· 10 mins · Management Skills

A guide to sales coaching (plus a template)

In this article, Cory Bray walks us through why coaching your sales team is critical and how to do it effectively.

Avatar of Cory Bray Cory Bray

You wouldn’t expect a poorly coached basketball team to perform at a championship-winning level. Even a team filled with the most naturally gifted players needs a good coach to help maximize their potential. The same applies to sales teams. 

As a manager, if you’re not effectively coaching your team, you’re not getting their best work.  

In this blog, I uncover the sales coaching basics you need to know to help your team flourish. Keep reading to learn about:

Let’s get started!

What’s the difference between sales coaching and sales training?

Contrary to popular belief, sales coaching and training are not the same. Let’s take a look at both to see where they differ.

Sales Training

Sales training equips sales professionals with the general skills, tactics, techniques, and technical know-how required to perform their responsibilities.

Training might be focused on general sales skills such as how to conduct a great discovery call. Or, it might be company-specific, such as how to conduct a great discovery call for a new product that’s being released.

Training can happen in one or many sessions, and is ideally done before someone needs to do the work. 

Sales Coaching

On the other hand, sales coaching is tailored to the individual salesperson and is focused on helping them get the most out of what they’ve been trained on in the past. Coaching usually takes place more frequently in the form of one-on-one meetings

Coaching helps your team members identify challenges, set goals for themselves, and create a tailored action plan to achieve those goals. However, coaching need not be punitive. Great coaches spend substantial time working with their top performers to get even better at their current job, and to prepare them for future roles. 

To sum it up, sales training provides a salesperson with the skills, techniques, and knowledge they need. While sales coaching helps people better apply those skills so they can perform at a higher level. 

Why do you need sales coaching?

A high-performing sales team is a crucial part of nearly every organization. The sales team acts as the company’s representative to prospective customers. Plus, more importantly, the financial health of the company hinges greatly on their ability to close deals. 

Below are a few reasons why every sales team needs effective coaching: 

Improve performance

The beauty of sales is that it’s always clear when performance needs improvement — it shows in the numbers.

Coaching can significantly boost the performance of a sales team. Without feedback and guidance, reps may eventually improve, but it will take a lot longer to get there. With sales coaching, the feedback cycle is rapid. Effective sales coaching allows you to see improvements much faster than you would in other roles. 

When done right, coaching leads to improved performance, which leads to the ability to hit targets. It’s as simple as that.

Motivate your team

Not only will the company profit from a well-coached sales team, so will the salespeople themselves. According to Hypercontext’s report on The State of High Performing Sales Teams,  64% of salespeople agree salary/ benefits is a top motivator. Good coaching will help them hit their goals and reach OTE.

Graph depicting the top factors impacting motivation for salespeople

Retain talent

You may think that salary is the number one contributor when it comes to retention in sales roles, but that’s not in fact the case. 

The main reason salespeople are leaving their jobs is due to a lack of opportunity for professional growth. 

In fact, sales people are 1.8X more likely to leave a job due to lack of growth opportunities than salary. Sales coaching helps solve that problem. It’s an integral part of supporting your team’s learning— leading to more opportunities for progress in their careers.

Graph depicting why sales people are applying for other jobs

The do’s and don’ts of effective coaching

Now that we’ve covered what sales coaching is and why it’s so important, let’s look at some do’s and don’ts of coaching.

Do

✔️ Approach it like a discovery meeting

A great way to approach a sales coaching session is to treat it like a discovery meeting. 

In a discovery meeting during the sales process, the seller knows where they want the deal to go. They typically want to move to the next stage in the process, or toward disqualification. Despite this, they don’t push the buyer. Humans don’t like being pushed, and that doesn’t create ownership if there are next steps. 

Coaching is a two-way conversation, not a lecture. 

✔️ Ask questions

Asking lots of questions is an excellent way for you to encourage your team members to self-realize the challenge being coached and to take ownership over a solution. Try asking questions like: 

  • How do you feel about [challenge you identified]?
  • When I flip this dashboard up on the screen, what jumps out at you?
  • Let’s play this call recording snippet and see if there’s anything you’d address differently next time. 

Through self-evaluation, your rep will gain self-awareness and the ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses. This will allow them to lean into their strengths more and create a plan to improve their weaknesses. When they create the plan themselves, they buy into it and own it — which typically isn’t the case when someone is simply told what to do.

✔️ Have the salesperson define the action plan

It may feel counterintuitive to coaching, but it’s important for your team member to not only identify their weaknesses, but also their action plan to improve. 

When the salesperson identifies their own action plan, there’s a greater sense of buy-in, and, in turn, ownership and accountability. 

As a sales coach, you want to facilitate rather than dictate. 

Don’t

Now that you know what you should do in a coaching session, here are 3 things you should avoid. 

X Try to cover too much

Overwhelming a coaching session with too many topics will do more harm than good. If I throw one basketball at you, you’ll catch it. If I throw four, you’ll catch zero…and might get hurt!

Don’t try to cover everything all at once. A focused approach where you coach one thing at a time is most effective. Once you check one item off your coaching list, then you can move to the next.

X Fail to identify the root cause of the problem

Another common mistake many sales coaches make is trying to solve a problem without identifying its root cause.

For example, suppose a salesperson you’re coaching has difficulty with objection handling during prospect calls. In that case, you will not only want to coach them on how to handle those objections but also look to identify why those objections are happening in the first place. 

How do you get to the root cause of these problems? A great way is by using Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 whys framework. The theory’s name says it all. By asking “why” 5 times, you can get to a problem’s root cause.

X Coach the play, not the player 

Rather than coaching the play (in this case, a sales call), you’ll want to coach the player (the salesperson). 

This goes back to our last point about identifying the root cause of the problem. For example, if, while reviewing a discovery call, you notice the biggest challenge is that the rep didn’t adequately prepare for the call, look at what caused that lack of preparation. With this example, the real issue may not be seen on the call recording itself. Instead, it may be the salesperson’s lack of time management that led to an inability to prepare appropriately.

The C.O.A.C.H. framework

As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind when going into a sales coaching session. That’s why my Co-Founder, Hilmon Sorey, and I have developed the C.O.A.C.H framework

It’s an easy-to-remember approach that you can take into your next coaching session to help ensure effectiveness. 

The C.O.A.C.H. framework provides guidance on what to think about before the coaching session, what to discuss during the meeting, and how to make sure the session leads to action. The C and the O happen before coaching, while the A, C, and H happen live with the person being coached.

Let’s go over the steps:

Challenge

The first step is identifying the one challenge you’ll be addressing in the session. Is it a mindset challenge, a skillset challenge, or an activity challenge? This should happen before you even meet. 

Outline

Outline a game plan for the session. Similar to identifying the challenge, outlining a plan for the coaching session should happen in advance. This is a best practice for all meetings. Lay out an agenda for the meeting to address the needs of the particular rep and challenge you’re working with. 

Action Plan

During the meeting, it’s time to figure out a plan of action. This is where you want to spend the bulk of your time. Together with your rep, identify steps they can take to improve and establish a game plan. Don’t forget to ask questions, like we covered in the “do’s” above.

Consequences

Now’s the time to take the coaching session from brainstorming and talking to action.

It’s essential for the whole team to see how their actions fit into the bigger picture. What will happen if you don’t take the steps outlined in the action plan? What’s the impact? 

It’s important to note, consequences don’t need to be negative or dire. Rather, make the impact of inaction well understood. No need to spend too much time here — the consequences part of the conversation should be a sentence or two. 

Hold Accountable

Last, but not least: wrap up the meeting with accountability. Make sure you and your rep are both clear on next steps and what’s expected of them. 

I recommend actually writing it down in a shared space, so no one forgets and you can easily look back at what was decided. 

👉 Try the template in Hypercontext.

Bonus: Tips for your first coaching session

Are you going into your first coaching session? Great! You now have the knowledge required and an effective sales coaching framework to use. 

Here are a few extra tips and tricks for you to take into your first coaching session that will help make it a success. 

  • Know your team: Much like players on a basketball team, everyone has their own skills, weaknesses, and goals —these all need to be considered when determining the best way to coach them.
  • Leverage experience: Another part of knowing who you’re coaching is learning about their experience. What approaches have worked for them in the past? Which ones haven’t worked? 
  • Teach your team to be coachable: Many sales coaches fail to consider that their sales team may not have experience with coaching. Think of it this way — professional athletes have been coached their whole lives. They know how to react when being coached and can easily implement what they’ve learned into their game. If a salesperson doesn’t have this experience, implementing the strategy developed in coaching sessions can be difficult for them. As a coach, it’s your job to get them into the flow so they can be receptive to your coaching.

Time to start coaching

Time to put your coaching knowledge to work! Give my sales coaching template a try to help ensure your next sales coaching session is a success.

Sales coaching agenda template
Sales coaching session Template
cory bray

Cory Bray is the author of The Five Secrets of a Sales Coach, where he and Co-author, Hilmon Sorey, introduce the C.O.A.C.H. framework, an easy-to-learn and easy-to-execute coaching methodology, purpose-built for sales and customer success teams. Over the course of the last several years, Bray has personally trained hundreds of managers on how to coach their teams.

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