Sales Coaching Best Practices

Sales coaching isn't easy. But it's not optional for companies that want to maximize the value of their human capital.

Sales coaching best practices can help. They are shared lessons that save time, reduce risk and improve results. They show which actions deliver results and which don't. That helps prioritize what to do and is equally helpful in determining what not to do.

Clients and readers that follow our thought leadership on this topic know that we develop and curate a blend of both quantitative and qualitative best practices and integrate them pursuant to a maturity model.

In this article I'm going to share highlights from some of the qualitative sales coaching best practices.

Sales Coaching Best Practices Database

Start with Strategy

  • Many companies will require a business case to make the needed investment into a coaching program. You can save time by reviewing sales coaching statistics that provide benchmarks and a basis for forecasting ROI.
  • Coaching strategy requires clear goals – for both the salesperson and the manager. The top goal for the salesperson is quite often to develop their full potential. That goal must be made measurable with metrics such as sales success, quota attainment or career advancement. Most companies omit sales manager goals. When they do exist, they tend to be varied and loosely defined. We find the most effective management goal is to teach sales reps how to solve their own problems and transfer coaching responsibility from the manager to the salesperson. The manager will always be a key participant, but results excel when accountability is owned by the recipient.
  • Another top goal is to replicate the actions and behaviors of the top producers to the rest of the team. This can be done systemically and at scale by harvesting data, producing data-driven insights and combining those insights with clear recommendations. You should also make the insights actionable and even prescriptive with Sales Playbooks, and reviewing them in coaching sessions. Sharing what the top producers do differently or consistently can shift the entire salesforce bell curve to the right.
  • There's no need to recreate the wheel when planning a coaching program. You can adopt a purpose-built coaching model to smooth the process and achieve predictable results. We like the GROW coaching model but there are other good models to consider.

Follow with Training

  • Effective coaching does not occur from gut instinct or by happenstance. It starts with training. That means its critical to provide coaching training to the coaches before they attempt to focus on the most important things, develop the right skills and reinforce the behaviors that deliver the most needed results.
  • As Neil Rackham of the SPIN Selling methodology advises, "If you have $1000 dollars to spend on training your sales team, spend $900 of it on the frontline sales leaders."
  • Recognize early that coaching isn't about managing activities or telling reps what to do. It's about using a defined approach and repeatable model that applies structured conversations to improve specific performance results that advance the salesperson and the salesforce. The approach includes analyzing performance data, quickly identifying gaps or deviations, and implementing swift course corrections. Each of these tasks are significantly improved with training.

Focus on the Right Processes

  • There are a virtually unlimited number of things to coach, so prioritizing the right processes is key to accelerating value.
  • There is both tactical and strategic coaching. Tactical is focused on activities such as messaging or accomplishing tasks. These goals often measure a volume of activities (calls, emails) per period (day or week). Strategic coaching is focused on outcomes such as opportunity win rate, salesforce quota attainment and career advancement. Sometimes you must get the tactical right before you can advance to the strategic.
  • There is also standalone and end to end process coaching. Standalone may cover an individual process, such as the qualification process, the discovery process or creating an opportunity win plan. End to end processes may include things like the lead to opportunity conversion process or the opportunity to won revenue process. Both types are important, and managers need to assess current performance to decide where to start.
  • Almost all programs strive to improve sales cycle execution. That means improving or even perfecting each step of the process. However, many managers limit their time to just sale opportunity reviews. That's important but insufficient. A study by the Corporate Executive Board, titled Defining Coaching Excellence, found that most managers limit the bulk of their time to a few later stage steps while the most effective coaches allocated time for all steps in the selling cycle.
Sales Coaching Sales Process Steps
  • Performance results are even better when manager guidance is integrated with both the sales process and the sale methodology.
  • Communication cadence is important. Periodic one to one sessions are helpful but making coaching experiential is the wholly grail. Managers that deliver guidance in everyday conversations, in context to active sales pursuits, or immediately upon deviations to plan will drive the biggest performance gains.

Measure What Matters

  • Alignment from the salesperson to the salesforce to the company's top priorities is essential when slating objectives. That means key performance indicators (KPIs) must roll up to company measures in order to maximize the value of your program.
  • Sales rep coaching metrics are usually lagging indicators and most often include the win rate, quota attainment and forecast accuracy. Each of these KPIs is a coaching objective and should have a targeted outcome.
  • The top salesforce metrics are a combination of lagging and leading indicators and include things like pipeline value, forecast value and won revenues. Other metrics may include measures such as onboarding time, time to quota, conversion rates, sales cycle velocity, employee NPS and staff retention.
  • The company's top priorities will likely include revenue growth and profit or EBITDA achievements. Secondary metrics include things like customer lifetime value (CLV), customer satisfaction (CSAT) and customer retention.
  • Effective managers get what they inspect, not what they expect. So, making the KPIs highly visible to both the manager and the rep, and sometimes the entire salesforce via a leaderboard, keeps focus on what's most important.
  • We find CRM coaching dashboards are the most effective tool to put KPIs front and center. Below is an example of one of our dashboards.
Sales Coaching Dashboard

Apply Technology

  • Technology is needed to save time, measure progress, make timely adjustments and scale. The technology should integrate coaching processes and goals into existing salesperson workstreams to make the lessons experiential and not a disjointed program.
  • Sales coaching software tools often begin the journey during the new hire onboarding process. Purpose-built apps provide specialized capabilities such as support for coaching models, training programs and measurement scorecards. Sometimes these apps are point solutions that go deep on key sales cycle steps such as qualification, discovery or sale opportunity win plans.
  • Sales force automation (SFA) or CRM software automates coaching processes, measures seller goals, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to suggest next-best-actions or other recommendations, and delivers analytics such as dashboards and reports. When coaching is reinforced with a Sales Playbook, it's the CRM software that will use push-based technology to contextually deliver a play, coaching recommendation, best practice or other guided selling suggestion to the rep precisely when that content can be applied.
  • It's generally also the CRM system that automates the data transformation pipeline to turn data into insights.
Sales Coaching Data Transformation
  • Remember, the data is the best source to quickly learn what's working, what's not, what top producers are doing differently, what underperformers are not doing and what goals are moving in the wrong direction and require timely course corrections. Trying to keep tabs on these types of events manually is nearly impossible and certainly not scalable.

See the Sales Coaching Best Practices that increase salesforce potential and company revenues.

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