How to Coach Salespeople

BY C. Lee Smith
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Do you know how to coach salespeople? My friend, Jeffrey Gitomer, tells us that sales managers must lead if they want to succeed. Specifically, Gitomer says, “Your hands-​on support and encouragement is often the difference between exceeding your sales goal and finding a new job.” Part of that hands-​on support means coaching your reps.

When your reps aren’t successfully closing deals, you’ll need to coach them. This doesn’t mean setting up a system where one style of coaching suits all of your reps. As I often say to sales managers, there’s a difference between training and coaching. In sales training, information flows from the trainer to the trainees. These sessions take place in a one-​to-​many learning environment. In a coaching session, a manager works one-​on-​one with a rep.

If you want to know how to coach salespeople, it often comes down to using a solution that allows you to identify areas that need improvement, recommend changes and track progress. Otherwise, you run the risk of failing salespeople who are counting on you for help. Our research shows that two-​thirds of sales reps don't believe their manager's coaching improves their win rates. You can improve those statistics by taking a proactive approach.

Identify Areas that Need Improvement

Insights into needed coaching can often be revealed in the results of a sales assessment test. After a rep has completed training and gone through your learning management system, you can review their answers to questions posed during a sales skills assessment test. Note the areas where the salesperson didn’t give the best answers. 

It’s very common for a salesperson to score well in one area like discovery, but to be weak in another area such as managing themselves or sales activity. These strengths and weaknesses do not mean that one salesperson is inherently better than another salesperson. Instead, sales managers should use the information to help each rep strengthen their weakest skills by drilling down on those specific areas. Keep in mind that it won’t be efficient or effective to have that rep repeat all the training they’ve gone through. 

Recommend Changes

Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, you can recommend specific changes to your salesperson. A good sales assessment test includes more than sales skills. Likewise, work habits that require improvement aren’t always specific sales skills. Good assessments typically measure a person’s work tendencies. In reviewing assessment results, you may find the true reason for a salesperson’s low score in an area like the ability to manage sales activity. For example, that salesperson may not pay attention to details. This tendency may result in their inability to stay organized.

You can correct some of these issues by first getting them to agree that this is an area they want to work on. With this new awareness of the skill your salesperson wants to improve, you can assign tasks, such as watching a video or reading an article. Once they’ve completed the assignment, have them answer questions that are designed to show they’re learning how to react differently in specific situations.

If you want to know how to coach salespeople, you must also understand your salesperson’s motivations. This information comes from a comprehensive sales assessment test. Using the assessment results, you'll know that some salespeople see the world as black and white and have trouble operating in the gray area. Other sales reps may prefer the gray zone and you’ll need to remind them of the rules when you coach them in areas like negotiating. 

Track Progress

Salespeople don’t change their behavior overnight. Learning how to adjust their work styles may require several months. In today’s hectic sales environment, it can be easy to overlook the need to consistently check in with salespeople to see how they’re doing as a result of your coaching.

Managers need to stay organized and one step ahead of their salespeople when it comes to coaching. When they use an automated solution that allows them to deliver personalized quick-​coaching to every salesperson, they instantly become more effective.

Part of effective coaching requires the manager to summarize what they and their salesperson have agreed to. Storing notes in a file that both managers and employees can access later is the best way to keep the coaching process front and center.

How to Coach Salespeople

Managers will have a unique relationship with each rep when coaching. It helps to understand your profile and your rep’s profile to get the most out of a coaching session. If your natural tendency in responding to a prospect who seems to be stalling is to be nimble and action-​oriented, you may frustrate a rep whose natural tendency is to be supportive and patient. You’ll need to modify your communication style. Otherwise, they might not grasp what you’re saying to them.