In sales organizations, normal training can only go so far. It doesn’t occur formally every day. Most of the time, it requires a hefty investment, both of money and time. On the other hand, sales coaching can happen both formally and informally, any time a sales manager observes and interacts with a sales rep, with the goal of helping that sales rep improve. The best sales leaders and managers will coach formally on a regular basis (by way of monthly or weekly meetings) and informally as needed.
What is sales coaching?
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “an interactive process to help individuals and organizations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improving others’ abilities to set goals, take action, make better decisions and make full use of their natural strengths.” When looked at from a sales enablement perspective, this specifically refers to helping reps close more deals, generate more revenue, and grow (personally or professionally) as an individual or team.
Why is it a challenge?
Many great sales reps figure out how to be great by simply working with and observing peers, especially in the first formative weeks when new reps are learning the ropes. However, that doesn't mean that the only learning should occur with peers. It is too easy for sales leaders to default to immediate supervisors for coaching, but it is much more effective when timed appropriately and comes from all levels of management. While it's ideal that all management is involved in coaching, there is a fine line between coaching and micromanaging. Further, there is a good chance that immediate managers have never received any sales leadership training, or even experience coaching while they were a sales rep. This can lead to difficult onboarding, inefficient work processes and habits, and slower professional growth for those being coached.
What can you do about it?
One of the most important responsibilities that a sales enablement team can own is to help turn all sales managers into great sales coaches. There are a variety of studies that show how training, followed by sales coaching, will yield the best improvements in sales rep skills. Therefore, sales enablement teams should train sales managers to be great coaches by providing them with an easy way to keep track of and follow up on coaching topics, plus a list of themes to look for. Sales enablement teams should be available to provide guidance—both written and verbal—for the manager and rep to refer to regarding those topics. Wrapping all of this into a coaching guide is a great place to start, but just like sales playbooks, it’s insufficient to just write it, hand it over, and expect to have it followed. Sales enablement teams need to regularly meet with the sales managers to make sure coaching is working, that all coaching opportunities and areas—both covered in the guide and all others—are discussed so that each manager is coaching as effectively as possible.
Brian Groth is the Sales Enablement Manager at Xactly Corp, where he successfully created and currently manages Xactly's entire sales enablement program, including the sales process, tools and training.