.
An increase in your sales numbers might not happen right away, as these lessons and principles need to be implemented and practiced by your reps. But, over time, a bump in sales numbers is likely attributed to successful sales coaching.
Sales coaching is the fundamental building block a team can utilize to maximize their full potential. From there, the result just happens to be an increase in sales. The impact of sales coaching spans from team camaraderie, to streamlined expectations, [and] to clear goals. In order to be an effective sales coach, your team must understand—without a doubt—what is expected from them in their role. Such activities can be measured in daily tasks such as customer touches, sticking to effective routines, meeting deadlines, relevant networking, and more.
– Mikayla Zernic, Senior Director of Sales & Training at The SpyGlass Group
In your CRM, pay attention to metrics like close rate, net-new revenue, and length of each pipeline stage. In Freshworks CRM, you can find these numbers in your Sales Analytics dashboard.
Sales reps are experiencing an uptick in performance
In addition to boosting sales, a great indicator of sales coaching success is seeing a positive change in how your sales reps perform. Metrics like emails sent vs. emails opened, sales activities, and number of phone calls, which can be found in most CRM solutions, help you grasp how each sales rep is doing as a result of sales coaching.
Also, take a look at how your sales reps are executing in contrast to the goals and objectives set in your sales coaching program. Successful salespeople are motivated to excel, and if the right goals have been set for them, they’re bound to see great results.
Your data confirms a positive change
Your team may experience a positive shift culturally, which is an excellent sign of an impactful sales coaching program, but your data will tell you the specifics around what has changed.
Your CRM retains valuable data that will pinpoint where your team is excelling and where there is still room for improvement. Metrics like the number of calls, calls to conversion rate, decrease in the sales cycle, etc. determine the coaching’s effectiveness.
With the tech today there is no reason you cannot figure out if the reps are using the training if it’s successful, and if not, how do we keep tweaking.
– Richard Harris, founder of Harris Consulting Group
The right sales coaching program will create happy salespeople. And happy salespeople lead to better business outcomes.
A report from the Harvard Business Review found that a whopping 81% of respondents who rate their organization as happy report an increase in annual sales over the last two years. What’s more, the study also found a direct correlation between happy sales teams and happy customers.
As mentioned earlier, countless sales coaching programs cater to sales teams in several industries. Still, not every sales coaching program will work for every sales team.
That’s why it’s critical to find the sales coaching program that’s right for your team.
A program customized to your reps’ needs, ongoing—even as reps begin to succeed—and built on creating confidence is key to seeing the most ROI from your program.
Sales coaching propels sales teams to success
Investing in a sales coaching program may be one of the best things you do for not only your team but for your company. If your sales reps are constantly learning and practicing sales skills, they’ll be set up for long-term success—and the company will benefit.
A CRM is a powerful tool you can use to gauge not only where you need to start with sales coaching but how your team is progressing once immersed in a program.
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