By “everyone,” I mean not all sales managers, directors, or even executives are fit to become sales coaches. There are plenty of reasons why this may be the case, but you might find yourself in a position where you’re wondering if you should become the resident sales coach in your organization. What are some vital characteristics of a sales coach?
For starters, let’s turn to the research. CEB found that effective sales coaching can increase overall sales team success by 19%. And on top of that, at the individual rep level, star coaches can directly affect rep improvement driving up to an 8% increase in performance compared to those with ineffective coaches. If that’s not convincing enough, companies battling sales rep turnover can turn to (no pun intended) effective sales coaching to help with sales rep retention.
CSO Insights defines it as “a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential.” Although this sounds like a broad definition, effective sales coaches consider the sales rep’s personal goals, their individual sales style, and their current strengths and weaknesses instead of engaging in a dialogue focused solely on performance. The emphasis of these coaching conversations is to discover areas for improvement regarding behaviors and activities that should lead to the desired results (i.e. improved performance). In other words, effective sales coaching isn’t about discussing things like:
“What’s your forecast this month?”
“What’s in the pipeline?”
“Tell me about the opportunities you’re working on.”
These questions can be answered by monitoring your dashboards and reports. Sales coaching requires asking questions that have depth and move beyond the numbers.
When you think of sales coaching, you may think of some of the great sports coaches such as Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick. Sports coaches and sales coaches have many of the same skills, but regardless of the different backgrounds, the best coaches possess a certain set of skills that set them apart from the rest.
Here’s a short list of the important sales coaching skills you should aim to develop:
Regardless of how well you master these skills, you won’t be nearly as impactful as a sales coach if you don’t have great relationship building skills.
Relationship building starts with a genuine interest in each rep as an individual. You might have heard about empathetic selling, but what about empathetic coaching? There’s so much to learn about your team. Yes, a part of the process is discovering their strengths and weaknesses for successful coaching. But beyond that, learn what frustrates them, what motivates them, and what issues they may be dealing with away from work. This way you’ll be able to develop a deeper relationship with each rep than simply that of manager and employee. Intentionally set aside a portion of each 1-on-1 session discussing non-business topics. This helps you become more familiar with your reps, make them feel more important, and builds mutual trust.
Trust is of utmost importance in the coaching relationship. Your team not only needs to see and believe that you are a competent coach, but that they can trust that you’ll keep all information discussed confidential.
Your reps need to feel that you are always being truthful and honest with them. This is critical for maintaining a strong coaching relationship for the long-term. Always be truthful with them about their performance. Your reps want to know how they’re doing and how to improve. The key here is to avoid being overly negative in your feedback. Highlight the positive and provide clear instruction. Be sure not to dictate what to do, but instead act as a guide to help your team members improve. Sharing call recording examples with them is one way for you to help them become better.
Another way for you to reinforce trust is by showing empathy and compassion. When a rep is struggling, you need to demonstrate understanding and sensitivity to their personal challenges. Display this in the way that you provide feedback. Staying positive, not being overly critical, and taking the time to consistently hold coaching sessions all contribute to this trusted relationship.
All in all, develop a mutual respect and understanding while building a partnership with each sales rep. This is a key component of the process in creating a strong coaching relationship. Invest the time to discuss each other’s responsibilities, contributions, expectations, and goals at the onset. This makes it clear that what you’re creating is a partnership, not a dictatorship, and that part of the coaching process might be that you are coached as well.
Although there are many skills you need to develop before you become an effective sales coach, relationship building is probably the most important and the most complex. Showing a genuine interest in your team (not just in their successes) develops the mutual trust, respect, empathy, and compassion that become necessary to build a strong sales coaching culture.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to be a sales coach?