Coaching salespeople is not a new idea. Good mentoring is one of the quickest ways to ramp up new employees. It’s true that most sales professionals improve with experience, but if you can provide feedback and personalized goals, it’s possible to accelerate the learning process and get your sellers engaging with prospects faster.
This is the time-tested practice of sales coaching. Sales teams are also leveraging AI-driven tools, like conversation intelligence, in new ways to optimize the coaching process and improve performance.
A modern sales coaching program is something every sales development leader should have in their arsenal. Sales coaching techniques are surprisingly easy to learn and apply — with the right tools. What’s more, implementing a coaching program can make a positive impact on your sales metrics within a matter of weeks.
What is Sales Coaching?
The purpose of sales coaching is to improve a sales rep’s performance at every stage of the buyer’s journey. It’s the process of providing ongoing education, guidance, support, and feedback to salespeople, delivered through personalized sessions.
Usually, sales coaching involves an individual sales rep meeting at regular intervals with a manager, consultant, or senior professional. During these one-on-one sessions, the “coach” will review the recent performance of the rep and address any areas for improvement. This could be through direct advice, personalized learning tasks, or job shadowing.
A coach might find it helpful to point a sales rep to specific resources or develop an action plan for them. In cases where confidence is the main issue, offering words of encouragement or reassurance may suffice.
How Does Sales Coaching Differ From Sales Training?
Sales coaching differs from sales training because it’s personalized. The goal is to support each individual rep according to their competencies and real-world challenges, rather than serving up generic learning materials.
What Are the Benefits of Sales Coaching?
Talent and hard work are vital to success in any field. But even the greatest athletes need a good coach. The same is true for salespeople. Good coaching can provide specific benefits, including improved sales results, better employee satisfaction, and more productive training.
Better team performance
Launching a sales coaching program is one of the best ways to unlock the potential of any sales team. According to Gartner, research shows that businesses that introduce sales coaching see an 8% improvement in team performance. Salesforce found that over 81% of sales reps found value from the coaching they received — and want it more frequently.
Stronger employee retention
Another benefit of sales coaching is improved employee engagement and retention. Salespeople who receive regular support and guidance tend to feel more valued and stay longer with their employer.
Given that hiring a new recruit can cost up to 25% of their annual salary, retaining good people makes financial sense for any business.
More effective sales training
Coaching isn’t the only beneficial form of professional development that we see in sales. Sales training also offers some value, both during the onboarding phase and after.
However, the average person forgets almost three quarters of new information after one day, and even more as time goes by.
Good sales coaching provides a consistent, interactive, and personalized approach to skill development. This gives your reps a better chance of retaining knowledge and putting their new skills into practice.
Reinforced company values
Many sales professionals use their experience and knowledge to close deals in any way they see fit.
This creates a few potential problems. First, your sales reps might not be following your carefully prepared sales strategy. Secondly, they could be addressing customers with the wrong tone or using messaging that isn’t brand-approved.
In-person sales coaching sessions provide opportunities to reinforce your best practices — and remind top performers of the ground rules.
Different Sales Coaching Methods
There are various styles of sales coaching, each with its own methodology and set of techniques. While some companies focus on a specific model, it’s more common to blend together various approaches to suit your team and coaching program.
Here’s a quick look at different coaching methods and what they offer:
Tactical Sales Coaching
Tactical sales coaching is about equipping reps with knowledge that they can use immediately.
With a focus on specific sales techniques, the impact of tactical coaching is almost immediate. It’s easy to set up as well — any sales leader with a decent amount of experience can take the role of coach.
The downside of a tactical coaching approach is that it covers the “how” but not the “why,” and it looks at actionable techniques in isolation. Instant gains may be initially attractive, but a more strategic coaching plan will help improve rep performance in the long run.
Strategic Sales Coaching
Strategic sales coaching is about helping salespeople understand the bigger picture about markets, personas, products, industries, etc.
For instance, tactical coaching might teach a rep how to build business relationships. In the same context, strategic coaching would look at which types of people your team is aiming to connect with and why you’re targeting that particular persona.
To borrow an analogy from sports: tactical coaching will help you win a particular game, strategic coaching across multiple seasons helps you to build a winning team.
Data-Driven Sales Coaching
To provide effective sales coaching support, you need to look beyond top line numbers to identify where each rep has room for improvement. For this reason, most great sales coaches are very data-driven.
Win rates and quota attainment are useful for measuring performance, but basic metrics aren’t very helpful for sales coaching. Collecting insights from your CRM and other tools is a great way to identify specific stages of the sales cycle where reps are struggling. You can then provide targeted guidance, and monitor their progress through sales KPIs.
Peer-Reviewed Sales Coaching
If your sales department is big enough, you may have team members at either end of the experience scale. If this is the case, you should consider using a peer review model for coaching.
Peer-reviewed sales coaching leverages the knowledge already in your business. The idea is to design your coaching program like a mentorship system, with experienced reps passing on knowledge to newer recruits.
This style of training takes some of the burden off sales managers. The only possible downside is that high performers might be reluctant to become coaches — and they may pass on bad habits.
7 Sales Coaching Techniques You’ll Want to Try
Here are some time-tested methods to include in your coaching plan:
1) Active listening
You might think of coaching as primarily about imparting knowledge. But active listening is just as important. The reason is simple: While data can reveal certain insights, it cannot explain the human side of sales.
Every member of your team has a different story. Some reps will have retained habits from previous jobs. Some may struggle with imposter syndrome. Some may be bringing stress from their personal life into their work.
If you want to provide the best possible support for each person, you need to know what they need from their coach and team.
2) Normalizing performance analysis
For most sales professionals, performance analysis is not something they look forward to. The topic is too closely linked with career assessment, compensation, and job security to be truly comfortable.
If you want to introduce sales coaching and improve the support you give your sales team, it’s important to normalize performance evaluations and remove the fear associated with them. Make it clear to your team that analyzing performance metrics is about helping them to improve, not finding the next person to cut.
One way to achieve this is to integrate performance reviews into your regular coaching sessions.
3) Goal-setting and planning
One reason salespeople may underperform in specific areas is that they don’t have a clear plan for improving their skills. As a sales coach, you can change that.
After you identify areas for improvement, have a conversation with your sales rep about what level of progress is achievable by the next coaching session. Come up with some goals that are ambitious, but take care not to place unnecessary stress on the individual.
Create an action plan to minimize stress during goal-setting. The plan should lay out the actions and steps the rep needs to take to achieve the new goals, including personal study tasks, coaching initiatives, milestone checkpoints, and on-the-job tasks.
As with performance analysis, reps can be wary of goals and action plans. Be mindful of this when you introduce these techniques. Reassure them that you’re aiming for a positive, collaborative process, and that feedback should go both ways.
When it comes to the tactical side of sales coaching, there are several different techniques to try. One of the most common is role-playing. Without the pressure of a deal on the line, roleplay allows your reps to relax, making them less prone to mistakes.
For example, you pretend to be a customer, giving your salesperson a chance to practice their pitch in a low-pressure environment. Along the way, you can offer pointers. This scenario also allows you to find out where a salesperson might be taking a wrong turn.
Alternatively, you can roleplay as the salesperson and demonstrate how a sales call would ideally run. This interactive style of education is far more memorable than the average training video.
5) Skill-based exercises
There are certain skills that are important for sales readiness, but are not needed on a daily basis. For reps learning such skills, or for experienced salespeople who don’t get much practice, it can be helpful to prescribe some practice exercises.
For instance, imagine that a small number of potential customers have concerns about the reliability of your product. Your team might only stumble upon this kind of objection once a week — but being able to handle it could win you a significant deal.
You can help your reps to be better prepared for such instances through a role-playing exercise. Alternatively, you could ask them to think about how they would handle these objections, and then provide feedback on their answers.
6) Video and audio analysis
To find out how your team operates in real sales conversations, take the necessary time to analyze audio and video call recordings.
This could mean listening to the recording of a sales call with the rep who was on the phone. You could pause the recording to make comments and observations, and then talk about what to try next time. Be sure to study the tone and language used, not just what was said.
Video analysis is useful for seeing how sales reps pitch in person or how they present on a video call. In coaching terms, it adds a visual layer that allows you to analyze the body language of both your rep and the client.
It’s also worth doing some audio and video analysis away from coaching sessions. Taking another look is a great way to check up on the progress of individual reps, without diving into a formal review.
You can even automate certain parts of the analysis process. Tools such as Chorus that integrate with your sales engagement platform can pull valuable insights from sales calls and deliver searchable transcripts. You can use these to coach your team with specific feedback.
Shadowing has been a key coaching technique in sales departments for decades. Usually, it involves a manager or a senior salesperson listening in and providing subtle feedback while a rookie rep delivers their pitch.
But in the context of sales coaching, shadowing is a technique that has plenty more to offer.
Much like video and audio analysis, shadowing allows you to identify a rep’s areas of strength and weakness. It can also reveal the specific challenges that they face on a daily basis for you to create a coaching program that tailor fits their needs.
You can also discover if one of your reps is a real expert in a particular skill and ask them to share their knowledge.
Of course, shadowing is great for live coaching, as well. You should try it with every rep at least once, even with your experienced salespeople who may be missing a trick or two.
Key sales coaching tips
These specific techniques can provide excellent building blocks for a sales coaching program. But there is much more to effective feedback and training.
Here are some key principles to bear in mind:
- Develop a plan. Create a custom coaching plan for each person, complete with goals and a timeline.
- Use real-world examples. Whenever you’re teaching, illustrate your point using real-life situations.
- Follow up regularly. Remember that you don’t have to wait until the next one-on-one session to deliver advice and encouragement.
- Encourage self-reflection. Ask your reps to examine their own work and look for areas in which they can improve.
- Foster a growth mindset. Create a working environment where challenges are seen as opportunities for growth.
Coaching is an essential part of the work of any sales manager and startup founder. Understanding how you can improve the performance of your team gives you a head start on the competition and will drive growth in your business.
Sales coaching can certainly be done manually, but modern teams are optimizing their sales coaching programs with reliable, clean data and efficient software.
Zoominfo provides it all in one platform, so your team can onboard quickly and focus on selling. Turn more conversations into revenue with ZoomInfo’s contact and company data integrated with patented conversation intelligence. Request a demo to see for yourself.