7 Facts about Sales Coaching that Every Leader Must Know

“The goal of coaching is the goal of good management: to make the most of an organization’s valuable resources.” Harvard Business Review said that two decades ago, and it’s as true today as it was back then. Companies in the US alone cumulatively spend tens of billions on coaching, and they do it for good reason. Coaching helps sell more, faster and more efficiently, both in the short term and with an eye on the future. We’re going to look at seven key facts about effective sales coaching that every sales leader must know. But first, let’s start with the basics.

7 Facts about Sales Coaching that Every Leader Must Know

What is sales coaching?

Sales coaching is the process of setting base level required abilities and skills for the different roles in the sales organization and then assessing the proficiency of salespeople and sales managers against those required abilities and skills. After assessing the sales organization, managers assign a set of blended coaching activities (e.g. online courses, in person role playing) to improve proficiency. Finally, sales operations and sales management will track progress of the sales organization as a whole.

Whose job is it to coach?

The Sales Manager’s job is, above all, that of a coach. Whether they are running an entire sales department or just a team of 10, the key responsibility of a sales manager is to ensure his team is enabled to excel by providing consistent, timely and effective sales coaching to every member of that team.

Unfortunately, we often see sales managers and leaders struggling with coaching because they either don’t have the time, the resources, or the right tools to enable them to coach well. There’s also the fact that sometimes managers simply don’t exactly know what to do in some situations. That’s okay. Everyone can and should seek improvement. In fact, sales reps, managers and leaders alike can reap the same benefits from coaching.

From blue blood to blue collar, everyone should seek improvement through coaching.

The impact of not providing managers and leaders with immediate, actionable performance insights that can be used to course-correct within their team is higher than ever. Organizations that do enable their managers to focus on coaching (by providing all of the above) have a proven track record of cutting down on administrative overhead, making sure their coaching strategy is right along with all other aspects of sales operations, and seeing their sales force locked in on goals, regardless of change.

When is coaching most necessary?

The simplest and shortest answer is “always.” Coaching is an ongoing process, but if we were to identify some key moments when coaching is especially critical, entry into new markets, implementing new sales strategies, or new products are a few basic examples.

In any of these situations the compensation plan requires a reshape to match the goal of the business. Changes to the compensation plan must be accompanied by a dedicated coaching strategy. Supplement the rollout of a new comp plan with one-on-one sessions to check understanding before the new plan period, and let preliminary performance results inform you on where you need to react within your sales team.

What’s the difference between coaching and training?

Different managers are expected to perform different “tutoring” roles depending on what they have on their plate – whether it’s training, coaching, mentoring or counseling – for their team to stand tall.

The major difference between coaching and the rest of the tutoring methods is the emphasis on communication and feedback. More precisely, positive feedback. In biology, negative feedback reduces the original effect of a given stimulus. In a positive feedback system, the output enhances the original stimulus. Since humans are biological beings themselves, it would be naive not to think that the same rule applies.

Napoleon said it best when he acknowledged that everyone responds better to rewards instead of criticism. He stressed that “Men don’t risk their lives for their country. Men risk their lives for medals.”

The key takeaway here? Encourage positive feedback. Don’t cave in to the tendency to dwell on problems. Instead, applaud success, even when rare, and encourage managers to do the same for their teams.

B2B expert Anthony Iannario surely agrees. In a recent blog entry, Iannario highlights the importance of instilling accountability within a sales team through communication.

“There are leaders and managers who allow the people they lead to hide in plain sight,” he writes. Their results are visible, but their leaders don’t talk about their individual results with them with any kind of real cadence (or sometimes at all). People can struggle for months or years with no one requiring them to answer for their performance or coaching them, their results visible to anyone who looks at reports.”

Part of the responsibility of the coach is to ensure a regular rhythm of one-on-one review takes place, so that performance gaps don’t become long-term habits.

Other quick wins include setting measurable, attainable goals for the salespeople to draw satisfaction from there as well, and setting ongoing feedback meetings to keep everyone in the loop. Communication is the key differentiator between coaching and all other forms of upskilling apprentices.

How can I use coaching to lower the number of compensation disputes?

Closing the pay cycle is often delayed by disputes (i.e. double-checking the accuracy of the data and approving different results at different levels). If the process you have in place generates a lot of conundrums in the field, there’s a fair chance that the tools you are using are not enabling you to be efficient. An antiqued system may fail to give you the reasons behind certain disputes, or worse, prevent you from acting on it. So it’s best to have an automated workflow process tool in place. But this solves only half of the problem.

Automation can only do so much. Coupled with training and planned communication (in short, coaching), automation can both increase the efficiency of resolving disputes and cut down on the volume of disputes entered in the first place. To efficiently leverage an automated process for managing compensation disputes, you must first review dispute data to identify confusion points in the comp plan. In fact, this is often the starting point for “feeding” resolutions back into to the coaching plan.

How can I coach if most of my reps work virtually / are always on the go?

As a coach you have to be a master of asynchronous communication. The information you ask your team to track – CRM data, performance data, tracking sales and opportunities, setting and tracking objectives, expense management, reviewing performance/evaluations – can exceed your capacity to manage it. So it’s important to use mobile solutions backed by a cloud-based platform that can connect the dots for you, enabling you to act when it’s time for action.

This also means your training presentations are accessible anywhere and on any device – a must, considering millennials’ infamously short attention span.

What is the cost effectiveness / ROI of sales coaching?

Truth be told, it’s very difficult to put your finger on the actual ROI of coaching. But according to the Sales Executive Council (SEC) there is, in fact, a quantifiable return on investment associated with coaching as a compared to just plain old training. The research identifies it as the winning formula thanks to that aforementioned extra ingredient: feedback.

In The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching, co-authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson cite the aforementioned SEC study as finding an up-to 19% improvement in performance as a direct result of coaching individual sales reps. As the duo piqued, “Often as not [such an increase can] make the difference between hitting or missing goals.”

“The goal of coaching is the goal of good management”


What is sales coaching?

The ability to manage well and enable your team to win, and win repeatedly.

Whose job is it to coach?

Just about everyone’s. As long as everyone means sales managers.

When is coaching most necessary?

Always. Just like in sports, the goal in coaching is to constantly improve, not to rest on your laurels.

What’s the difference between coaching and training?

A very small one or a very big one, depending on how much you value communication. Coaching is an ongoing improvement process based on continuous feedback. Training is in the same ballpark, but it ends with a full stop when the bell rings.

How can I use coaching to lower the number of compensation disputes?

Review dispute data to identify confusion points in the comp plan, use this to feed back into the coaching plan.

How can I coach if most of my reps work virtually / are always on the go?

One word: mobility. Cloud-based solutions that are in your pocket let you to act right there and then. Waiting for data that’s readily available to arrive via email means you’ve already lost to your competitors.

What is the cost effectiveness / ROI of sales coaching?

According to statistics, 19%. But what do you say we beat that number?



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