Four Steps to Start Coaching Your Sales Team Today
Most sales managers know they need to coach their salespeople to maximize performance, but they don’t know how to get started.
When you’re confronted with a complex problem, remember what Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
Here are four steps to help you think about how to start coaching your sales team.
Step #1: Identify What to Coach
The first step in planning your coaching is determining where to focus your coaching efforts. You do this by assessing each of your rep’s selling skills on both motivation and proficiency, based on your observations of their behavior. Most performance problems related to selling skills are caused by either proficiency or motivation issues.
Proficiency issues include not knowing how to do something or not understanding what is expected. Common motivation issues, on the other hand, might include a salesperson who doesn’t want to do something he or she is being asked to do, such as making more prospecting calls. Or, he or she doesn’t agree with how or why something is being done. These issues stem from a lack of motivation, not a lack of skill.
To be an effective sales coach, you also need to understand the distinction between skills and behaviors. Let’s consider the sales skill of developing a buyer need as an example. A good salesperson demonstrates the core skill of developing a buyer's need by asking questions, active listening, and then summarizing the customer’s need in a way that compels the customer to act. These are examples of observable behaviors that show that the rep is developing a buyer’s need well.
There may be multiple behaviors for any one skill. Focusing on specific, observable behaviors leads to clearer, judgment-free coaching with the salesperson.
Step #2: Pick the Correct Management Action (It May Not be Coaching)
Coaching is an appropriate management action to improve sales skills where proficiency and motivation are average. Coaching fine-tunes skills that general training can’t address. Most salespeople on your team will have at least a few skills that are coachable.
But coaching isn’t the right management action for every situation.
For skills that you rate high on both motivation and proficiency, you should empower the salesperson by increasing his or her control and accountability. You can do this by encouraging the salesperson to take more initiative or letting them make more decisions. Giving them room to solve problems as they arise, rather than jumping to the rescue, frees you up to focus on other things.
When a skill rates low proficiency but high motivation, you should use training to improve the skill. In this situation, the salesperson doesn’t have a high enough skill level to make coaching productive. They need to learn the expected performance standards through instruction and practice. After training, you can then use coaching.
When a skill rates low proficiency and low motivation, you should use directing with the sales rep. This means providing specific instructions on how, what, and when to accomplish a task. In other words, you are telling the salesperson what to do. Directing is often appropriate for new hires. For all other salespeople on your team, directing as a management action to improve sales skills should be used sparingly. Having to direct a salesperson continually is an inefficient use of your time.
Finally, performance counseling is appropriate for salespeople who have previously demonstrated a high skill level but have a significant motivation problem. Performance counseling is effective in investigating and addressing motivational or attitudinal issues.
Step #3: Create a Coaching Plan
Once you’ve identified skills that you think are best addressed by coaching, you should then develop a coaching plan. You should seek the salesperson’s input as you identify opportunities to observe the salesperson on coaching calls. Ideally, you should limit the coaching plan to three skills per quarter- that’s an achievable goal.
Finally, you will want to schedule regular follow-up meetings with the sales rep to get the most out of the sales coaching plan. Update the plan quarterly based on how well your salesperson is progressing.
Step #4: Prepare for Each Coaching Call
Now that you have a coaching plan for each of your reps, now you’re ready to go on coaching calls and start coaching. Before going on a coaching call with a rep, you should:
- Establish coaching objectives for the call. Starting with the coachable skills you previously identified, set specific coaching objectives to focus on the most critical areas.
- Review these objectives and the types and number of calls with the salesperson to keep the coaching process collaborative.
- Finally, describe your expectations about what behaviors you want to see the salesperson use during the call. Be specific on what you expect the salesperson to do on the calls you are planning to observe.
When choosing which calls to observe, consider which accounts align with the rep’s development goals. If you are focusing on negotiating skills, don’t select an account in an early buying stage where there won’t be any meaningful negotiations. Also, consider the risk to the account, given the rep’s skill level. If the call involves an important strategic account, you may not want to use it for coaching purposes. Finally, you should be realistic about estimating the number of calls you need to observe to help the salesperson improve. An important skill, like identifying customer needs, may require that you observe multiple calls to coach the salesperson effectively.
Coaching your sales team is a core function of any frontline sales manager. If you coach your team, you’ll get better sales results. But before you start coaching, remember to spend the requisite amount of time planning. This will help you and your sales rep get the most out of each coaching call.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.