Let’s play armchair therapist for a moment.
When you hear the phrase “building a sales coaching program”, how does that make you feel?
Excited? Terrified? Overwhelmed? Stressed out? Cold sweats? Night terrors?
While it’s true that sales coaching takes time and intention, building a program to help your reps improve their sales performance doesn’t have to be stressful (and certainly shouldn’t bring on cold sweats and night terrors!)
The truth is, a kick-ass coaching plan consists of simple, practical steps that you simply repeat consistently over time.
Of course, simple doesn’t always (or ever) mean easy.
Based on our experiences with hundreds of sales organizations, here are five simple tips for building a kick-ass coaching program that will both improve each individual rep’s sales performance, and bring in more revenue for your company.
1. Commit to small steps every day.
Big changes never happen overnight.
No athlete gets onto the varsity team just by rolling out of bed one day and deciding they’re going to be good. A good offensive lineman doesn’t become that way through sheer talent (although it doesn’t hurt to have talent).
Building skill and changing habits (particularly the bad ones) happens through small, intentional, and consistent actions.
In fact, the science of behavior change tells us that we shouldn’t try to change all our bad behaviors at once. It’s important to focus on a single skill, make progress toward improving that skill, and move on only when you’ve mastered it.
Not long ago at ExecVision, we found many of our sales reps were struggling with understanding and communicating the customer story. So we focused all of our professional sales training and coaching on this area:
- Repeated sales training on how reps can identify and identify with the customer story
- Focusing on customer story in every call coaching session
- Evaluating reps on their ability to respond to the customer story
- Creating resources around customer story best practices to add to the list
- Running a call competition to see who can best incorporate the customer story in to their calls
Once our reps mastered that skill, we moved onto the next one. And the next. And the next.
2. Reinforce your methodology and language.
Hiring can often be a sales manager’s most stressful job. So here’s a free tip to help you weed out the wheat from the chaff.
When interviewing a potential hire, ask them: what methodologies did you learn in your previous jobs?
By that I don’t mean a generic understanding of how sales methodologies work. Ask them to get specific: what terminology and language did they use to describe steps in the sales process, job titles, sales movements, etc.?
See what they come up with.
I’m blown away by how infrequently a sales rep will remember nothing. I’m not being hyperbolic. I mean they forget literally everything.
This happens even though they’ve been through all the great sales training courses: Miller Heiman and Challenger Sales and Customer-Centric Selling and Solution Selling and Value Selling and Fill-in-the-Blank Selling.
If the person can’t remember one thing from just one of the sales training methodologies, it’s a pretty good indication that they’ve just accepted their own forgetting curve:
- They’re not going back and re-visiting the materials from the sales training course
- They aren’t using the language with their peers and colleagues
- The methodology isn’t top-of-mind while their selling, meaning that they likely aren’t full integrating it into their sales process
So what can you do as a sales manager to help these reps beat their own forgetting curve? Use the language of your methodology (or methodologies) as often as you can. Make it a part of your culture.
Over time, your sales coaching language will seep into the overall culture and, hopefully, your reps will own the responsibility of learning, growing, and improving their understanding of your methodology.
3. Adapt your coaching practices to different reps.
Too many times, a sales manager will fall into a time-consuming trap: adopting a “one-size-fits-all” coaching approach.
Of course, we all intuitively get that each human is different and needs a personalized blah, blah, blah.
Let’s face it though: we’re busy people, and we put things off. So when the time comes to actually sit down with those reps, we just run through the same questions as we did with the ten that came before.
But that whole paradigm has problems. Namely this: if you’re not adapting your coaching approach to each of your reps, that means you’re wasting time, not saving it.
Here’s what I mean.
We all understand the Skill Will Matrix and its power as a sales enablement and sales coaching tool. But that graph illustrates the various “buckets” that reps fall into, and the different kinds of coaching that they need.
If a rep is skilled but has low motivation, they don’t necessarily need training — they need activity coaching. And if you have a rep that can’t wait to hit the floor but their call quality sucks, then you need to work with them on some basic cold call best practices.
What’s more, if you apply the wrong sales coaching practice to the wrong rep, you’ve just wasted everyone’s time, and in some cases it can become counterproductive.
While it may seem like a bit more time and intention on your part, adapting your sales coaching practices to each rep and group of reps will save you time and headaches in the long run.
4. Maximize output with limited input.
“He who dies with the most coaching sessions wins…” nothing, actually.
Measuring yourself based on how much time you spend coaching doesn’t mean jack. What matters is how much business impact your coaching brings.
In fact, the trick is to do the least amount of work that achieves the greatest productive impact on the business. This means being very smart and focused with your time and coaching “calories.”
A great example of this is the group coaching session. Rather than limiting yourself to one-on-one coaching sessions only, you can bring together six people who have good activity levels and use it as an opportunity to coach some of your rising stars.
If you are really intentional in what you do with that hour — maybe you’re bringing in a senior leader or even third party trainer — you can get six hours of sales coaching for only an hour of your time.
In other words, you’ve increased the business impact by 6X without spending any additional time at all.
Using your time more effectively and efficiently can cause exponential growth in the business impact of your coaching program.
5. Remember: a quality outcome isn’t always the desired outcome.
When it comes to sales coaching, something to keep in mind is that just because a call doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, doesn’t mean it was a bad call.
Let’s think of a common example: lead qualification. You have an SDR call the lead and ask their qualifying questions, and then end up passing on the meeting as it’s not a good use of anyone’s time.
Is that the result we wanted? Not really. But does that mean the call had a bad outcome? Not at all.
If that SDR hadn’t disqualified the lead, then an AE would have probably spent numerous hours in meetings and demos and back-and-forth emails, when that time could have been better spent elsewhere.
That’s why disqualification, as unfortunate as it is, is a good outcome and a powerful part of the sales process.
So keep in mind that a good outcome may not be the one you want. Don’t waste time on bad opportunities, but focus on the actions and activities that are going to get you closer to your actual goals.
Building a sales coaching program doesn’t require a ton of extra time or money on your part — not if you’re thinking about it the right way.
In fact, the five sales coaching tips listed in this post require no additional spend. And while they don’t require more time on your part, they do require a certain level of intentionality.
If you start to take these simple steps and do them well, chances are you’ll start to see sales performance results — first among each individual salesperson, and then among your revenue generation as a whole.