Sales Coaching Is The Difference Between Hitting And Missing Goals

by by Ty Bello
Posted On: 10/17/2017

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Salespeople go by many trendy names: account executive, marketing representative, team member or professional sales specialist. However, a new name doesn't correlate with better sales performance. Neither does an increase in the amount of management you provide for your sales team. The reality is that sales management is no longer the optimum way to bring out the best in your team. Sales coaching is.

A 2011 Harvard Business Review reports that targeted, focused coaching can improve sales success upwards of 19%. Even a moderate improvement in coaching quality can lead to increased performance. High performing sales organizations have their managers spend 25% to 40% of their time on sales coaching alone. In the past few years, our clients have reported that effective coaching at all levels is a top factor in their sustained success.

Most sales managers want to coach and most salespeople want to be coached. Unfortunately, many universities don't offer classes on sales or sales coaching, and many managers aren't instinctive coaches. Individual corporations aren't familiar with the coaching model and, therefore, cannot impart effective strategies to their front-line managers. That said, coaching isn't part of the overall business model.

What Is Sales Coaching?

Coaching differs from managing, training or mentoring. Managing usually refers to telling salespeople what to do. Training is showing them how to do it. Mentoring is advising and supporting as they do it. Coaching, on the other hand, means the manager understands the strengths of the individual and encourages them to succeed in their area of strength. It means the pair identifies the salesperson's weaknesses and builds a plan to either overcome or minimize them.

Coaching also means spending one-on-one time with the salesperson on their turf. The coach helps the salesperson with problem-solving skills rather than giving them the answer. Coaching is collaborative, highly interactive and mutually transparent. The coach is willing to share his or her own successes and failures. The relationship is no longer "boss" and "employee," but shared ownership of the team. The coaching pair celebrates success together.

Coaching Culture Challenges

There are three obstacles that can get in the way of sales coaching: managers who direct rather than collaborate, managers who don't practice active listening and the inability to invest enough time.

Sales managers often miss the opportunity to uncover how to motivate their salespeople when all they do is manage tasks. They also often miss the different learning styles and position on the learning curve when conversations are one-sided. Directing voids almost all interaction because we are busy downloading and not listening and probing. The same skill sets used in selling can be easily translated into coaching if the coach recognizes that coaching and selling are similar.

Sales managers who do all of the talking and little of the listening may move their agenda ahead but do little to engage their people for sustained growth, both personally and professionally. All sales leaders have an agenda. All have quotas to hit. All have goals to achieve and a boss or shareholders to whom they report. But all managers need to realize that their sales team is made up of individual people. When managers choose to listen to learn more, they show respect to their team. Active, compassionate listening builds a coaching culture that transcends the entire organization.

Planning the time for coaching is another hurdle. It's not just the amount of time set aside for coaching that counts, but how that time is managed and used. A salesperson needs to know that he or she isn't just another checkbox on the calendar. Coaches need to give their team members their full, undivided attention during the time together.

Expectations of the coach and the salesperson need to be outlined beforehand. Goals for the time together need to be established with measurable results for both parties. Coaches need to manage the time in between as well. This means coaches have to provide follow-up calls and emails to check in to see how the salesperson is doing and be available and approachable.

Five Steps Of Coaching Dialogue

Sales coaching is a process, not an event. There are repeatable steps in this system that allow the coach and salesperson to build trust and confidence. Salespeople can enhance their skills when there is consistency and continuity from the coach.

The first step is making a connection with your individual team members. Establish rapport with each one by being a resource, not a source of anxiety. Too often, salespeople expect the manager to simply evaluate their performance. Getting to know a person beyond their basic information takes a while. Trust is built one encounter at a time. Be hard on the issues, not on the people. Coach your team, manage the processes.

The second step is reevaluating perceptions. Sixty-five percent of sales managers open their coaching time by asking a question. Excellent coaches allow the salesperson to speak first. This opens the dialogue for the coach to uncover where the salesperson is on the learning curve and what insights, skills or judgments they have. Then the coach can give specific feedback and cater the coaching to the individual.

Next, identify the obstacles the salesperson faces. Communicate your desire to be a resource. Let the salesperson drive the conversation. Ask them to identify an obstacle and strategies they've tried, and then brainstorm ideas with them. Spend up to 30% of your time on this part of the process.

In step four, you both prioritize the obstacles and agree on the need for change in strategy. Move on to addressing what is blocking their progress toward the desired behavior or change in behavior. Decide on specific steps needed to remove the obstacle. Be as detailed as possible. Encourage, encourage, encourage.

Last, ask your salesperson to commit to action. Put specific dates to action items and be ready to hold each other accountable. This will be the map for the clear path to success for both of you. Summarize and set the time for your next coaching dialogue.

Get Started

We all have the same amount of time in a day. How we choose to use it is entirely up to us. The investment of your time in coaching your sales team will be a deposit into the future success of your business. The basic tools have been outlined. Change the culture of your organization and increase sales by implementing coaching.

» TY BELLO is founder of Team@Work LLC. He is an author, communicator and registered coach. Team@Work specializes in coaching sole proprietorships, sales teams and c-suite executives in sales and management in a variety of industries. Bello, who has presented at several vending industry conventions, can be reached at