Although many managers use the terms coaching and training interchangeably, they’re very different practices. Knowing which one to implement is key to overcoming a sales rep’s particular skill gap:
- Training is teaching somebody something new;
- Coaching is getting them to actually do what they know how to do
If a rep doesn’t know your sales process, call scripts, or best practices, you need to train them. But if their problem is putting that “head knowledge” into action, you need to coach them.
Training is the first step to improving sales performance. But it’s just that: a first step. To turn that training into action, you need a coaching program led by an effective sales coach.
Here are some of the key benefits that come when you implement a coaching program.
Coaching helps reps overcome the forgetting curve.
Here’s an important question: What is the number one challenge a sales manager faces when training sales reps?
Different people will have different answers, but one common answer is: reps forgetting what they were taught in the first place.
It’s frustrating, especially when you invest dollars and hours in a training program, but three weeks later, everyone’s back to the same old behaviors — there’s been no change in the organization.
But don’t blame it on the sales rep. Instead, blame it on science.
The human brain is an advanced supercomputer. And like computers, we have both short-term and long-term memory. Every night when we sleep, our brains take the short-term memories from the day before and convert them into long-term memory.
But how does the brain decide which information to store, and which to purge? It’s simple: the information that’s been repeated and reinforced over time.
So memory retention isn’t a matter of mental fortitude or discipline, it’s a matter of reinforcement and consistency.
It’s like the saying goes: Train me once, shame on you. Coach me twice…okay, that’s not exactly it. But you get the point.
Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure your reps get a good night’s sleep before their coaching session.
Coaching moves reps out of an unconscious state.
No, these aren’t the reps who zone out while on the sales floor (although come to think of it, maybe those reps just need to get that good night’s sleep mentioned in the last section).
An unconscious state of performance means that the rep doesn’t know why they’re incompetent — or worse yet, why they’re competent. Here’s why both can be scary.
Clearly a rep who’s unconsciously incompetent is a big challenge. If they don’t know why they’re under-performing, they don’t know how to improve. So the coach’s job in this case is to help them understand where their gaps are (conscious incompetence), and then help them close those gaps (conscious competence) by mastering the specific skills needed.
But what about the rep who’s unconsciously competent — they’re good, but they don’t know why? This can be a problem, since their performance isn’t repeatable, predictable, or scalable. What’s more, a rep who doesn’t know why they’re good won’t be able to help their teammates improve.
A good coach can help move a rep from an unconscious to a conscious state, setting them up to make the tangible, measurable improvements to achieve sales success.
Coaching pushes your team toward consistency.
Conscious competence is Step #1. After that, your reps need to achieve that level of competence not once, not twice, but always. Consistency is the only way you’ll see an improvement in calls, meetings, followup, and, ultimately, their win rate.
But consistency, like many things in sales, isn’t a one-way street. As manager, you should prioritize consistency in onboarding, management, process, and, ultimately, culture. This applies to the entry-level BDR just getting their feet under them, all the way up to your sales executive who’s been at this for decades.
If this sounds monotonous, it is…sort of. You are doing the same thing over and over again. But at the end of the day, it’s better to be a little boring with predictable revenue outcomes, then to be scratching your head wondering if you’re going to hit your numbers this month.
One super tangible way to drive consistency across your organization is through your terminology. Think about CrossFit, as an example. CrossFit has a “cult-like” language that everyone uses, and it helps keep everyone motivated and on the same page.
The same goes for your organization. Consider what your “cult-like” language might be, and drive it home until it’s second nature for everyone.
Coaching drives rep toward self-improvement.
Pop Quiz: Who decides if a rep will change their behavior? Is it:
- The Manager
- The Rep
Behavioral science is pretty clear on this one: the rep is the only one who can decide to change. So how do managers respond to this reality and incorporate it into how they coach?
The answer is not to lead with criticism. When you do that, you trigger the creation of a stress hormone — called cortisol — in the brain. This is the hormone that triggers the “fight-or-flight” instinct that many of us are all too familiar with. And when a rep is defensive, they’re going to dig in on their position, lash out, or just shut down.
The key to driving self-improvement is through trust. And trust doesn’t happen overnight. It certainly doesn’t happen through one hours-long training session.
Trust builds through small, consistent moments over time. So if you, as a leader, want to build up trust with your reps, you need to have a plan in place to take advantage of those micro-moments where you can guide a rep and help them understand how to improve.
This also goes back to culture. Leaders can’t change someone’s behavior, but they can create a positive and productive culture that is conducive to that change. In fact, culture matters more than metrics, because it dictates how people function when no one’s looking over their shoulder.
Coaching makes your analytics actionable.
You could have the greatest dashboard in the world — complete with trends lines, charts, and graphs. But if you don’t have a way to act on those insights, then it’s just analytics for analytics’ sake.
That’s exactly what we don’t want to see.
The first step to closing the Insights-to-Performance Gap (as we call it here at ExecVision) is to have an agreed-upon definition of what “good” looks like. And everyone — managers, coaches, trainers, reps — needs to know that the definition is. That way, everyone is moving toward the same end goal.
If you’re struggling to identify what that target looks like, get together with key leaders in your organization and ask the following questions (it makes sense to do this exercise for each of your call types):
- Does the rep [insert key process steps here]?
- Does the rep qualify the prospect by asking [insert your qualification questions/criteria here]?
- Is the rep talking to the right people? If not, are they taking steps to talk to the [key decision makers/roles/personas]?
- Does the rep close with next steps and/or a mutually agreed upon plan of action?
- Does a rep effectively cover all the elements of [product/features/benefits/pain points]?
These are just a few to get you started. The best way to do this is to keep your list down to less than ten — identifying the fewest key behaviors that make the biggest difference for your definition of success.
Once you identify what “good” looks like, and you have a way to quantify that, it’s then all about measuring the right performance indicators to identify the areas where your reps can and should improve.
That behavior change won’t happen during a one-time training session, but over time. It’s yet another reason why having a solid coaching program is so critical.
All of your reps — and especially new reps — will need to be trained on your business, the market, your products, and how to sell effectively. But it’s through the consistent coaching over time that that knowledge turns into real, tangible action.
By starting or revitalizing a coaching program within your organization, you can move your team into a state of conscious competence, close key performance gaps, and bring in the revenue that you need to achieve your organization’s growth goals.