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Sales coaching is the best way to empower your sales team

December 7, 2021 - 14 min read

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What is sales coaching?

Why is sales coaching important?

The goals, objectives, and benefits of sales coaching

When should you coach a sales rep?

3 ways to get better at sales coaching

How to get started with sales coaching for your team

Sales coaching boosts your entire team

What is sales coaching?

Sales coaching is the process of improving a sales professional's skills and performance through consistent feedback and involvement. Although traditionally, the goal of sales coaching is simply to focus on sales tactics in order to generate higher numbers and more revenue, coaching that addresses the sales professional more holistically can ultimately affect the topline more than a narrow focus on tactics.

The sales function has been seeing a lot of change. It is starting to affect the way the profession thinks about coaching and training, too. Managers are beginning to recognize that a whole person approach to sales training can create a sense of belonging and develop the confidence and skillset a sales rep needs to be successful and sustain success over time.

Why is sales coaching important?

Desk, phone, briefcase, Rolodex. The old model of a successful salesperson was almost a caricature. Salespeople were a smooth-talking persona wrapped in mystique.

No one was really clear about what it took to make someone good at sales. Everyone understood, however, that — whatever they did — the most important thing was that they produced results, no matter what. 

While this approach prioritized revenue and quota attainment, it did very little to support the individuals responsible for sales. This backfired in several ways.

For one, sales reps who don't feel supported don't produce — and they don't stay productive either. Quotas can be motivating. But reducing a person’s work, and worth, to a quota sets them up to feel like they're constantly failing.

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For another, sales reps are the face of the company for many industries. The sales team has the highest point of contact with the customers, and in many ways are most directly responsible for the financial well-being of the company.

As such, their attitudes and feelings about the company are critical — these attitudes have to be attended to, not be treated as low priority or an afterthought. Sales representatives should feel confident and well-informed about the product they are selling.

But it also helps if they feel good about themselves, able to handle pressure and rejection productively, and with a baseline resilience and well-being that helps them show up to do the hard work day after day. When you support them in these skills, they know that the organization cares about the relationship with employees as they do about the relationship with clients.

The goals, objectives, and benefits of sales coaching

Sales coaching isn't just about generating results — even though that's ultimately the rationale. It's more than an important side effect. But getting good results from a sales organization requires playing a long game, not just focusing on a single metric in a single quarter.

Good coaching is an investment in an asset that will continue to deliver outcomes, better and better outcomes — if you take care of it.  Effective coaching is about prioritizing the mindsets, behavior, and Inner Work® that allow a person to show up as the best that they can be. 

For sales, that is a unique combination of people skills, sales experience, and product knowledge. Sales people often need to display high levels of emotional intelligence and resilience. Part of being an effective sales person is being able to suppress one's own agenda. They need to listen for their customer’s needs, and sometimes need to manage their own emotions so that they can be present in high-contact roles.

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Sales coaching programs are usually designed to accomplish the following goals:

Helps learning and retention

Effective sales coaching provides real-time feedback. More than just learning the theory, sales managers and sales coaches can help navigate through current concerns and sales conversations. This helps to cement new knowledge, appeals to kinesthetic learners, and incentivizes teams with the promise of immediate results.

Improves skills and behaviors

Sales coaching provides a forum where representatives can practice new behaviors and improve their skill-sets. It helps reinforce a culture of learning and improvement. Coaching isn’t just effective for the individual. It can help pinpoint growth opportunities for the entire sales organization.

Makes for better and more consistent results

Ultimately, every organization hopes that its sales leaders will be as effective as they possibly can be. A strong sales coaching program, however, doesn't just drive the bottom line. Good coaching takes a thoughtful approach to understand why the results may not be where they should be, and implements a holistic strategy to change the underlying dynamics and mindsets that get in the way of achievement.

More fully utilizes resources

Sales coaching helps reps understand and use the tools at their disposal. It teaches them how to make the best use of sales enablement tools. These tools help to organize and create content specially developed to support the sales team.

Cross-functional collaboration

Sales doesn't have to be an island. Coaching can prepare sales reps to collaborate with other departments, such as R&D, marketing, and customer success teams to improve the overall customer experience.

Develops the person

Ultimately there is no “work you” and “home you” — there's just you. A development-oriented coaching approach provides personalized learning and development and a dedicated listener who can spot areas for improvement — both in and out of work. Happier employees tend to be more effective, more satisfied in their roles, and stay longer as a result. 

When should you coach a sales rep?

By and large, the most common experience that people have with coaching or feedback is when they're not doing well. As a result, most people shy away from feedback. They tend to associate it with remediation for poor performance, doing something wrong, or going to the principal's office. However, coaching shouldn't be reserved for correction. Done well, coaching can be an opportunity to build trust as well as skills in your team members.

Here are a few examples of when sales coaching can be helpful:

Transitioning to a new role

Most sales managers are former sales leaders, but they often find that excelling in the field didn’t prepare them to teach and coach. Coaching can be very effective in supporting the transition to their new role and developing the new skills they’ll need to thrive in sales management. Consider making coaching activities as part of the onboarding process for new sales professionals.

Offering a new product

Sales coaching is a great way to get your team up to speed when your company changes its product offerings. Whether you’re offering a new product, changing one that's already on the market, relaunching, or even merging with another company, it’s a good idea to take time to touch base with your team. Coaching can provide space for you to talk through an approach with your sales leaders, review messaging, or determine how to best integrate the new offering.

Performance reviews

Performance reviews provide dedicated time for feedback and career planning with your team. These touch points are important opportunities to coach them — not just about what they could do better, but with an eye towards future development and growth. 

Customer complaints

No one wants an unhappy client, but customer complaints are actually a valuable source of feedback. Handled well, these conversations are an opportunity for you to improve both your business and your relationship with the customer. Framing this as a way to learn what your customer needs can help you avoid putting your sales reps on the defensive. Seek to understand both what is going well and what can be improved in both their skill-set and their approach.

Team meetings

Sales coaching can also be highly effective with a group. Whether that's the entire sales organization or just one team preparing to work with a new client, your team can learn from one another and brainstorm together. This can be a great time to review best practices, practice sales calls, and go over sales strategy.

Whenever they need help

If someone on your team comes to you with specific questions, uncertainty, or just asking for your help, help them. Don't wait till a performance review or for someone's numbers to drop before you start coaching. It takes a lot of trust for them to come to you, and providing valuable support in a timely manner helps to build a coaching culture.

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3 ways to get better at sales coaching

Change your mindset

If your organization is currently struggling with how to effectively coach your sales team, you might need to change your mindset. Sales coaching isn't just about closing deals. When you make your team feel like they're just cash cows, they'll start to interpret every coaching conversation in light of the bottom line — which negatively impacts both team and customer experience. 

Developing a coaching culture will help them feel comfortable — and maybe even eager — for feedback and development. So forget about the bottom line — at least for now.

Get your own coach

As a general rule everyone in your organization benefits from coaching — not just the individuals who are currently struggling. Getting your own quotes and providing a coach for every member of your organization helps your team develop and embrace a culture of learning. While it is possible to just provide coaching to a handful of people, it’s important to avoid making this decision solely on performance. You don’t want coaching to come across as punitive or make people feel singled out.

Develop, don’t direct

Coaching ranges on a scale from developmental to directive. While directive coaches tell you what to do, developmental coaches work on building the skills and mindsets that empower you to know what to do. While both can be effective, a developmental coaching strategy helps to build self-efficacy and introspection — the foundation for personal as well as professional growth.

How to get started with sales coaching for your team

Be intentional

Pick something small and work on it. If you're unsure where to start, work with the sales enablement team and your sales leaders to determine what will make the biggest impact. Even though it may be tempting to just jump in, you'll have an easier time tracking your return on investment and results over time if you’re intentional about your action plan. Be specific about what you're changing, when, why, and which metrics you're measuring.

Ask for feedback

Ask your team what's helpful and what method of coaching works best for them. Find out what they need and what they’re noticing in the field. Customers can also be an indirect but valuable source of feedback on your sales coaching at work.

Develop your team culture

It may take some time, but seek to develop a team culture that prioritizes mindset and personal development as well as selling skills. You might start suggesting books, share feedback from your own coaching sessions, or bring challenges to the table to talk through as a team.

Get outside support

You may find that your team would benefit from dedicated sales coaching and support. You can hire a sales coach in-house, or you can work with a company that provides sales coaching and development. Some of these are industry-specific, some focus on sales readiness, and some have a particular area of focus. BetterUp’s sales coaches work with teams to develop sustainable performance, team alignment, and reduce attrition.

Sales coaching boosts your entire team

People thrive when they feel supported. They want to do well in their roles, and when you empower them to be successful, it affects your entire business. It’s no longer enough to just hammer performance and results. Teams have to become adept at pinpointing why things don’t work and how to address them — without pointing fingers or compromising morale. Sales coaching is a way to invest in the success of your people, as well as your customers and your company. 

At BetterUp we believe that while tools, training, and incentives are important elements for the field, companies must also prioritize investment in the mindsets and behaviors that impact sales performance for individual contributors and sales team leaders. Learn how BetterUp’s Sales Performance Coaching can empower your sales leaders and teams.

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Published December 7, 2021

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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