Written by Andy Farquharson
It’s an unfortunate situation.
You’ve invested time and resources into coaching sales teams, but your sales reps still aren’t improving.
But don’t give up just yet.
In this post, I’m going to talk about what you can do after conducting a sales training to ensure you’re continually engaging in effective sales coaching techniques – applying the lessons learned and learning new things along the way.
It’s like when you read a diet book or try the latest fitness craze, being consistent and making a lifestyle change is much more difficult than just trying on all the latest tips and tricks for a day. Behavioral change is a process that takes time and effort.
This is why I often talk about the importance of not just effectively coaching a sales team, but creating a coaching culture – it’s something that’s built and enriched over time.
Plus, like with diet or fitness efforts, we will fall off the wagon and encounter failure from time to time. Because you know what? We’re human. It happens.
What’s going to be really important for you as an individual or as a sales manager is figuring out how to resolve the problems you’re having with effective sales coaching, so that you see the results you want in the future.
To set up that structure and create a learning environment in your business that is ongoing, and not just a one-off, there are three things you can do.
Are you looking to increase the performance of your sales team? Download the Sales Coaching Playbook, our quick and easy guide to effective sales coaching techniques.
Peel the metaphorical layers back
You need to dig deep to understand people’s motivations in order to train them effectively.
With that in mind, the first step to engaging in effective sales coaching techniques is to peel back those layers of the “sales rep onion”.
Here are some questions you can ask about your sales reps to better understand them, provide sales training support, and motivate them to improve and learn:
- What do they want to achieve in the next year or two in the job?
- What’s their short term career path?
- What’s their long term career goal?
- What’s really important to them? Do they crave career stability? Or are they just looking for accolades and driving for that praise?
The further back you peel the onion, the more you will realise it’s the inner layers that really count when it comes to working your sales reps out, and embedding training and improvement into their workflow.
Once you’ve peeled the layers of the onion back, you’re ready to move on to really engaging with the people in your team and creating a culture of continuous learning.
Best practices for effective sales coaching: Embedding continuous learning into your sales organization
There are three things you should consider when creating a culture of improvement and embedding effective sales coaching techniques into your organization:
- One on one coaching
- Group training sessions
- Unstructured learning environments
Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
One on one sales coaching
It goes without saying that you should be having consistent and regular coaching conversations with your reps.
Usually, these meetings are just a pipeline review of where, as a rep, they’re performing well and talking about their top five deals.
Some managers also use these meetings to potentially reiterate their expectations and ask some probing questions about what’s really going to close this month, so that you can then put together an accurate sales forecast for your boss.
But the reality is, this outcome-driven discussion is not actually the most effective use of your one on one sales coaching time.
As a sales manager, you really should be looking to create more than just a boring old pipeline review, and as a sales rep, you should be demanding more from your managers in these meetings. They are actual one on ones, aka an opportunity for you to be able to drive towards the most important thing, which is the individual’s ongoing development!
Make time for sales performance coaching – talking about whatever it is you’re trying to achieve as a business, and what it is that each rep can do professionally to enable the team to get there.
Of course, maintaining pipeline hygiene is important, but it should really be managed through adherence to the sales process. That’s going to show in the data that you’re gathering from your client interactions and your CRM.
Understanding and driving the unique ‘why’ of the business and tying that to an individual’s career motivation and development is a big item to stay on top of.
There are certain responsibilities involved. So come prepared… if that means reviewing a call, having some examples that you’d like to discuss, talking about what you took out of the last training session – then do whatever it takes.
For training to really work, you need a sales coaching plan. Map out exactly what it is that you are going to be achieving together over the coming months and years by identifying where the areas of continuous improvement lie in these one-on-ones.
Lastly, you need to prioritize the time above all else. If you move your 1:1, what kind of message does that send?
Group training sessions
So now we move onto the group training sessions.
How many contact hours do your reps actually have with prospects every week?
I’d guess that it’s going to be less than 20 hours when it comes down to it. That’s a lot of time left in the week that can be focused on effective sales coaching techniques, and ongoing skills development.
Let’s take a look at a sporting example. An elite football player probably spends around three hours, playing one to two games every week. How many hours of training do you think that they put in outside of game time? How many hours do you think they spend honing their craft? It’s probably close to 30. Most elite sportsmen have a 10:1 ratio of training to playing, to enable them to perform at their peak.
The lesson here is that without putting in the time, you’re never going to be able to achieve peak performance. And your team won’t either. You can achieve this with regular structured group training sessions.
Now I know they can be hard to orchestrate, and that one on one sales coaching sessions are a path with less group friction. But training in a group environment gives you the opportunity to crowdsource your team’s expert knowledge and put everyone on a faster path to development.
Word of warning: Simply rocking up and going through the exact same sales training week after week will be super boring for your team, and completely ineffective in encouraging development.
To ensure that you actually have success with these sessions, you need to create a structured sales coaching plan for what you’re going to focus on in your group training for the coming months. It helps if you are able to plan ahead based on the sales and performance data of the team and organization.
For example, your sales data may tell you that as a team you are struggling to get prospects into the top of the funnel. Or alternatively, you have plenty of prospects coming in at the top, but you can’t convert them into demonstrations.
This information should guide your group training sessions.
Another option for choosing the agenda for your group training sessions is to get the team involved – this is great for getting buy-in and commitment. Encourage individuals to set the path for what they would like to focus on in their continuous learning journey. What is it that they would like to spend their time discussing? Where do they want to improve? Can you align that direction with the specific needs of the sales data in front of you?
You can go the extra mile with this approach by getting sales reps to run the training sessions based on their most prominent skills and sales performance. The medical professional always talks about how they encourage people to learn by teaching, and that’s a philosophy you can adopt here.
To increase group engagement, minimize the numbers. Don’t have every sales rep in your company in a huge lecture theatre, listening to every fourth sentence, and checking emails. Create a culture of accountability and diversify the training groups based on their skills and performance.
You could follow a workshop-style sales coaching format where everyone gets the opportunity to role-play with each other and hear how other people are solving and tackling particular challenges. Or you could go through and review live calls with one of your reps, in an attempt to crowdsource feedback.
Whatever approach you choose to coaching your sales team, make it interactive and try to change things up every now and then.
Unstructured learning environments
One on one sales coaching and group training sessions are great, but you can’t ignore the fact that no matter how hard you try, they are going to feel structured and somewhat rigid in their delivery.
That’s why to truly grow a culture of continuous learning in your organization, you need an element of unstructured training as well. Unfortunately, this style of learning is one you can’t control too much yourself, it comes down to the individual sales reps and how badly they want to improve.
But it’s up to you to provide enough direction to enable sales reps to thrive in an unstructured environment.
So what exactly is unstructured learning?
It might be something as simple as getting everyone in your team in the rhythm of sharing around a great blog post or sales book that they’ve read over the past month, and summarising the key principles they have learned.
Or it could be about encouraging off-the-cuff peer-to-peer coaching and feedback opportunities when a rep has a great (or not so great) sales call. If individual reps are actually asking for people to listen in and provide helpful guidance on improvement, these immediate feedback loops can quickly accelerate development.
In the end, you are trying to create a culture of trust and open feedback that lends itself to an unstructured training environment for people to learn and improve without even thinking about it.
As a manager, it’s rewarding when you can encourage your sales reps to go and drive their own results and development. And as a sales rep, it’s equally rewarding if you take ownership of your own learning journey.
Hopefully, that’s given you some food for thought on how to create an ongoing and effective sales coaching environment, where your team is pushing each other to reach peak performance.
If you can pair structured training in both a group and one on one environment, with unstructured training and a culture of peer-to-peer coaching, your sales training investment won’t go to waste.
So take ownership of what happens after that sales event you pay thousands of dollars for your team to attend, and seek to drive a continuous learning journey for you and your colleagues.
As always, I would love to connect on LinkedIn and hear your thoughts.