One of the most rewarding activities as a sales leader is coaching your reps and seeing them excel. Unfortunately, most sales managers receive little training in how to effectively coach their sales reps or guide them towards success.
In my case, I was promoted to SDR manager based on my success as an individual contributor, first as an SDR and later as an account executive. There was no onboarding or specialized training on how to effectively coach and motivate my reps. So, like many new managers, I crashed and burned many times.
When I joined Outreach, I had a very different experience. I had resources available to learn more about leadership and that helped me give more to my reps than just “make more calls” and “send more emails.” I found that I had more control over my meetings and could provide tactical coaching while also getting to know them as people.
What is (and isn’t) sales coaching?
Every day, sales managers work side by side with their reps in customer meetings, planning sessions, and team meetings. It’s easy to assume that sales coaching is accomplished somewhere in this mix. Instead, managers spend more time micromanaging-as-coaching, which is actually just telling their employees what to do.
Poor sales coaching affects performance and is often a product of a cultural misunderstanding of what coaching is all about. This is such a widespread problem that only 38% of sellers report that their manager supports their development in skills for their current role, and only 34% report that their manager supports their development for future roles.
In short, sales coaching is not teaching your reps the answers; it’s helping them solve problems on their own. Effective sales coaching leads to reps who hit their quotas, are accountable and own their responsibilities, and have their pipelines filled for current and future quarters. It is the opposite of telling your reps to do exactly as you did when you were an SDR.
Creating mini versions of yourself in each sales rep is impossible. Instead, build a machine that helps your reps solve problems on their own, and that doesn’t fall apart as soon as their manager is out of the office. Effective sales coaching is about helping reps access and analyze the data from all of their sales activities and, armed with this information, lead productive coaching meetings so reps can hit their target and even exceed them.
Sales coaching framework for better coaching 1:1s
When I first started as an SDR manager, I treated every 1:1 meeting as a stringent and structured process in which I took notes on everything the rep said. Instead of a coaching session, it was more like an interrogation.
I soon learned that the best way to run a coaching meeting is to ask each rep to be vocal about what they need from me and to communicate how they wanted to structure our meetings. This is especially important during COVID-19; everyone is really tired of looking at their own face in Zoom meetings all day. So now we mix up our styles of communication to include facetime on walks and flexible scheduling that takes into consideration responsibilities like childcare.
There are two elements of coaching that have to always be consistent though. First, reps must come to our coaching 1:1s prepared on the topics they want to discuss. Second, progress is made with regular meetings every week or two weeks. Avoid rescheduling.
Preparing for your coaching meetings
An effective sales coaching framework holds both the rep and the sales manager accountable for next steps and progress updates. When your reps track their sales activity, you can spend more time solving problems and less time shuffling through data.
Reps should come prepared with information like:
- Number of completed meetings since the last coaching 1:1
- Number of upcoming meetings
- Overview of how they are pacing for the month or quarter
- Updated opportunity notes
- Personas and use cases for each opportunity
Sales managers should come prepared to cover topics like:
- How to help their sales rep read and analyze their sales data from their CRM and conversation intelligence tool
- Identifying missed opportunities. Look under every rock to see if you forgot something like replying to a rejection email
- Pipeline reviews including next month or quarter
Each meeting, review what action items you identified from last week. Did the proposed solutions work well? Did the rep get an answer from the prospect? Without this consistency, every meeting feels like a fire drill and learning will take a back seat.
Ask these questions in your coaching meetings
It’s helpful to have a list of questions ready to go before your coaching 1:1s with reps. Ideally, you’ll cover all of these through your framework.
- How are you pacing for this month?
- How many meetings are on the board?
- How do you see yourself exceeding your number?
- What do you need help with? Get specific. What about phone calls are you having a problem with? Connect rates? Not reaching the right people? Trouble converting leads to opportunities?
- What can your data tell us about possible solutions?
- How can we prepare for next month’s quota? Next quarter’s quota?
The dos and don’ts for coaching meetings
When you’re a busy manager looking after ten sales reps, it can be easier to wing it than follow a process. As a sales enablement manager, I’ve learned that this mentality can do more harm than good. Rigorous sales training and methodology help sales reps accomplish more than just hit their targets – it also makes it easy to identify where improvement is needed.
- Trust the process and training. Don’t go back to old habits that are familiar but less effective.
- Come prepared for the meeting.
- Keep to a schedule. Constant rescheduling leads to a waterfall effect and a month or more will go by without any check-ins.
- Tie last week’s meeting action items to this week’s agenda, and follow up on whether solutions worked as planned.
- Spend time with top and middle of the pack performers. These are the reps that will get your team to goal and will benefit the most from your coaching.
- Leverage others on your team for activities outside of coaching meetings. Appoint a senior rep as a team lead or captain who’s responsible for check-ins on teammates and giving extra attention to low performers.
- Wing your coaching 1:1. You won’t get anything out of the meeting without an agenda in place.
- Neglect top performers. Not only will the rep become disengaged, but it can be the difference between hitting and exceeding their target.
- Tell your reps to do things just the way you did when you were an SDR. You can’t create mini versions of yourself.
- Interrogate your rep. This isn’t a fact-finding mission, it’s a coaching moment.
- Ask generic questions with no focus. (e.g. Tell me about…)
- Forget to follow up on action items from the last check-in.
- Cancel meetings. Coaching sessions need to follow a strict schedule.
- Forget about remote workers who tend to work independently. They still need coaching to improve their skills and prepare for future roles.
Top tools for sales managers and better coaching 1:1s
No sales organization can succeed without effective data collection and management. Tools like Salesforce and other CRMs are well established as critical software but there is an emerging set of tools designed for conversational intelligence as well.
Here are some of the tools we love to use at Outreach:
- Lattice for performance and employee engagement
- Outreach.io for sales engagement, buyer sentiment, and conversation intelligence
- Outreach Kaia for reps that use video conferencing in their sales motion. Kaia provides real-time enablement support, recordings, and detailed notes to go over in our coaching 1:1s.
Tip: Read more about how we use Outreach Kaia right here.
The role of sales enablement in coaching
When I first left sales management for enablement, I worried that, because I was no longer on the sales floor, I’d no longer have valid experiences to earn the trust of my reps. But I soon found that I was in a unique position to act as a liaison across different departments. I was able to take enablement programs and share those resources where they’re needed and help sales teams understand that they don’t have to build all their processes from scratch.
I saw this disconnect most with how common it is for sales managers to have their own style to the company methodology. But enablement is really about making sure that everyone is using the same terms and system for consistent methodology.
Outreach has grown a lot since I first joined, and it’s great to see how well built our sales engagement strategy is now. We’re better staffed and can get really granular on projects and processes. When managers change or someone gets promoted, the infrastructure is there to keep reps and new managers moving forward.
Coaching and reinforcement
Sales coaching outside of initial training and coaching 1:1s is all about reinforcement. In enablement, I’m more like a strategic project manager who makes sure that new initiatives, like methodology training for the whole sales org compliments other current programs and plants the seed for future growth.
We give everyone tools and resources, establish a baseline, and hold them accountable. The goal is to reinforce training constantly, instead of showing up to fix things later.
Our reinforcement model has four steps (based off the Kirkpatrick Model):
- Prepwork: make sure the reps show up to training, and complete the pre-work assigned
- Learning: have a way to test reps to demonstrate their knowledge.
- Behavior: regular check ins to make sure that teams and managers are making the changes to their day to day coaching
- Results: Why are we doing this training? It could be that we are seeing reps struggle to close deals with sales leaders compared to sales managers. After training, we’ll measure the improvements we see through call rates, meetings booked, etc.
First steps and what’s next
Sales managers struggle when trying to coach their reps when there is an inherent misunderstanding from their leaders about what sales coaching is and is not. But with the right tools and a focus on process, managers can quickly learn to deliver better results and train successful reps.
Share your tips below!