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6 steps to coaching the sales manager

coaching_the_sales_coachWe know that sales coaching is an important part of sales management. It helps your reps become better salespeople, improves their skills, increases their engagement with your organization and of course improves your topline revenue. Studies have found that effective sales coaching programs can improve sales reps’ performance by up to 20%. But many managers don’t know how to coach well. They may have been great sales reps, but just because they’ve been promoted into a management role doesn’t mean they’re equipped to perform it.

Managers aren’t born all-rounders

Effective sales coaching isn’t about auditing your reps activities every now and again, or giving them some in-person feedback every once in awhile. It’s about building a regular cadence to provide useful, insightful and specific coaching on areas that the individual rep actually needs help in. After all, coaching sales reps can be tricky for a sales coach because each individual has different areas that they need to work on.

Say your rep has five areas that they need coaching on, how do you know their sales managers can address every single one? And how do you prepare your managers to find these gaps in the first place? Perhaps they’re a gun at pipeline management, but aren’t too good when it comes to deal coaching.

Given the breadth of the role of sales manager, it’s simply not possible for them to know how to coach sales reps on everything. But, just like their reps, they can also be trained to plug their own gaps.

Look in the “too hard” basket

Another issue that all of us deal with at one point in time or another is “avoidance”. If something is difficult to do, or you simply don’t know where to start, it’s much easier to put it in the “too hard” basket and forget about it until something bad happens. And that’s a problem.

Trying to coach sales reps only in adversity, like when they’ve just lost a big deal, is hard work for both the manager and the rep. After all, no one wants attention just because they haven’t done their best, and coaching isn’t about yelling at someone for not performing at their best. It’s about encouraging and developing reps to be their best.

That’s why it’s important to ensure sales managers are given the tools and skills they need to coach, so they have no excuse not to coach proactively rather than reactively.

So what exactly is effective coaching?

Before we get into the detail of how to help your sales managers learn how to coach, it’s important to differentiate between coaching, training and managing.

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The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as:

“An interactive process to help individuals and organizations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improving other’s ability to set goals, take action, make better decisions and make full use of their natural strengths.”

It’s not about telling someone what to do, but about helping them look at different ways to do things to achieve better results. When done well, sales coaching will drive productivity and effectiveness in a sales organisation.

Develop a coaching framework

The first step in helping managers learn how to be a sales coach is to develop a sales coaching program. There is no one size fits all solution here because every business is different. To work out what your coaching framework should include why not ask your sales reps what they want to see included. Speak to your sales managers to find out what they would find useful, and ask your executives what their objectives are.

This information can then be used to build your aX + bY + cZ formula for effective sales coaching. This framework is tailored to your organization’s needs, while ensuring you cover the necessary aspects of sales coaching including Knowledge, Messaging, Sales Skills, Process and Execution Discipline.

While no sales coaching program will be identical, it’s critical that each ensures that managers have:

While these cover sales specific areas Candice Frankovelgia also suggests 5 general areas that coaches need to develop in their sales team:

  1. Building the relationship
  2. Providing assessment
  3. Challenging thinking and assumptions
  4. Supporting and encouraging
  5. Driving results

Put the sales coach into training

Once you’ve identified the key areas that your sales people need coaching in, you’ll need to identify whether your managers have the requisite skills. The best way to ensure managers have the knowledge and skills to coach is to give them formal training. There are many ways this can be done, from formal in-class training to peer to peer learning. Certifying managers to coach isn’t a new concept.

In a different world, football coaches have to be certified before they get to coach players. In-fact, the process for certifying a football coach is thorough, with several levels depending on the experience of the coach and the level of the players they’re seeking to coach. And it should be the same for sales coaches.

One of the most effective ways I’ve seen is when managers are given the same information and knowledge as their reps and are then certified on it. This ensures they have the same baseline knowledge, and the certification gives comfort that they have absorbed the information and are able to apply it.

For example, one of our customers, a high growth tech company was launching a new product and wanted to ensure their sales team delivered a consistent message to prospects. To enable their sales managers to coach sales reps through this they first certified them on how to sell the product themselves. This ensured that they knew exactly what the reps had to do, and when combined with their own experience and skills were prepared to coach their teams effectively.

When this approach is complemented with guidance on how to coach, it can be quite powerful. Provide live examples to managers on how to have coaching conversations. Help them understand what they should be looking for and what areas to focus in on for the greatest impact. Provide them with the opportunity to role play their coaching so they can play it back and learn from it.

Leverage reporting and tools

All the training and practising in the world won’t be of any use to a sales manager if they’re going into their coaching sessions blind. That’s where good reporting on the right things is critical. Most managers just look at lagging indicators like pipeline activity and what deals your reps have won and lost, when determining what they should be coaching sales reps on. But this doesn’t always provide enough information. That’s where efficiency and capability indicators are important.

Efficiency indicators can include things like win rates against particular competitors or sales cycle for example. While effectiveness indicators look at the behaviors that sales reps can demonstrate to drive lagging indicators. As coaching is about behaviors not quotas, this qualitative information needs to be available to managers so they know what to coach on.

This information can be identified by bringing together information from several places, whether it’s in your CRM, your sales enablement software or competitive intel. The key is giving managers the tools that helps them identify which indicators to look at and access to the information. For example, if you’re looking at what effectiveness indicators are winning deals, your sales enablement software (like MindTickle) can provide you with information on what content your best reps are accessing before a big meeting. This may provide data about what behaviors are winning deals, and in turn what behaviors may need to change in order to improve the results of some of your reps.

With this information in hand, they are then enabled to identify what specific areas individual reps require coaching in, and start working on actually improving their behaviors and result.

Mentor the coach

With the right tools in hand, your sales managers will be much better equipped to coach. But they still need to learn how to use these tools to achieve the best effect. One of the best ways to learn coaching is to learn from peers. Your sales reps buddy up, so why not do the same for your sales managers. With role models to help mentor and demonstrate good practice, managers will be able to ask questions and share their own knowledge with their peers.

While mentoring and buddying is usually a one-on-one activity, you can encourage collaboration and peer-to-peer learning amongst the management team by bringing them together. Some of our customers have organized manager workshops that give sales managers the opportunity to share what works and what doesn’t in a supportive and collaborative environment.

It’s also a great idea to encourage managers to share their coaching wins with the broader sales team. This has a dual impact of allowing the broader sales organisation to learn from what works, and also demonstrating the value of coaching to any skeptics in your team.

Provide regular feedback from Executives

If your organization has a sales coaching culture then your Regional Director and Vice President of Sales will no doubt be interested in how your sales managers are performing. Rather than observing from afar, they should be encouraged to see how managers are coaching regularly and provide their own feedback and insight to the broader team or even individuals where appropriate. By getting involved they can demonstrate just how important the sales coaching program is to the success of their sales team, and boost engagement in the process with the team.

Incentivize successful coaches

Along with Executive buy-in, rewards and incentives are another good way to engage managers. While successful sales managers are incentivized when their team meets quota, how often are good sales coaches recognized or incentivized? Consider adding in a coaching specific incentive in your KPIs so there is added encouragement for those who learn how to coach well. The benefits will inevitably flow-on to the rest of their team.

When used as part of a structured coaching program, these six steps will ensure that you give your sales managers the knowledge, skills and discipline to coach consistently.

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Shankar Ganapathy
Author
Shankar Ganapathy

Director of Marketing at MindTickle. Shankar is passionate about enabling human capability. He believes in the power of digital to improve sales effectiveness.