7 Tips to Start (or Reignite) Your Sales Coaching Program

August 25, 2016 | Lauren Boutwell
7 Tips to Start (or Reignite) Your Sales Coaching Program

sales coaching expert tips

If you’ve never coached your sales reps, you’re hopefully aware there’s a problem. Whether it’s missed quotas, inconsistent messaging or lack of readiness, there is a multitude of issues that can be improved with coaching, but implementing a new process can be daunting. People inherently don’t like change and the excuses for ignoring coaching can seem endless, but there are some accessible ways you can introduce coaching to your sales organization that won’t make reps run for the hills.

Even if you’ve already started coaching but you haven’t seen the desired results, or it’s fallen by the wayside, there are ways you can refresh your coaching program and get back on track. Your reps will thank you, I promise!

7 Tips to Improve Your Sales Coaching

  1. Determine where your reps need help
  2. Start small and stay relevant
  3. Create a variety of coaching scenarios
  4. Share it with the class
  5. Develop a level playing field
  6. Actively seek out internal and external resources
  7. Stop telling, start engaging  

When developing a sales coaching program, it’s important to first determine where sales reps need the most help. To figure this out, try a data-driven approach that compares your team’s data against benchmarks to spot weaknesses, in areas such as pipeline conversion ratios, instead of targeting areas at random, suggests Mike Kunkle, director of sales enablement at Brainshark. If you purposefully target areas that reps are struggling with, coaching will have a much bigger impact.

Related Infographic: See the most common sales coaching challenges

Since you’re already walking into a situation where there may be resistance to change, think about ways you can start small with a sales coaching program.

One way to do this is to create an introductory challenge or assignment where you ask reps to complete something simple that is relevant to the challenges they are facing today. Maybe buyers are having trouble understanding the value proposition of a complex solution; so ask reps to do a white boarding exercise showing how they would explain it in a simplistic way.

The key is: No matter what kind of challenge you initiate, think big picture about end goals, and how this will actually help your reps achieve them.

“The key is to make sure you’re coaching on something that is relevant and will contribute to the success of the reps,” says Mark Redman, account director at Brainshark. “If it’s a real pain point they have and a challenge they’ve faced, that’s something you want to focus on.”

There are many stages of the sales cycle and aspects of a deal that cause reps to flex different selling muscles. Sales coaching programs shouldn’t be limited to one flavor, but instead should hit on several types of skill sets. Mike recommends a mix of strategic, tactical and skill coaching.

  • Strategic coaching is high-level coaching on how a rep should approach their territory or navigate personalities within a key account, for example.
  • Tactical coaching gets down into the details, where a rep might practice entering an opportunity or quantifying an account to assess the likelihood of closing and timing.
  • Lastly, skills coaching can involve testing reps on selling skills messaging, effective discovery or presenting.

Coaching shouldn’t just be limited to one-on-one time between the manager and the rep. It really helps to have the whole team involved because reps can learn just as much from each other as they can from you.

Share both the good and the not-so-good responses from coaching simulations and have reps give peer feedback. Doing this can not only help weaker reps learn from stronger reps, but it can help any rep learn new pointers on how to improve or take a different approach to find quick wins.

Related: Is Peer Collaboration Part of Your Sales Coaching Strategy?

This practice can also help when you have a geographically dispersed sales team. It can form bonds between reps who may never interact on a regular basis and develop a team feeling of working towards a common goal. It also takes some pressure off the sales manager to be the only source of constructive criticism or praise.  

Reps are at different levels of seniority, experience and are working with deals of various magnitudes. Make sure you judge coaching assignments on a level playing field.

To do this, work out an equal measuring metric based on the objectives of the challenge.

For example, if you’re asking reps to practice pitching a brand new product, judge them on:

  • Script accuracy
  • Tone
  • Volume
  • Pace
  • Presence
  • An overall clear message

Then, come up with a scoring rubric that weights different sections depending on the situation and be clear with reps on how they will be evaluated.

Dave Stein, a B2B sales strategist and author, reminds us to consider the caveat that “you can't coach someone who isn't coachable and you can't coach someone who doesn't possess critical traits for success in a sales role.”

He suggests taking a high level view at the skills, traits, and behaviors required for success in each job category within your sales organization and map your existing personnel against that list. This will help you see which B reps can be turned into A reps and which C reps that may be better suited for other roles within your organization.

If you are new to coaching or trying to get your program going again, you don’t have to go it alone. Internally, lean on your sales enablement function, if you have one, for support in creating and rolling out challenges to your reps. Externally, there are all kinds of resources such as technology, thought leadership, consultants, content and more. For example, CloudCoaching International provides sales training and coaching content that can be customized to specific businesses or industries so it makes it easier for you to set up challenges.

“When people think about coaching, many don’t know how to start and it may be foreign to them,” says Chuck Searle, VP of sales at Brainshark. “But there are plenty of resources out there to help you implement coaching.”

In order to have an effective coaching model, Mike says reps need to own the solution you craft together through their own involvement, rather than just being told. Remember to question and listen more than you speak.

“Stop telling your reps what to do differently,” he says. “Ask questions, do discovery, get them engaged, pull out their thoughts, listen and listen and listen.”

Another way to get into the mindset of coaching is to imagine the alternative. “What’s the cost of not doing anything?” Mark asks. “What happens if you don’t do anything and stay with the status quo? The investment in coaching is minimal and the return is pretty high.”

What’s your best coaching tip? Let us know in the comments below, and for more information on how to solve your coaching challenges, check out this short video:

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