Coaching Best Practices for Sales Managers

By Elay Cohen
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One of my first sales jobs was selling first aid supplies door-to-door in Toronto. My manager and I met in the mornings to plan our days. We sat in the car to prep before and after knocking on doors. We role-played and talked about what worked and what didn’t work. We honed our pitch and practiced objection handling before and after sales calls. The combination of more technology, more first-time managers and busier calendars has dramatically reduced this valuable and appreciated “windshield” coaching time.

We all agree coaching is important. We talk about doing more coaching. Yet for many sales managers it becomes a secondary priority. Why? What can we do to make coaching a bigger priority?

Hypothesis: Coach sales managers to be better coaches, prove the value and make coaching part of their team workflow, then we’ll see more coaching.

A big barrier for sales managers to do more coaching is they don’t know what good coaching is and they don’t know how to coach their teams. It’s our job to help.

We recently looked at the data and coaching activity of over two thousand eight hundred sales managers to see how they’re coaching and providing feedback to their teams. We’ve proven managers can be better coaches with a little bit of coaching themselves.

Here’s a list of some best practices we’re observing in the SalesHood network by some of the best sales managers.

Industry Observations

  • Sales managers give feedback to their teams in one-on-ones and team huddles daily, weekly and monthly, not just at performance review time or when things aren’t going so great.
  • Sales managers invest the time to watch and review all pitches and presentations shared by every salesperson on their team. We’re seeing managers spending a couple hours a week reviewing pitches.
  • Sales managers use quantitative data and qualitative observations on activities, pipeline and deals to give positive feedback and areas to improve.

We crowdsourced a guide to use and evaluate the frequency, quality and impact of coaching activity performed. How are you doing against these best practices?

  1. Make every moment a coaching moment: Give feedback frequently. Be consistent. Don’t wait. Use team huddles and one-on-ones to share feedback as it’s happening. Deal reviews, pitch practice, prospecting updates, dry-runs, customer prep calls and sales call debriefs are all great coaching moments.
  2. Make coaching a team activity: The best managers are consistently, frequently and openly giving the team feedback. Get everyone involved in coaching. Embrace peer coaching. Turn coaching into regular activity just like pipeline reviews. Some managers turn boring prospecting updates into daily coaching with team members sharing daily activity updates and success stories. Everyone is accountable and everyone is learning from each other.
  3. Explain the why: Communications change behaviors. The best sales managers are clear about expectations and value. They always kick off huddles and initiatives explaining the “WIFM” (what’s in it for me) to the team.
  4. Stay positive and always be encouraging: Get a review or feedback session started on a positive note. Highlight strengths and growth over time. Even constructive feedback can be made positive.
  5. Empathize and appreciate: Recognize how hard your team is working and share accolades like “I know how hard it is to get our deals across the finish line.” Put yourself in their shoes when giving feedback. Lead by example. (Click to read an older post on leadership.) When a growth area is identified, use words like: “Let’s see how we can work on this together.” And, don’t forget to follow through.
  6. Share specific examples: Giving feedback and coaching in generalities does not help anyone develop their skills and improve how they’re doing. For example, if the team is behind on pipeline development, be specific about how much pipeline should be developed and how to develop it.
  7. Tell the truth, even when inconvenient: Do not “beat around the bush.” Make sure your team knows where they stand. Tell it like it is.
  8. Facilitate mentorship relationships: When coaching and giving feedback, share best practice examples from other folks. Be a connector within your team and in your broader work community to facilitate mentorships. It takes a village. For example, if your team is doing a pitch practice, highlight other pitches that would be good for folks to watch to improve their own.
  9. Suggest areas of growth: It’s our job to get our teams to be the best they can be. Even when someone is doing great, there’s room for growth. Push people to think about ways to grow personally and professionally and ways to shoot for even higher goal achievement.
  10. Be human: Be sure to thank teams for their hard work and verbally appreciate extra effort too. Use humor to put challenges into perspective. It’s a great best practice to smile and keep ongoing coaching feedback a bit lighter and fun.

Life is too short and business is moving too fast to not give our teams very direct, constructive and real-time feedback on how they’re doing. There are many coaching moments in a day, week, month and quarter. Great sales managers turn every moment into coaching moments by making it part of the culture and DNA of the team.

We work with managers in SalesHood to become better coaches. We partner with sales managers to improve time to ramp and time to revenue using our proven best practices, content, tools and workflows to efficiently deliver coaching to their teams in a fun, engaging way, all the time.

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