Top 12 World-Class Sales Practices | Effective Sales Coaching

Sales coaching drives results. Great results, no doubt. We see it year after year in our global data. Our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study shows that, implemented properly, sales coaching can lead to a 16.6% increase in win rates for forecasted deals. Stay tuned for our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study, which will be available in a couple of weeks. The good news I can already share with you here: The impact of a formal or dynamic sales coaching approach again leads to double-digit improvements in win rates.

A full 90% of the World-Class segment in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study reported that their sales managers effectively coach their sellers to higher levels of performance, compared to 33% of all study participants. (click to tweet)

If you check out the whole study, you may notice that the World-Class segment is small. It’s 9% of the study population. The problem is, regardless which study we use as a reference, that not more organizations follow an effective sales coaching approach that delivers significantly better results. Let me show you the details:

Even our sales enablement studies show that only 40% of organizations follow a formal approach (coaching process is implemented, and sales managers are developed and required to coach their sellers) or even a dynamic approach (in addition to the formal approach, there also are specific sales coaching services for sales managers in place that mirror the enablement services for salespeople to drive adoption and reinforcement) that creates those results.

Instead, the majority of organizations (60%) leave sales coaching up to their managers or follow an informal approach that’s usually not more than lip service that coaching should be done combined with a lack of formal skill development for managers and a lack of proper implementation.

Why aren’t more organizations focused on getting sales coaching right? Most reasons are based on a lack of clarity and understanding. (click to tweet)

The reasons are multifaceted, as usual. One reason is that there often is still no clarity between the terms sales training and sales coaching. While sales training stands at the beginning of a change process, sales coaching is the ongoing engine that drives adoption and reinforcement. So both need each other but have different roles and purposes. I explain both terms in great detail here.

Another reason I hear is, “We do it, but it doesn’t work.” In most cases, the problem is that they confuse activity management with sales coaching. And managing activities (asking the seller for numbers and data that should be in the CRM anyway) does not drive performance per se. Only doing these activities (assuming they are the right activities and derived from your sales strategy) in the best way possible drives sales performance. And to get there, sales coaching plays a crucial role.

Sales leaders who currently lead sales forces often were never coached themselves; therefore, they don’t see the “need” to coach. Here, it’s crucial to understand that professional selling has changed and continues to change by the day. Both buyers and sellers are in a very different position now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. And new situations call for new approaches. Sales coaching is one critical element necessary to drive sales force transformation. (click to tweet)

And the most common reason I hear is the classic, “We don’t have time.” It’s stunning to see some sales leaders passionately fight for every single deal on the last mile but basically be blind when it comes to implementing a system that allows them to make a focused investment to implement a performance growth engine that works along the entire customer’s path. That’s what sales coaching actually is: a performance growth engine.

Wherever you currently are, here are a few ideas to improve your current sales coaching approach: (click to tweet)

#1: Provide clarity on coaching.

Start by establishing a definition of coaching. It is more than just strategizing on an account and should cover a range of different areas such as deals, accounts, territories, pipelines and, of course, skills and behaviors. 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 that allow sellers to discover areas for improvement and opportunities to break through to new levels of success.

#2: Get senior executive buy-in.

Build a business case. Our research provides highly valuable insights on the business impact of sales coaching. Put the data into your context, and create a specific and realistic business case. For some, it will take more than numbers. Senior executives who were never coached themselves will see it as a “nice to have,” as mentioned above. The lack of coaching is a longtime problem, and they are used to it. Use role-play activities, real seller quotes, a recorded failed call, feedback from customers and snippets from seller exit interviews to supplement your business case. Sell it with data, but don’t forget to make the emotional connection.

#3: Run a coaching pilot.

You can usually find a few sales managers within your organization who are natural coaching talents or learned coaching elsewhere. Design a small pilot together, track the results, and let these sales managers present their coaching story. Tangible experiences from within the organization, especially if presented by sales managers and backed up by a business case, make the ingredients for an approved initiative. Sales enablement leaders are often more successful if they leave it to sellers or sales managers to share a success. It’s definitely the case for sales coaching.

#4: Implement a coaching process.

Now, as the case has been made, you can get started developing your coaching process, connect it to the selling process and make sure sales managers have coaching guidelines available to them at each stage. Then make sure that they are all well developed and required to coach their teams. If their managers don’t inspect that, it won’t happen. Make sure an adequate coaching approach has been implemented for all of the major programs you have out there for sellers. For example, if you have a new sales methodology, make sure your managers are trained on how to coach along those lines. If you have a new value messaging approach, ensure your managers know how to coach their teams on that. You will see that involving sales managers begins early on, can then pause a bit while you work with the sellers, and then has to be practiced regularly.

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. Chapter 7 contains lots of “how-to” information to address the sales coaching challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • Do your sales managers coach their salespeople regularly and effectively?
  • If your sales managers don’t coach their salespeople regularly and effectively, why not?
  • What do you need to drive sales coaching in your organization?

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  • Paul Ironside
    Posted at 10:37h, 07 August


    Well written (as always). To your point above and across the myriad of studies you and others have conducted, it simply isn’t sales training that makes more A sellers. It’s more A sales managers. We believe sales organizations are, by and large, coming to this reality; however much like sales training doesn’t make a top seller, agreeing that coaching is critical to seller success doesn’t make sales managers good at it.

    Now more than ever today’s sales manager (in particular the frontline sales manager) must constantly question where they spend their time, with whom, and most importantly how.

    Great post – pi

  • Tamara Schenk
    Posted at 12:34h, 08 August

    Thanks, Paul! Makes a lot of sense, and you will see this in new data in our upcoming 2019 Sales Enablement Study, that how sales managers lead their sellers (coaching is a part of it) makes a HUGE difference. Spending the time on what is in their control and what matters (e.g., sales coaching!) would be a great starting point.
    Thanks again for taking the time to share your feedback, very much appreciated!
    Best, Tamara

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