Today's post is by Brian Trautschold, co-founder and COO at Ambition, the leading sales coaching and gamification software used by in-house and remote sales teams across the globe.
You’ve heard it time and time again: Sales coaching is the number one thing sales managers can do to improve the performance of their reps.
But not all sales coaching programs are created equal – which is why we wanted to understand what’s happening in the real world, right now. What does sales coaching look like for a typical sales team, and, most importantly, is it actually making a difference?
We surveyed sales leaders and reps from mid-market and enterprise sales orgs, and our survey affirmed what we know to be true – that sales coaching matters (a lot). But many managers are struggling to run sales coaching programs that directly impact performance, due primarily to common challenges sales managers face.
Here are the top three problems that contribute to ineffective sales coaching, plus some actionable tactics sales managers can use to improve their programs.
Challenge #1: Lack of Manager Training
According to our survey, 98% of managers said they were in a front-line selling role before moving up to a sales manager role. It’s a big percentage, but it’s not surprising: The sales management world is full of former all-star sellers – many of whom, unfortunately, get their big promotion, a pat on the back...and that’s about it.
This begs the question: Who’s managing the managers?
The bottom line is that sales management isn’t the same as selling. It’s a different role with completely different responsibilities, skill requirements, and measures of success. Through no fault of their own, managers often lack the training required to coach, motivate, and pull the levers that lead to positive, lasting behavior change in their reps.
When managers don’t know how or when to coach, it either doesn’t happen effectively or it doesn’t happen at all. If this sounds familiar, take heart: There are ways you can take charge and hone your sales coaching skills – or at least get the ball rolling.
- Start a dialogue: Communicate with your supervisor or leadership team about where you’d like to grow as a sales coach. Sure, it may be intimidating or feel like you’re admitting a weakness – but consider what it would be like if the tables were turned and one of your reps approached you seeking opportunities to improve in their role. It actually shows commitment to your team, your desire to be successful as a sales manager, and a high level of self-awareness. If you’re having that conversation, know what you’re asking for ahead of time: Are there specific resources you need? Is there a course you’d like to take? Be specific and solution oriented.
- Identify professional development opportunities: The sales world loves an event – and sales coaching is always a hot topic. From Webinars and seminars to conferences and retreats, there’s something out there for everyone. Also: Don’t underestimate the power of community. Seek out sales associations or LinkedIn groups, jump into Reddit or Quora – you’ll find a lot of people asking and answering the same sales coaching questions you have.
- Request feedback: Surveying your employees can be a humbling exercise but, if you do it right, it’s worth it. No matter how green or seasoned you are, seeking out regular feedback from your team can take the guesswork out of what’s going well and where you can do better. Be sure you do this in a variety of formats: Of course, people may feel more comfortable responding anonymously – and you may get some very honest answers – but be sure to provide opportunities for open dialogue, too.
Challenge #2: Lack of Performance Visibility
The best kind of sales coaching is data-driven sales coaching. According to our survey, however, only 27% of managers have excellent visibility into their reps’ progress against goals.
It’s hard to coach if you don’t know how your reps are performing, what they’re struggling with, or where their skill gaps lie – and that story needs to be told by data, not just by feelings, hunches, and anecdotes. When sales coaching sessions aren’t structured around data, they’re at best fluffy, and, at worst, emotional or even confrontational.
When managers don’t have accurate, accessible data, it’s often because they’re using a CRM, spreadsheets, or even whiteboards to keep track of their team’s performance – all of which become a hassle and a time suck for managers who just want to know where their team stands.
It’s also a problem when reps lack visibility into individual or team performance. That’s because they don’t have the opportunity to develop any kind of self-awareness around their progress, strengths, or weaknesses. If they can’t evaluate how they’re doing, they can’t prepare for their one-on-ones or proactively contribute to their own development.
- Track the right KPIs: Having visibility into data is helpful only if it’s meaningful data. Be sure you’re tracking the right metrics for your team. It’s not just about the Big Number; you should have insight into the daily sales activities that drive deals down the funnel and the weekly or monthly sales objectives that will ultimately lead to your team hitting (or exceeding) quota.
- Go real time: Real-time insights are valuable for your weekly one-on-ones because you’ll know you’re working with very current numbers and not just a snapshot of what happened last week, month, or quarter. But real time is also important because it allows you to coach beyond your sessions, so you can step in and recognize wins the second they happen or offer support before your reps veer too far off track.
- Provide teamwide visibility: Again, your reps need performance insight just as much as you do. Whether your team is in the office or remote these days, you can leverage a sales leaderboard as well as real-time alerts and triggers to keep progress against goals front and center.
Challenge #3: Lack of Structure
Structure and consistency are critical to coaching effectiveness, but many managers struggle to launch or maintain a program that checks either of those boxes.
It comes down to bandwidth: According to our survey, more than half of managers said time was a key resource they needed to effectively coach and manage reps.
Where do the hours go? Many managers spend significant chunks of their days in leadership and department meetings or handling administrative tasks (like running reports) – or they find themselves sucked back into a selling capacity.
It’s no wonder there’s little time for meaningful coaching: Whereas one-on-ones ideally would happen on a weekly basis, both managers and reps report getting far fewer coaching opportunities than they actually need.
It’s not just frequency that’s a problem, either. When a one-on-one does happen, it’s often focused heavily on pipeline and deal review. Those are important items, for sure, but they don’t make for a true coaching session.
- Get automated: Leverage sales coaching software that will help you cut out the sales coaching tasks that can be put on autopilot – like tying sessions to KPI data, sending questions ahead of time, and recording notes and action plans.
- Pick a format: Don’t reinvent the wheel every week; it’s fine to have a similar format for all your reps. The key is to ask the right questions and make sure you give your reps a chance to reflect on and answer them before your session. There are countless sales coaching methodologies you can tap into or sales coaching templates you can use to get started.
Despite its potential value, sales coaching can become an afterthought – and it’s often because of the challenges sales managers inherently face. If you’re not seeing results from your sessions, it’s not because sales coaching doesn’t work; maybe your strategy just needs some attention.
By putting in the time, effort, and resources to develop your own coaching skills and launch a program the right way, you can expect to see meaningful, measurable, and ongoing ROI. Download the full Sales Coaching Challenges report.