Enabling Sales Coaching in the Digital Age

The digital era has arrived and research has found it to be the route to the customer, not the balance sheet. That means the biggest asset a business can have is a foolproof process to engage and convert prospects into customers. But the route to the customer has also undergone considerable changes.

Customers now research your business and competitors at the click of a mouse, reading reviews and seeking out advice without ever leaving their desk. In fact, over 60% of a buyer’s journey is over before they even speak to a sales rep, and it’s estimated that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationship with businesses without talking to anyone. The phenomenon is so common now it’s even got a name, “webrooming.”

Businesses that don’t find new ways to engage and convert prospects will be left behind or disappear completely. In fact, according to Pierre Nanterm, CEO of Accenture digital is the main reason over half the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since 2000.

For sales organizations, the challenge is set.

Sales reps who once relied on the hard sell can no longer bamboozle prospective customers with details about their product features, because the customer may know more than they do. And customers don’t want to hear your pitch anymore, they’ve already read it on your website. What they want is proof that your product or service can solve their problems, data that shows what a difference it can make and facts that prove it’s the best option for them.

While sales managers still need to deliver the same things, from recruitment through to training, coaching and performance management, how they do their job also needs to change with the times. Many managers still spend much of their time focused on their team’s lagging and efficiency indicators. A multitude of reports and meetings are dedicated to order reviews and pipeline management, but how often do sales managers review their sales rep’s effectiveness?

Who is beating their quota? What are they doing well that the other reps aren’t? What knowledge and skill gaps do their individual reps have? Are their reps following the correct process?

This type of behavioural analysis is the first step for managers to be able to codify their best sales practices and identify what individual reps need to achieve results. Traditionally one on one sales coaching has been left in the hands of sales managers, with no real tools or structure to help them make the most of their efforts. In the digital age of sales codifying behaviour is key to achieving predictable sales results. And as a sales manager, if you can predict your sales results you will be successful.

So if codifying behaviour through coaching is the key to success then the problem of selling in the digital age is solved, right? Not exactly.

Sales coaching is still very much the domain of the sales manager and not every manager is cut from the same cloth. Each sales manager has their ow distinctive style. Some mentor their charges to success while others get down and personal to help coach individual reps. Some are confident to the point that they inflict their own style on their reps, whilst others focus more on what’s happening around the business rather than on their team.

This creates a unique sales enablement problem. In order to equip sales reps with the information, tools, and skills they need to succeed in the digital age their managers first need to be enabled to coach them effectively. And as sales managers have their own style, they need to be enabled in a way that gives them the flexibility to add their own personal touch. This can be solved for by using a sales coaching framework that provides both structure and flexibility.

Working closely with our customers we’ve found that there are three main areas where coaching is most effective:

The amount of coaching that is required in each category will depend on your business, your product or service and the experience of your reps. For example, if you’re selling FMCG to mom and pop retail stores then execution discipline is likely to be more important than knowledge. Whereas sales skills are likely to be key if you’re selling a complex enterprise software platform.

In order to be effective your business first needs to identify how important each of these areas is and what weighting each should have in your coaching framework. This then forms the basis for a structured coaching framework that incorporates processes and tools that help sales managers identify what their reps need and how to coach them. The framework moves the focus of sales coaching from addressing a single incident in one meeting, to the overall success of your reps and their cumulative sales outcomes.

Following a sales coaching framework also helps identify the needs of individual reps. While a couple of good reps may have been able to lift an entire team in the past, this isn’t the case anymore. Traditionally sales managers have tended to focus in on the “tails” or their very best and very worst reps, while the majority are left to fend for themselves. Research has found that focusing sales

coaching efforts on the middle 60%

can improve performance by a greater amount than addressing the top and bottom 10%. But there are more people sitting in the middle 60%, which means the top sales coaches need to be enabled to coach everyone effectively.

A sales coaching framework also has the additional benefit of providing a structure that can be leveraged by the broader sales and leadership team. As sales enablement and capability teams become more involved in helping reps sell, they are also taking on some of the responsibility for coaching them. That doesn’t mean that sales managers will eventually have no role in coaching. To the contrary, their role will be able to be elevated to focus in on the more challenging and higher impact opportunities that will make their sales reps not just good but great.

[Podcast] How to Coach your Customer to Choose your Product with Jeffrey Lipsius (Episode 11)

In this 15 minute

interview Lipsius outlines:

  • Why decision coaching is important to your customers
  • What are the must-have components of a top-notch sales training program
  • How to coach your sales reps so that it sticks
  • The link between mindfulness and sales performance

To download or subscribe to the Sales Excellence podcast login to






or find it



“The new problem customers are facing is that they have too many choices. And making decisions are difficult because they’re so distracted, everybody wants their attention instantly. Customers now really need somebody’s help to coach them through the decision process.”

And that’s where the modern salesperson can step in according to Jeffrey Lipsius, Author, and President of Selling To The Point. With over 30 years experience in training salespeople, Lipsius has seen how the sales game has changed in the digital age.

“The salesperson has to be the learner, not the teacher. So the salesperson has to be very customer aware. Because if you are customer aware then you’re going to be able to respond in a way that’s going to help the customer make better decisions. All this talk about salespeople getting customer buying resistance, handling objections and being difficult in prospecting, that all goes away if the customer believes that the salesperson is there to help them make a better decision.”

That’s why Lipsius believes that decision coaching is a very important tool for a salesperson add to their tool chest. “A salesperson really only has to pay attention to 3 factors in the customer’s decision process,” says Lipsius.
Listen now

to find out Lipsius’ three C’s to the customer decision process.

Effective Sales Managers aren’t Born: They’re Created

help_sales-managers-coachSuperheroes aren’t born, they’re made. Clarke Kent walked in the light of the yellow sun. Diana Prince was granted her Amazonian strength by the Greek Gods, and Peter Parker was bitten by an irradiated spider. But all of them had to learn how to channel their powers and hone their skills before they could fly or scale walls.

When it comes to sales one of the most potent superpowers a sales manager can have is the ability to coach effectively. But why do we still think sales managers should be able to coach without any training or practice? Just like any skill coaching is something that requires training and development. But before we get into the details on how to achieve that, let’s take a look at why sales coaching is so important to your organization.

Effective sales coaching changes topline revenue


CSO Insights

found that there is a direct relationship between the quality of coaching and the amount of reps who made quota.

That’s because coaching isn’t about auditing what your reps are (or aren’t) doing or a quick fix. It’s about helping them improve how they sell in both the short and long-term, making them better sales reps for life. This could be in terms of specific sales skills, from prospecting to closing, or how effective their negotiating techniques are to get more prospects over the line.

By improving the skills of your reps, coaching can also increase their engagement with their role and your business. This means you’re more likely to retain high performing people who perform even better thanks to coaching. As your reps improve how they sell, coaching can move onto more complex issues, giving your reps (and your managers) new sales challenges.

So how do you learn to leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Just like Superman, sales coaches need to learn how to walk before they jump. There are three indicators that sales managers should be aware of:

  1. Lagging indicators: These show them whether their reps are meeting their numbers and include a lot of the traditional metrics like pipeline activity, wins, and losses. These metrics are commonly measured with most CRMs already doing this effectively.
  2. Efficiency indicators: These provide an understanding of why sales reps are meeting or missing their numbers. This can include win rates, sales cycles, and their pipeline size. These are very critical for the success of your business. For example, in a CPG business, your efficiency indicators will consider how well your reps are getting their product placement. Whereas in Technology getting the discovery process right will be an important area to focus your efficiency indicators.
  3. Effectiveness indicators: These metrics look at whether your reps actually “get it” and the behaviors that they are demonstrating that drive your lagging indicators. Managers need to proactively identify capability gaps and fix them. A streamlined process for managers to build capabilities in their team and make them more effective salespeople could be the difference between an average and best-in-class team.

Businesses who not only understand their efficiency and effectiveness indicators but are able to maximize their reps achievement of them will achieve success. In the past sales managers focussed all their efforts on lagging and efficiency indicators to enable their team. But businesses have changed, the way we make our products has changed and the speed at which the industry dynamics alter is radically different. To drive revenue in the new world order managers need to look at the effectiveness of each element of their indicators and identify their importance for sales success. By focussing in on effectiveness, managers can coach their reps better, drive revenue and increase sales productivity.

Find new ways to identify capability indicators

Just like sales managers get regular reporting on lagging indicators, they also need access to information on their teams’ efficiency and effectiveness indicators and their gaps.

One way to do this is to spend time identifying the key capabilities that lead to the success of your top 20%. Then enable your sales managers with information about what team members have gaps in these capabilities.

For reps who are losing deals against their competition, managers can benefit from information like:

  • Are they accessing competitor information before a customer meeting?
  • Is their messaging tailored for each customer?
  • What behaviors are they demonstrating that is helping them move down the buying process and close more deals?

A sales enablement platform like Mindtickle can help identify some of these behaviors along with personal observation.

So what are we waiting for?

Before you start telling your sales managers to get out and coach, you have to help them learn to leap that tall building in a single bound. This is an important step that many businesses struggle with. In fact,

the Harvard Business Review

found that only 12% of international business leaders believed they had invested sufficiently in the development of their frontline managers. That means that 88% of sales managers are trying to coach their team blind.

But this isn’t just about teaching sales managers to coach, it’s about empowering them so they can coach. Sales managers in many organizations are weighed down by a plethora of tasks that don’t necessarily help them contribute to revenue or develop their team.

McKinsey found

that frontline managers spend between 30 and 60% of their time doing administrative tasks or sitting in meetings. A further 10 to 50% of their time is spent doing non-managerial tasks like traveling, special projects or actually selling themselves. This means that only 10 to 40% of their time is spent actually managing, and only a portion of this is spent coaching.

One of the quickest ways to give sales managers more time to coach is to take away the administrative tasks that are not adding any value or revenue. Whether it’s automating sales reporting or leveraging technology to reduce travel time, there are many ways to enable sales managers to perform these tasks more efficiently or remove them completely.

It’s essential to ensure that your managers are making the most of the extra time available to them. The first step is to make sure they have

the basics in place


Also, HBR found that 40%

of international business leaders believed that their frontline managers didn’t have sufficient leadership development, tools or training. Companies with the best sales training programs look at their existing learning programs and identify what gaps there are in sales leadership training so they can start working on the basics.

Joanne Wells of Halogen Software

suggests looking at what your sales leaders know about your business and its goals. By understanding your broader business objectives leaders are better placed to hone in on what’s most important for their sales reps to learn.

Learning is cultural

Holding knee-jerk training sessions that exist in isolation rarely achieve the desired results. So if learning and coaching are to be integral parts of your organization then they must become part of your culture. This means from the top down learning is valued, supported and encouraged.

The first step

is building the basics for your managers by clarifying responsibilities in job descriptions, performance appraisals, and broader communications, so it’s clear that this is an organization-wide initiative.

Then you can create an environment where there is a regular cadence for learning and coaching. An easy place to start is by looking at your best managers and identifying what they’re doing well. There’s no need to recreate the wheel, replicate what works.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and today there are so many tools available that can be used to help your organization build its culture of learning. Think about this way, if managers are given a structured and effective way to coach their reps regularly they’re more likely to use it, right? But if you have to take everyone out of the field for a week, there’s little incentive for anyone to get involved. That’s why super sales training has to fit into the way your sales team works, rather than the other way around.

The key to making the most of a sales manager’s time is to recognize that the managers don’t have to do it all. If learning and coaching are a part of your organization’s culture, then subject matter experts in Product Marketing or Sales Enablement can take on the role of coaching reps in some areas. After all sales

coaching is a team effort

.  Sales Enablement and Product Marketing can take on key roles as subject matter experts, coaching reps on knowledge and messaging, like how to pitch that new product feature for example. This frees sales managers up further to focus on where they can add the most value like improving sales skills in a deal by deal coaching and on the finer aspects of process and execution.

This effectively elevates the role of the sales manager so they can focus on the more complex deals and performance issues, optimizing their time and skills. The more managers coach, the more they learn what works and what doesn’t, developing and strengthening their superpowers.