March 26, 2023
10 min read
What is sales coaching? What makes a good coach? How can AI help you coach sales reps?
Coaching is a growing industry—because it works. And, with sales methods evolving in significant ways, coaching matters more and more.
In our guide, we’ll look at these matters:
Sales coaching is the ongoing process of a sales rep’s professional development in partnership with a coach. A coach works one-on-one with a sales rep, providing individualized evaluation, guidance, education, support, and accountability.
Coaching sessions typically occur weekly for an hour or two. Together, the coach and the rep create and implement a plan for the rep’s professional development.
The goal is different. The goal of sales management is the oversight of a sales program, ensuring the team has the resources (human and otherwise) to effectively implement the program. On the other hand, the goal of sales coaching is to help a sales rep grow professionally.
The method is different. A sales manager supervises the sales rep in their duties. A sales coach guides rather than directs—and listens more than talks.
That being said, a sales manager can (and generally should) function as a sales coach as one part of their role.
While coaching involves some training, it’s far more than that. Training is an event, while coaching is an ongoing process. Often, training is in a group setting, while coaching is one-on-one. Training is predominantly one-sided communication, while coaching is a conversation.
Another important distinction between training and coaching is follow-up. Again, because training is typically an event, there’s little or no follow-up. The ongoing process of coaching involves continual follow-up in the form of check-ins, progress reports, and course adjustments when needed.
Sales coaching is like other coaching in that it involves one-on-one professional development. The coach asks open-ended questions and listens extensively. The coach leads the client through a process of self discovery and growth.
Sales coaching specifically addresses the challenges and opportunities associated with sales. For example, a coach shadows the rep on cold calls, reviews revenue data, and shares selling best practices. Not just any coach can be a sales coach; it requires sales industry knowledge and experience.
Sales coaching is an ongoing process that results in ongoing progress. The company, the sales rep, and the customer all enjoy the benefits of sales coaching. The customer receives a better sales experience. The sales rep improves performance and grows professionally. The company enjoys these benefits of sales coaching:
You might presume that the weakest performers should receive coaching because they need the most help. Perhaps you think that the strongest performers deserve the boost and will benefit the most from it. But, the best investment is to target the middle performers.
Middle performers are likely to be receptive to coaching, and they’ve shown they have potential. The benefits of sales coaching would be lost on most low performers, and it makes more sense for them to be in roles or organizations where they’re a better fit. While strong performers certainly would benefit from coaching, the best investment is with the middle of the pack.
Not just any coach can be a sales coach; it requires sales industry knowledge and experience. So, a good sales coach is qualified in general coaching as well as sales specifics.
A good coach understands that their relationship with the sales rep is a partnership. They foster self discovery in the client. They ask open-ended questions and listen well. A good coach is firm but affirming. They make wise assessments and devise fitting solutions and plans. A good coach provides both support and accountability. They also know the sales landscape and see the big picture, displaying the ability to head off derailments before they happen.
If you’re a sales manager who wants to add coaching skills to your repertoire, you can develop this skill set. It will set you apart from other managers, and your team and company will benefit from your next-level expertise.
If you want to establish yourself as a professional sales coach, consider joining the International Coaching Federation. You’re likely to see the letters “ICF” listed in the credentials of professional coaches. It’s the gold standard of coaching certification. Learn more about the ICF.
A coach works with a sales rep to create and implement a customized plan (more on that later). The plan isn’t the only thing that’s tailored; a good coach also customizes their coaching style depending on the rep and the situation. That’s why it’s important for a coach to know who and what they’re dealing with at any given time.
Let’s say that Rosemary is Laura’s coach. Rosemary knows that Laura is eager to try new things, and she tends to take on too much at once. She knows that she needs to harness Laura’s enthusiasm and keep her from going in too many directions. Rosemary sees Laura’s enthusiasm as an asset, when properly directed, and helps her channel it toward one new endeavor at a time.
Then, Laura hits a roadbump with that one new endeavor. Rosemary detects that Laura’s motivation also has taken a hit. She shifts gears from harnessing Laura’s enthusiasm to boosting it up again.
Some sales coaching methods are specific to sales, while others apply to coaching in general. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
It’s wise for the coach to observe the sales rep in the environment that the rep operates in. For example, Laura typically does sales by phone and in-person. If possible, Rosemary should shadow Laura with some of her appointments to see her in operation. That way, Rosemary will be able to offer feedback that’s on target.
A coach could choose to work with the rep to create a sales playbook that grows over time and is customized for rep. This consists of best practices, documented systems such as “how to follow-up on a cold call,” sales resources, and other materials that help the rep do their job.
Patrick Lencioni recommends separate strategic and tactical meetings for teams in his book Death by Meeting. In one meeting, climb to 30,000 feet and focus on the strategic, big-picture matters. In another meeting, zoom in and deal with the tactical, short-range issues. Lencioni advises that you not try to tackle strategic and tactical matters in the same meeting because they’re likely to get muddled together and one or other other will get short-changed.
This method of separating strategic matters from tactical matters also applies to coaching. Laura has long-range matters such as annual quotas and skills development, and she has short-range issues such as tomorrow’s sales calls and next week’s presentation. She and Rosemary deal with these in strategic coaching sessions and tactical coaching sessions, respectively.
A coach works with a rep to create and implement a customized sales coaching plan. The first step is for the two of them to establish the nature of—and the expectations for—their relationship. They must be on the same page about the coach’s role and the purpose of the coaching. From the start, they understand that the relationship is a partnership and a conversation between two people.
Next, the two establish a coaching schedule. How often will they meet, and for how long? When will they have check-ins? What about quarterly evaluations? It’s a good idea to have brief daily check-ins, weekly sessions of at least an hour, and reassessments spread periodically throughout the coaching relationship.
Also at the beginning of the coaching relationship, the coach guides the sales rep through self assessments that provide baseline information. They ask open-ended questions that are designed for self discovery. The coach doesn’t declare what’s true; rather they help the client realize what’s true.
(It should be more and more clear how sales coaching is not the same as sales management or training!)
Next, the coach and the rep work together to set short-range and long-range goals. They determine what they’ll measure and concretely “define the win” so that it’s clear when goals have been reached.
As the coach and the rep implement their coaching plan, the coach provides training and resources as needed. They give structured feedback with concrete, detailed examples and the expectations for follow-up.
All along the way, the coach provides guidance, support, motivation, and accountability. It’s good to place an emphasis on positive reinforcement, providing rewards and celebrating victories on the journey.
It’s important to note the changing industry landscape, where sales reps are becoming advisors more than just “sellers.” That means that a successful rep needs even more skills than before. Some refer to these as “soft” skills. We’re talking about abilities such as emotional intelligence, influence, and interpersonal communication.
With this in mind, a good coach helps their clients develop these qualities along with traditional sales skills.
Tons of excellent coaching resources and tools exist out there. Let’s take a look at just a few to get you started.
HubSpot Sales Coaching for Managers is a free lesson from HubSpot Academy. It comprises three videos, and you can complete it in less than an hour. By the end, you should know why coaching is important, how to be a better coach, and how to cultivate a coaching culture within your sales team. You’ll also learn how to design a sales coaching program and how to handle people on your team who don’t perform at the standards you set.
Chorus and Gong are two different applications. Each one analyzes customer interactions to provide actionable data. You can quickly figure out who needs coaching, what areas they need to improve in, and what progress they’re making over time.
With Yoodli, you can practice sales scripts, elevator pitches, responding to questions, and more. Yoodli is an AI speech coach, and human coaches love to use it to supplement their practice.
These short videos show how communication coaches use Yoodli with clients. You’ll learn how you can use Yoodli in your Zoom calls, take advantage of timestamped feedback, and more. Here’s how one executive coach uses Yoodli in his business.
Whether you’re a rep or a manager, sales coaching can benefit you, your team, and your company. Give your career a boost, and improve your team’s bottom line while you’re at it!
Getting better at speaking is getting easier. Record or upload a speech and let our AI Speech Coach analyze your speaking and give you feedback.