Sales Coaching Guide for Sales Managers
What Is Sales Coaching?
Effective sales coaching creates space for collaborative professional development conversations. Effective sales coaches give sales professionals the responsibility of ownership and accountability of their deal strategies from planning to preparation to close.
According to CSO Insights, “Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise, along with social, communication, and questioning skills to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities to break through to new levels of success.”
Barry Rhein, founder of Selling Through Curiosity and Coaching Through Curiosity, poses a thoughtful question: “What are the ways we can tweak our thinking and skills to create greatness in our reps?” Managers are well-intentioned and most have great intuition. They become effective sales coaches by asking better questions. Our goal is to help sales managers learn to develop their people by asking open-ended questions about activity, data, and process to change their mindsets, behaviors, and outcomes.
In contrast, ineffective sales coaching happens by micro-managing people, asking them closed-ended questions, not creating a space for a coaching conversation, and not holding them accountable to follow the process. Sales management and sales coaching professionals spend too much time and resources coaching top reps, who don’t need the coaching. Our bottom reps are likely not a good fit, and aren’t worth the time investment to coach them. To achieve the highest ROI, we should focus our coaching on the middle performers and according to ExecVision on Building a Coaching Culture.
Sales Coaching Statistics and Data Trends
There is general belief that better sales coaching will result in more revenue. When we start working with companies, the common problem we’re being asked to solve is quota attainment. It’s amazing how many sales professionals are not hitting their revenue goals. In fact, according to Salesforce, 57% of reps are expected to miss their quota this year. This shocking stat raises some important questions. Why aren’t companies doing more sales coaching? What are they doing to help increase the number of salespeople who hit quota?
We conducted an analysis with our customers correlating sales coaching activity and sales performance. We assessed one hundred sales managers and correlated the quantity and quality of coaching activities to their attainment data. The data proved that managers who initiate and execute more sales coaching activities on a monthly basis generate more pipeline and have higher sales attainment. The data also demonstrated that watching a video and taking a test is not enough to see a revenue uplift. The reps and managers need to practice and give each other feedback. They learn by doing, and they improve their results by applying sales coaching to real-life deals.
The dataset from SalesHood customers including two thousand sales managers, and fifteen thousand salespeople saw the following results with sales coaching:
- 2X increase in rep attainment
- 112% increase in deal size
- 32% reduction in time to close deals
- 3X increase in win rates
- 20% reduction in rep attrition
These statistics make sense and are expected. Effective sales coaching results in more revenue.
A report conducted by Scott Edinger highlighted the gap between what managers think of their coaching and what their teams think of their coaching. “Leaders reported that they spent a considerable amount of time coaching their direct reports and scored themselves high on their efforts—on average, just shy of the 80th percentile. Direct reports responded by saying that they’d received little to no coaching from their leaders and scored them low—on average around just the 38th percentile. (Scott Edinger, Harvard Business Review, May 2015, click for article )”
Why Is Sales Coaching Hard for Sales Managers?
Many frontline managers struggle with coaching and developing their teams even though they are past top performers. Why?
- They aren’t trained to coach and develop their teams.
- They lack the skills.
- They don’t know how to give constructive feedback.
- They don’t ask developing questions.
- They don’t believe they have the time to do effective coaching.
- They don’t prioritize real coaching.
- They spend too much time working deals versus coaching reps on executing the right behaviors on deals.
Great managers invest time to review their team’s work. Great managers share real-time constructive feedback. Great managers use one-on-ones (1:1), deal reviews, and team huddles to accelerate coaching moments.
What Are Some Examples of Sales Coaching Questions?
The best sales coaching technique is for managers to ask reps different types of open-ended questions. Thank you to Barry Rhein for the inspiration to always be curious and for the insight to help our managers be curious when they coach and develop their teams.
Here are a number of open-ended developing questions that are created by Barry Rhein and offered through Selling Through Curiosity and Coaching Through Curiosity. They are ideal for deal coaching:
- What questions are you planning to ask your customer?
- What did the customer actually say?
- That sounds like an assumption. How do we find out what the customer said?
- How will you prioritize what needs to be done?
- What do we do next?
- What are you thinking about ABC?
- What concerns do you have about accomplishing your goals?
- How are you going to get this deal back on track?
- What can you do to make this a perfect deal?
- What are your action items based on what we talked about today?
Open-ended layering and probing sales coaching questions:
- What else can you tell me about …?
- What do you mean by …?
- How did you come up with …?
- How so?
- Why is that?
- What are your thoughts on …?
- What are some more examples …?
- How would you measure …?
You can learn more about Selling Through Curiosity and Coaching Through Curiosity from Barry Rhein. Click here.
There are other sales coaching techniques and tactics we observe in successful sales managers who use SalesHood every day to coach and develop their teams.
- Successful sales managers give feedback to their teams in one-on-ones and team huddles daily, weekly, and monthly, not just at performance reviews or when sales are not going so great.
- Successful sales managers invest the time to watch and review all pitches and presentations shared by every salesperson on their team. Some managers spend an hour a week reviewing pitches.
- Successful sales managers use quantitative data and qualitative observations on activities, pipeline, and deals to give positive feedback and constructive criticism.
Evaluating Your Coaching Efforts
This guide will help you evaluate the frequency, quality, and impact of coaching activity performed. How are you doing against these coaching best practices?
- Make every moment a coaching moment: Give feedback frequently. Be consistent. Do not wait. Use team meetings and one-on-ones to share feedback as it is happening.
- Make sales coaching a team activity: The best managers are consistently, frequently, and openly giving the team feedback. Turn coaching into a regular activity just like pipeline reviews.
- Explain the why: Communication is critical to changing behavior. The best sales managers are clear about expectations and value. They always kick off meetings and initiatives explaining the “what’s in it for me” to the team.
- Start positive and always be encouraging: Begin a review or feedback session on a positive note. Highlight strengths and growth over time. Even constructive feedback should be positive.
- 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 place when giving feedback. Lead by example. When a developmental growth area is identified, use phrasing like “Let’s see how we can work together.”
- Share specific examples: Giving feedback and coaching in generalities does not help reps and teams develop their skills and improve their work. For example, if a rep is behind on pipeline development, be specific about how much pipeline should be developed and how to develop it.
- Tell the truth, even when inconvenient: Speak clearly and specifically. Make sure your team knows where they stand.
- Help open mentorship relationships: When coaching and giving feedback, share best practice examples from others. Be a connector within your team and in your broader work community to facilitate mentorships. 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.
- Suggest areas of growth: It is our job to get our teams to be their best. Even when someone is doing great, there are always growth areas. Push people to think about ways to grow personally and professionally and to shoot for even higher goal achievement.
- 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 is a best practice to smile and keep ongoing coaching feedback a bit light and fun.
Sales Coaching Takeaways
- Be timely.
- Be constructive.
- Tell the truth.
- Give everyone on your team feedback.
- Give feedback frequently and consistently.
- Stay positive and encouraging.
- Empathize and appreciate their hard work.
- Share specific examples. It is our job as sales managers to make sure our teams are consistently putting forth their best effort and hitting their sales, career, and life goals.