Your Sales Reps Need More Support — Here Are 10 Ways To Coach Them
Lead with empathy, build trust with your team, and learn to cultivate your sales reps to keep them engaged and selling. This is what effective sales coaching looks like now.
A good sales coach unlocks serious revenue potential. Effective coaching can increase sales performance by 8%, according to a study by research firm Gartner.
Many sales managers find coaching difficult to master, however — especially in environments where reps are remote and managers are asked to do more with less time and fewer resources.
If you’re not getting the support you need to effectively coach your sales team, don’t despair. These 10 sales coaching tips are easy to implement with many of the tools already at your disposal, and are effective for both in-person and remote teams.
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1. Focus on rep wellbeing
One in three salespeople say mental health in sales has declined over the last two years, according to a recent Salesforce survey. One of the biggest reasons is the shift to remote work environments, which pushed sales reps to change routines while still hitting quotas. Add in the isolation inherent in virtual selling and you have a formula for serious mental and emotional strain.
You can alleviate this in a couple of ways. First, create boundaries for your team. Set clear work hours and urge reps not to schedule sales or internal calls outside of these hours. Also, be clear about when reps should be checking internal messages and when they can sign off.
Lori Richardson, founder of sales training company Score More Sales, advises managers to address this head-on by asking reps about their wellbeing during weekly one-on-ones. “I like to ask open-ended questions about the past week,” she said. “Questions like, ‘How did it go?’ and ‘What was it like?’ are good first steps. Then, you need to listen.”
When the rep is done sharing their reflection, Richardson suggests restating the main points to ensure you’re on the same page. If necessary, ask for clarity so you fully understand what’s affecting their state of mind. Also, she urges: Don’t judge. The level of comfort required for sharing in these scenarios can only exist if you don’t jump to judgment.
2. Build trust with authentic stories
For sales coaching to work, sales managers must earn reps’ trust. This allows the individual to be open about performance challenges. The best way to start is by sharing personal and professional stories.
These anecdotes should be authentic, revealing fault and weakness as much as success. There are two goals here: support reps with relatable stories so they know they’re not struggling alone, and let them know there are ways to address and overcome challenges.
For example, a seasoned manager might share details about their first failed sales call as a cautionary tale – highlighting poor preparation, aggressive posturing, and lack of empathy during the conversation. This would be followed by steps the manager took to fix these mistakes, like call rehearsing and early-stage research into the prospect’s background, business, position, and pain points.
3. Record and review sales calls
Once upon a time, sales reps learned by shadowing tenured salespeople. While this is still done, it’s inefficient – and often untenable for virtual sales teams.
To give sales reps the guidance and coaching they need to improve sales calls, deploy an intuitive conversation recording and analysis tool like Einstein Conversation Insights (ECI). You can analyze sales call conversations, track keywords to identify market trends, and share successful calls to help coach existing reps and accelerate onboarding for new reps. Curate both “best of” and “what not to do” examples so reps have a sense of where the guide rails are.
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4. Encourage self-evaluation
When doing post-call debriefs or skill assessments – or just coaching during one-on-ones – it’s critical to have the salesperson self-evaluate. As a sales manager, you may only be with the rep one or two days a month. Given this disconnect, the goal is to encourage the sales rep to evaluate their own performance and build self-improvement goals around these observations.
There are two important components to this. First, avoid jumping directly into feedback during your interactions. Relax and take a step back; let the sales rep self-evaluate.
Second, be ready to prompt your reps with open-ended questions to help guide their self-evaluation. Consider questions like:
- What were your big wins over the last week/quarter?
- What were your biggest challenges and where did they come from?
- How did you address obstacles to sales closings?
- What have you learned about both your wins and losses?
- What happened during recent calls that didn’t go as well as you’d like? What would you do differently next time?
Reps who can assess what they do well and where they can improve ultimately become more self-aware. Self-awareness is the gateway to self-confidence, which can help lead to more consistent sales.
5. Let your reps set their own goals
This falls in line with self-evaluation. Effective sales coaches don’t set focus areas for their salespeople; they let reps set this for themselves. During your one-on-ones, see if there’s an important area each rep wants to focus on and go with their suggestion (recommending adjustments as needed to ensure their goals align with those of the company). This creates a stronger desire to improve as it’s the rep who is making the commitment. Less effective managers will pick improvement goals for their reps, then wonder why they don’t get buy-in.
For instance, a rep who identifies a tendency to be overly chatty in sales calls might set a goal to listen more. (Nine out of 10 salespeople say listening is more important than talking in sales today, according to a recent Salesforce survey.) To help, they could record their calls and review the listen-to-talk ratio. Based on industry benchmarks, they could set a clear goal metric and timeline – a 60/40 listen-to-talk ratio in four weeks, for example.
Richardson does have one note of caution, however. “Reps don’t have all the answers. Each seller has strengths and gaps,” she said. “A strong manager can identify those strengths and gaps, and help reps fill in the missing pieces.”
6. Focus on one improvement at a time
For sales coaching to be effective, work with the rep to improve one area at a time instead of multiple areas simultaneously. With the former, you see acute focus and measurable progress. With the latter, you end up with frustrated, stalled-out reps pulled in too many directions.
Here’s an example: Let’s say your rep is struggling with sales call openings. They let their nerves get the best of them and fumble through rehearsed intros. Over the course of a year, encourage them to practice different kinds of openings with other reps. Review their calls and offer insight. Ask them to regularly assess their comfort level with call openings during one-on-ones. Over time, you will see their focus pay off.
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7. Ask each rep to create an action plan
Open questioning during one-on-ones creates an environment where a sales rep can surface methods to achieve their goals. To make this concrete, have the sales rep write out a plan of action that incorporates these methods. This plan should outline achievable steps to a desired goal with a clearly defined timeline. Be sure you upload it to your CRM as an attachment or use a tool like Quip to create a collaborative document editable by both the manager and the rep. Have reps create the plan after early-quarter one-on-ones and check in monthly to gauge progress (more on that in the next step).
Here’s what a basic action plan might look like:
- Main goal: Complete 10 sales calls during the last week of the quarter
- Week 1: Identify 20-25 prospects
- Week 2: Make qualifying calls
- Week 3: Conduct needs analysis (discovery) calls, prune list, and schedule sales calls with top prospects
- Week 4: Lead sales calls and close deals
The power of putting pen to paper here is twofold. First, it forces the sales rep to think through their plan of action. Second, it crystallizes their thinking and cements their commitment to action.
8. Hold your rep accountable
As businessman Louis Gerstner, Jr. wrote in “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?”, “people respect what you inspect.” The effective manager understands that once the plan of action is in place, their role as coach is to hold the sales rep accountable for following through on their commitments. To support them, a manager should ask questions during one-on-ones such as:
- What measurable progress have you made this week/quarter?
- What challenges are you facing?
- How do you plan to overcome these challenges?
You can also review rep activity in your CRM. This is especially easy if you have a platform that combines automatic activity logging, easy pipeline inspection, and task lists with reminders. If you need to follow up, don’t schedule another meeting. Instead, send your rep a quick note via email or a messaging tool like Slack to level-set.
9. Offer professional development opportunities
According to a study by LinkedIn, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. When companies make an effort to feed their employees’ growth, it’s a win-win. Productivity increases and employees are engaged in their work.
Book clubs, seminars, internal training sessions, and courses are all great development opportunities. If tuition reimbursement or sponsorship is possible, articulate this up front so reps know about all available options.
Richardson adds podcasts to the list. “Get all of your salespeople together to talk about a podcast episode that ties into sales,” she said. “Take notes, pull key takeaways and action items, and share a meeting summary the next day with the group. I love that kind of peer engagement. It’s so much better than watching a dull training video.”
10. Set up time to share failures — and celebrations
As Forbes Council member and sales vet Adam Mendler wrote of sales teams, successful reps and executives prize learning from failure. But as Richardson points out, a lot of coaches rescue their reps before they can learn from mistakes: “Instead of letting them fail, they try to save an opportunity,” she said. “But that’s not scalable and doesn’t build confidence in the rep.”
Instead, give your reps the freedom to make mistakes and offer them guidance to grow through their failures. Set up a safe space where reps can share their mistakes and learnings with the larger team — then encourage each rep to toss those mistakes on a metaphorical bonfire so they can move on.
By embracing failure as a learning opportunity, you also minimize the likelihood of repeating the same mistakes. Encourage your reps to document the circumstances that led to a missed opportunity or lost deal. Review calls to pinpoint where conversations go awry. Study failure, and you might be surprised by the insights that emerge.
Also — and equally as important — make space for celebrating big wins. This cements best practices and offers positive reinforcement, which motivates reps to work harder to hit (or exceed) quota.
Next steps for sales coaching
Successful sales coaching requires daily interaction with your team, ongoing training, and regular feedback. As Lindsey Boggs, global director of sales development at Quantum Metric, noted, it also requires intentional focus.
“Remove noise from your calendar so you can focus your day on what’s going to move the needle the most — coaching,” she said. Once that’s prioritized, follow the best practices above to help improve your sales reps’ performance. Remember: coaching is the key to driving sales performance.
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Steven Rosen, founder of sales management training company STAR Results, contributed to this article.