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4 Tips for Training Sales Managers How to Coach

A recent study by the Association for Training Development (ATD) uncovered some “fuzzy math.”

When ATD asked sales managers to estimate the number of hours they devoted to coaching every month, the average respondent said “three to four hours per rep.” But when sales reps were asked how many hours of coaching they received each month, “one hour” was the average response.

Were some respondents suffering from poor memories or being less than honest? Or, was the coaching so much fun for the reps that the three or four hours simply “flew by,” making it seem like the sessions had lasted just one hour?

Tip 1: Define Sales Coaching

If you ask a manager, “Are you coaching your reps?” and the reply is, “I talk to my people all the time,” you may have a problem.

Three or four hours of talking with reps is not the same as three or four hours of coaching. Therefore, the first step in training managers to become good coaches is to define what sales coaching actually is (to you and your organization) – and what it looks like.

Tip 2: Enable Your Sales Managers

To serve as coaches, managers need enablement. Often, reps are promoted to management on the basis of their track records as top salespeople. In many cases, however, they are not yet equipped to be top coaches. Top coaches are made, not born.

How to set up sales managers for success?

To set them up for success, you must equip your new managers with the training, and training content, they need – from sales kits and playbooks to written guides and video demonstrations of superstar coaches in action.

  • What does a 60-minute coaching session look like? Produce a video to show what that looks like.
  • What are the questions that coaches should ask new hires to assess their knowledge and skills? Create a list of sample questions.
  • What are some best practices when it comes to coaching role-playing exercises? Videos featuring “textbook” examples of role-playing followed by a coach’s feedback are an excellent way to “coach your new coaches,” as are role-playing exercises in which new managers practice their coaching skills on each other. These sessions could also be videotaped to allow for “post-game” analyses. They could even be edited and repurposed into “blooper reels” that showcase coaching “Do’s and Don’ts.”

Bring your first-line sales managers together, and enable them with coaching playbooks, videos, and other relevant training content. Before asking new managers to offer advice and feedback to reps, it’s important for them to see – and experience – what good coaching sessions look like, so they’ll have a sense of direction from the get-go.

Tip 3: Seek Out Champions

Find one or more “champions” – influential early-adopters who will evangelize your new enablement programs to the other managers.

Once you convince a handful of “influencers” to advocate your new programs and policies, especially if you can demonstrate that they are generating tangible results, the momentum will accelerate. In time, they will be embraced across the organization.

Tip 4: Build a Coaching Culture

Building a coaching culture can be tough because corporate cultures are usually top-down affairs. They are borne in the C-suite, and trickle down through the ranks. They require a sincere commitment, and a sincere commitment requires real behavior change.

I know of a company where all new managers must commit to spending up to 50% of their time coaching the reps. This policy is mandatory, which means that questions about coaching and teaching are now part of the interview process for new hires (and the promotion process for current employees). That’s a powerful way to drive a culture of coaching.

Without such a policy, or some other clear mandate from the top, it’s not going to happen.

Of course, nurturing a new culture takes time, but as behaviors and attitudes change, and both coaches and reps come to appreciate the value of their training, the new habits will become ingrained until they are part of the salesforce’s DNA.