Every sales organization knows sales coaching is important. In fact, Forbes Insights found that 74% of top companies rank coaching as sales managers’ most important role. But knowing coaching is important and doing it effectively are two different things. When designing a coaching program, it’s not enough to have reps practice their pitch – you need to outline the core skills that reps should be aiming to improve and assign each to the proper methods of coaching.
We’ve compiled 6 of the most important skills to coach sales reps on with insights from Brainshark’s sales enablement team.
#1. Time management and planning
Within these areas, Brainshark’s director of sales enablement, Jenn Haskell, suggests breaking it down by decision making and goal setting. Reps should be aware of all assigned tasks and the order and timeframe in which to complete them, as well as which tasks can be delayed. They should also know how to use their time effectively to achieve individual and company goals.
Reps should also be equipped to do territory, account, opportunity and call planning. Managers should coach reps on how to create a specific plan for each area, knowing that the plans could change over time.
Use one-on-one, informal coaching to go over the rep’s time management and planning strategies together. If you notice opportunities for improvement, coach the rep on how to make their plan more efficient and to prioritize their tasks effectively. Approve the rep’s final plan once they’ve made adjustments and review it again over time.
When someone is a good storyteller, people listen – and that’s how you want your sales reps to be. Jenn says the ability to tell an authentic story will help differentiate sales reps from their competition and demonstrate that they understand how “like” clients have solved similar challenges with your solution. Coach reps on how to tell these stories in a genuine way and utilize proof points to lend credibility to the story, whether it’s slides, videos, customer testimonials or other content.
Through video coaching activities (either formal or informal), you can evaluate several areas of how reps tell their story, such as their tone, use of key descriptors or proof points, and the ability to use a story arc. Based on reps’ submissions, you can provide feedback on areas for improvement and collect examples of best practices to share across the sales organization for peer learning.
#3. Active listening
Brainshark’s chief readiness officer, Jim Ninivaggi, says active listening is one of the most critical skills for reps and is even more important in today’s always-distracted world. He says active listening means reps’ ability to listen in the moment, without prematurely formulating a response or follow-up question. Reps need to listen diligently to what’s being said, and confirm and clarify the information to thoroughly understand it.
"Active listening is becoming a lost art; but it’s the backbone of any consultative or value-based selling style.” –Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer, Brainshark
Use video coaching activities and role plays to help reps improve listening skills. For example, have one person act as the customer and have them describe their business challenges. Then ask the other person to repeat back the information to see if they picked up on key points and digested the overall message.
There are many types of objections that reps will encounter from buyers, but we’ve boiled them down to a few key types, including:
- The buyer has misinformation about your offerings or your company.
- There’s something about your product or services that they don’t like and can’t change.
- They like what they hear from you but they want proof.
- They don’t see a need for your product or services, or are happy with their current solution.
Video coaching activities and role plays will help reps develop skills on how to handle a myriad of objections. Objections can come out of nowhere from buyers, so try surprising reps with different scenarios without giving much guidance, and see how they handle it.
#5. Aligning to buyer’s journey
‘Aligning to the buyer’s journey’ is a phrase that’s used all the time in sales. But actually understanding where the buyer is in the buying process and ensuring your approach is aligned to them is not an easy task. Jim says, it’s really about understanding where to compete and when to split from the buyer. If you are going to lose – lose early.
Reps should be coached to understand and interpret what is happening on the buyer’s side and anticipate when to compete and when not to. This may require a more formal coaching approach, where reps complete a series of coaching activities that test knowledge on each phase of buyer’s journey, how to speak to each one and what types of content to use that will resonate with the buyer.
#6. Communication skills
Strong communication skills enable reps to build supportive relationships with colleagues and clients, Jenn says. She says reps need to be able to drive value-based conversations with prospects and articulate the value of the company and products. The critical part of this is listening to a description of the client’s business challenges and coming up with possible ways to address them. Reps can do this by facilitating a needs-focused dialogue and showing empathy, clear communication and specific calls to action, such as proposing next steps or laying out what to expect moving forward.
Have reps record videos or do role plays practicing mock conversations where they articulate value, evaluate business challenges and outline possible solutions and next steps.
For more tips on sales coaching, check out our eBook: Next-Gen Coaching for the Next-Gen Sales Force.