Five Ways to Get Started With Sales Coaching

The data speaks for itself: Sales coaching matters a lot. To be precise, sales coaching matters most. It’s the only enablement service that leads to 2-digit improvements in win rates for forecast deals year after year.

Based on our 2018 data, 40% of organizations leverage the tremendous potential of sales coachingand 60% of organizations don’t leverage the performance potential of sales coaching at all. (click to tweet)

The 40% could improve their win rates by 10.5% in the case of a formally implemented coaching approach, or by 16.6% in the case of a dynamic coaching approach tailored to match the specific enablement services for sellers. You can find all the details here.

The 60% achieve only average results if they follow an informal approach to sales coaching (there might be just a coaching guideline), or even worse if they follow a laissez-faire approach where “sales coaching is left up to our managers.” The latter leads to win rates that are 11.3% worse than the study’s average of 49.5%. I shared all the details regarding the positive impact and the huge costs of doing nothing of sales coaching here.

Old-fashioned thought forms, beliefs and illusions often stand in the way of an otherwise comprehensive business case for sales coaching. (click to tweet)

Sales enablement leaders often find it difficult to address the need to focus on sales coaching. There are many reasons for this challenge. One is that sales leaders don’t “see the need” for sales coaching, even if the data tells us otherwise. Another is their opinion that sales coaching would already take place, but it wouldn’t work. In most cases, that’s an illusion. It “doesn’t work” because sales coaching is not happening in the first place.

However, that means your sales leaders question your business case and everything else you are saying on the matter. The underlying reasons for that behavior are multifaceted. The practice that’s currently applied typically has nothing to do with sales coaching at all; it’s just activity management. Some sales leaders still think that sales coaching is just an overestimated “soft skill”. Additionally, the sales leaders’ own experiences play a huge role: “I was never coached and made my career anyway. Why would others need it?” This belief won’t be articulated this way, but it’s an underlying thought form sales enablement leaders have to be aware of. In these situations, data won’t solve the problem.

Here are five ideas to help overcome sales coaching stagnation:

  1. Clarify the term “sales coaching.” (click to tweet)
    If the term is not defined, each of your sales leaders most likely has a different understanding of it. Here you go: Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise along with social, communication and questioning skills to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities to break through to new levels of success.
  2. Play a seller/manager 1:1 meeting that is not about coaching at all. (click to tweet)
    “The definition of terms is the beginning of wisdom,” as Socrates rightly said, is the foundation, but it rarely leads to any action. So why don’t you ask for 3 minutes in a meeting, and role-play a seller/manager 1:1 meeting that shows what actually happens in those meetings if sales coaching is not a priority. I did that with a colleague for a small group of clients, and it definitely breaks the ice for the kind of conversation you need. People will laugh about the ridiculous situations that are created based on “What’s your number this week?” (well, it depends), “You don’t have enough leads!” (I do know that), etc.
  3. Initiate an early adopter group of motivated sales managers. (click to tweet)
    There are always sales managers who are natural coaches or who learned sales coaching elsewhere and are big sales coaching advocates. Have individual conversations with them, and get them together to form a sales coaching team to develop ideas on how to set up a pilot that doesn’t cost a lot, but shows the impact within a couple of weeks.
  4. Run a sales coaching pilot, and measure success. (click to tweet)
    Design a pilot, and run it with one or two sales managers and their teams. If you have implemented a new value messaging approach, for instance, or a new prospecting approach for a specific industry or buyer role, build your pilot on that. Define a time frame, the involved sales teams and the coaching approach (I’d focus on skills, behaviors, and leads and opportunities) you agreed on with the sales managers, and get started. I recommend focusing on leading indicators for such a pilot to be able to show results as fast as possible. Conversion rates measured by volume, value and velocity at each stage of the customer’s path will show improvements in a short amount of time.
  5. Enrich your coaching business case with results from the pilot, and let sales managers present. (click to tweet)
    The best way to communicate results is to have the involved sales managers present the case with all the learnings from their perspective. If the early adopter group drives the sales coaching momentum in the organization, it will soon be tangible even for skeptical sales leaders. Results in their own sales force won’t be ignored, and you are in a much better position to get approval for your case on implementing a formal sales coaching approach.

Effective sales enablement leaders know how important it is to collaborate with sales managers to drive reinforcement and adoption, in pilots and in the actual implementation phases. That’s specifically relevant when it comes to sales coaching, but it is highly recommended in all other areas of enablement, too. Without engaged sales managers at the front line, change won’t happen.


If you haven’t already, take a look at our new book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of “how to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.


Questions for you:

  • How do you address the need for sales coaching in your organization?
  • Do you collaborate with sales managers when it comes to sales coaching?
  • If you do not collaborate with sales managers, what are the reasons?

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