3 Critical Sales Coaching Challenges—and Solutions
There’s no denying the impact effective sales coaching has on a business.
According to Gallup, those who master coaching will see:
- 50% lower employee turnover
- 38% higher employee productivity
- 56% higher customer loyalty
In addition, Bersin and Associates found coaching has a 1.5 to 2 times greater impact on business results than pay-for-performance or standard performance assessments.
And if you have younger people on your team, they want—even expect—to receive feedback, according to a global survey of millennial professionals conducted by Harvard Business Review (HBR).
But there’s a problem. Only 46% of those surveyed by HBR said their managers delivered on their expectations for feedback.
“There’s a disconnect between what sales managers say they’re providing in terms of coaching and what sales reps say they’re receiving,” said Richard Smith, VP of Sales at Allego.
Smith joined Tim Sullivan, VP of Business Development at Richardson Sales Performance, for a recent webinar, Faster, Stronger, Better: Improving Sales Results with High-Impact Coaching. They agreed sales reps need coaching to help them learn faster, change bad selling behaviors, and improve performance.
For sales managers to provide that, however, they must overcome three critical sales coaching challenges.
Top 3 Coaching Challenges—and Solutions
1. Formal Sit-down Discussions No Longer Work in a Setting of Constant Disruption
While formal sit-down discussions have their role in certain aspects of sales coaching, they aren’t enough to provide the kind of coaching people really want, Sullivan said.
Plus, it’s harder than ever for sales managers to get face time with their sales reps to conduct those kinds of discussions, Smith added. Salespeople want coaching, but managers don’t have enough time.
Solution: Coaching Sprints
Coaches can take a lesson from agile development and break down training into smaller bits of work that can be done in short bursts. This type of activity produces incremental better results, Sullivan said.
“Sales managers can think of coaching in terms of sprints around a particular issue, skill, behavior method, or a tool,” he said.
This method involves preparing for the issue to be addressed, having a structure for engaging in that conversation that includes identifying what to do differently or to commit to, and advancing the development, Sullivan said.
How Technology Can Help
Technology can help ease the coaching burden through peer-to-peer feedback, Smith said. Think of it as crowd-sourced feedback and coaching from your peers. They share photos, demos, practice tracks, and prospecting examples.
“The feedback sales reps get from their peers—who are fighting the same fight as them every day—is nearly as powerful as the feedback they get from their sales leaders,” Smith said. “Also, when you get praise from teammates on things you’re working on, it keeps team morale high.”
Technology also helps reps critique their own performance ahead of one-on-one sessions with managers. They can listen to their recorded sales calls, watch their video sales meetings, and watch video of themselves practicing their pitches.
“Good healthy coaching stems from that self-assessment. Most people, if they’re self-aware, often come up with the answers themselves,” Smith said. “They just need to be validated. And that saves a heap of time because [managers] don’t have to go through everything with them.”
2. It’s Difficult to Identify What to Coach and When
First-line sales managers tend to think of coaching as a formalized opportunity in which they discuss with the sales rep what’s happening with a deal or a client. That’s very short-term focused, Sullivan said. It’s focused on what can be done to win the deal, not on how the seller can improve.
Other times, sales managers guess at what their reps need to be coached on because they can’t observe their sellers.
Solution: Pragmatic Opportunity Reviews with Sellers
Pragmatic opportunity reviews focus on sellers’ longer-term skills. Sales managers should focus on what reps can do to get better in terms of their essential competencies and cover a broad range of topics, Sullivan said.
For example, a sales manager can analyze the pipeline and review a rep’s opportunities. If they see an issue, they would then “manage by exception”—review skills that impact performance, coach the issue, and follow up, Sullivan said.
The goal is to guide the person that you’re coaching to self-conclusion—help them realize the issue and how to resolve it. “Because if they don’t buy into the solution, they aren’t likely to change their behavior,” Sullivan said.
How Technology Can Help
Today, a lot of sales conversations take place on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms. Leading coaching organizations analyze those real interactions using conversation intelligence, Smith said.
Sales managers can see and hear what happens when a seller sits in front of a buyer online. And they use conversation intelligence to analyze the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, the questions they ask, how they structure their call, how they position the company, how they handle competitive situations, and more.
“This helps managers understand where they can provide remedial action or where they can help their reps on the deals they’re actively working,” Smith said.
3. Sales Managers Prescribe Before They Diagnose
Often, sales managers think they’re providing coaching advice, but their people don’t feel that they are. That’s because sales managers don’t listen and diagnose before they speak.
“What we find is managers either dispense advice without analyzing the issue or say, ‘Back in my day, I used to do it this way,’” Sullivan said. “While that can be helpful, it isn’t an effective coaching structure.”
Solution: Developmental Coaching Focused on Behaviors and Identifying the Root Cause
Like when sales reps talk with customers, sales managers need to ask questions and listen more than they talk. They need to understand the seller’s situation and take time to diagnose what is happening before they prescribe a remedy, Sullivan said.
“Asking rather than telling empowers your seller to be better problem solvers,” he said. “It encourages them to become more independent by developing skills to self-coach. Asking shows respect for the sellers’ point of view and boosts their sense of autonomy.”
Then once the sales manager and the seller understand the seller’s needs, they can brainstorm solutions.
How Technology Can Help
It’s easy for sales managers to look at activity metrics and give their sales reps recommendations. But those activity metrics don’t reveal everything that is going on. If a sales rep missed quota, it could be because their discovery calls are ineffective, not that they didn’t make enough calls, Smith said.
So, rather than telling someone they need to have more discovery calls, use conversation intelligence to analyze the person’s calls, he said. You might uncover that the sales rep talks too much about the product and doesn’t ask enough questions to home in on the customer’s pain points.
“Telling someone to make more discovery calls without analyzing what’s really happening is like telling someone to pedal faster in the wrong direction. They’re going to get farther away from where they need to be,” Smith said.
Sales Managers Can Learn to be Better Coaches
The good news is that sales coaching is a learned behavior.
Sales managers can learn how to formulate coaching sprints so that they’re meaningful to their sales reps, Sullivan said. They can learn to coach for competencies, not just the deal. They can learn how to actively listen.
“And technology can provide you with the raw material that you need,” he said. “It can help you understand what to coach and how to make that effective for both you and those you are coaching.”
Watch the webinar, Faster, Stronger, Better: Improving Sales Results with High-Impact Coaching, and learn actionable ways to overcome sales coaching challenges.