How to Coach Your Sales Team

BY Kathy Crosett
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If you’re looking for the best way to coach, remember that sales team coaching includes deciding who to coach, how to coach and how much to coach. Using the results of sales assessment tests and personalizing rep coaching will help you optimize your outcomes. C. Lee Smith, president and CEO of SalesFuel, reminds us not to confuse coaching and training. “In sales training, information flows from the trainer to the trainees. These sessions deliver information in a one-​to-​many learning environment.” When coaching, information flows freely between the rep and the manager. And managers must recognize that not every rep needs the same level of coaching.

Who to Coach

It’s tempting to spend too much time coaching your weakest reps, especially if you have a good relationship with them. And coaching reps who are really struggling is a noble concept. The problem with that approach is it doesn’t do much for your bottom line. If you spend most of your time and energy working with low-​performing reps, chances are they won’t improve all that much. Even worse, their poor performance drags down the rest of your department.

You’ll get far more of a return on your investment if you spend more time with the average performers. These folks may have an area or two of sales skills that need upgrading. You’ll know about these weaknesses after reviewing the results of a sales assessment test you asked them to take during the hiring process. Focused coaching from you on negotiation skills can help your average sales rep before a sales star.

How to Coach

Coaching is a two-​way street. The reps must be open to suggestion and managers must be willing to help their reps improve. It’s not enough to know that a rep has a lower than average ability or training in a key sales area like discovery or closing. They also must be coachable. Some reps may believe that they don’t need to change their behavior or style. They may not be willing to listen to a manager’s suggestion and give it a try. You’ll know ahead of time if a rep has a poor reaction to coaching. The detail can be revealed in a sales aptitude test. And, if you come across this kind of candidate in the sales process, you may want to reconsider whether to hire them.

When the manager and sales rep possess the same work style, they have a good fit. That fit will help during the coaching process. For example, if a manager and the rep both prefer to minimize small talk in a conversation and get straight to the point, their work styles fit. Neither person will feel slighted if the other individual doesn’t ask about their weekend before starting a discussion about a key account. In addition, when managers realize that their style doesn’t mesh well with a rep’s, they may want to adapt their coaching method. Some reps may learn better if the manager engage in more ‘ride-​along’ sessions. In other cases, the reps may need more time alone to review suggestions about how to improve.

How Much to Coach a Sales Team

It’s not easy to determine how much coaching your sales reps need. After all, you have a lot of reps who could benefit from one-​on-​one time with you. In our Voice of the Sales Rep survey, about 40% of respondents say they meet with their managers for coaching at least three times a month. While you might enjoy telling reps about your glory days and how you landed a whale, remember that these meetings aren’t all about you. It’s your job to help your reps develop necessary skills. Our survey showed that in each coaching session, about 20% of the time is spent improving sales skills and 15% is spent reviewing soft/​people skills.

The positive impact from coaching can be measured. “Research from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB; 2014) indicates that salespeople achieve an average of 19% more sales towards their goal when they have a “highly effective coach.” In addition, researchers measured a 7% increase in exceeding goals with just three hours of monthly coaching.

Carlin Nguyen’s research at the University of South Florida reveals that coaching is more important these because of trends in the business world:

  • Selling is more complex because of the products being developed
  • The collaborative teamwork in buying organizations demands optimal performance from salespeople
  • The sales department is more accountable and progress is measured and tracked

Keep these trends in mind as you think about how to coach a sales team.