As a sales leader, your job is to enable your team to perform to the best of their abilities and help them meet individual and company goals.
Sales coaching is an essential element of helping your employees develop in their roles and improve their skills — and it doesn’t just benefit employees; it helps your business grow.
What is Sales Coaching?
Sales coaching and sales training can often be confused for each other, but they’re not the same thing.
“Coaching is taking the existing skill and developing it, reviewing it and building on what already exists. Training is net-new information transfer,” says Barrett King, a previous Global Sales Training Program Manager for HubSpot’s Channel Partner Sales division.
While you also need to provide training for your sales team, coaching is what will enable them to hone their skills over time and ultimately grow in their roles.
“As market positioning, your business unit and the team evolves, your job is to teach folks about it, and then coach to the skill gaps and to the ways they can improve over time,” Barrett says. “You should be providing coaching, if you’re a frontline sales manager, typically daily or several times a week.”
Formal coaching can be really impactful when it’s focused on improving specific tactics, like running a demo call. But, coaching doesn’t always need to take place as a formal session. It can be done through one-on-ones, other regular meetings and ad-hoc as you observe reps going about their day-to-day.
What Do Sales Leaders Need to Do Sales Coaching Effectively?
There are two main resources sales leaders need to enable their sales coaching: time and documentation.
Coaching needs to be made a priority. This is especially true in high-growth companies where managers might be pulled in more directions than they can handle. Guardrails need to be put in place so that coaching doesn't fall by the wayside.
“In a sales org that is high-growth, when information is changing and the process is changing, you need to have an SLA or some kind of an agreement that ‘we’re going to coach on the regular and here’re the things that we’re going to coach to,’” Barrett says.
Having a baseline of documentation about your sales team, company and operating practices can help make your coaching more scalable.
“There’s an assumption that coaching needs to be one-on-one, face-to-face and active, but there’s a benefit to saying ‘go and try something, learning something, do something, and then I can coach to it afterward,’” Barrett says. “If you have a foundation to work from, you can coach to the pieces that they may be missing.”
Sales reps need to be trained before they can be coached, and documentation can help provide that foundation or reinforce the information imparted in training.
Barrett recommends compiling a sales knowledge base for your team, whether through a formal content management system intended for that purpose or even through a Google Doc. Some of the documentation you’ll want to include is outlines of key processes, like how to run a discovery call or how to qualify a prospect, and details about the solutions you're selling, including their value propositions and how to position them against competitors.
Making sure these resources are easy to access and reference can enable your coaching to focus more on improving how knowledge is implemented instead of filling in gaps from training.
How to Do Sales Coaching at Large Organizations
The most significant difference between sales coaching in big and small organizations is the availability of resources and technology. Large organizations are more likely to invest in specialized sales coaching, training and knowledge management software, in addition to coaching and training targeted at improving sales leaders’ coaching abilities.
However, the number of sales reps managers are directly responsible for coaching shouldn’t increase too drastically at larger companies.
“No one should have so large of a sales team that they can’t spend time with everybody,” Barrett says.
Ideally, you’d want each manager to be responsible for 8–10 reps max. However, if that’s not possible, coaching effectively becomes a matter of prioritization.
“Understand where your highest-opportunity, highest-yield individuals are, and lean into ‘do they need coaching or are they okay?’” Barrett says. “The person who has the most potential who needs the most work is who you’ll spend the most time with.”
As you’re providing coaching, consider the different learning styles of your team members and the core skills they’re bringing to the table. Coaching is, by nature, an individualized process, so it’s important to impart your guidance in a way that’s most helpful to the recipient.
If you have access to an outside consultant or resources on how to improve your coaching, take advantage of them. The more external resources you leverage, the better equipped you are to serve all members of your team.
There are different styles of coaching you can learn in order to best address different learning styles. Some reps might respond best to in-the-moment verbal feedback, while other reps might prefer to have those notes provided in writing.
Sales coaching is an essential part of improving the performance of your sales team and enabling your company to scale.
“Coaching is a very important part of the rep-manager dynamic and a way for businesses to get better,” Barrett says.
So, it’s important for your company to make coaching a priority and equip your managers with supporting documentation so they can coach as effectively as possible.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.