9 Keys to Coaching Your Sales Team

One of the primary functions of a sales manager is to motivate and coach the sales team. Why is it then that sales managers often do so poorly at coaching their salespeople?  Probably because: (1) no one coached THEM so they don’t have examples to call on and (2) most of them have come from the field and are often better at selling than managing.

Early in my selling career, I had a sales manager who was a good manager as well as a good salesperson…but he couldn’t resist selling. Whenever Doug went on calls with me, I would introduce him to the prospect and then sit back and shut up. After about 5-10 seconds of roaring silence, Doug would jump in and do the sale. I just had to sit back and watch, make notes, and take the order. Doug would do all the rest. While I learned a lot by watching Doug sell, I didn’t develop any of my own selling skills. I did that by going out and trying it on my own.

If you really want to help your salespeople, you have to let them develop their own selling abilities, preferably with your coaching. Like many sports coaches, good sales coaches may not have been the best salespeople, but they have an in-depth understanding of the sales game and how it should be played in order to achieve success.

Here are nine keys to being a super sales coach.

1) Understand the sales process. As I mentioned, it’s hard, if not impossible, to coach people on something you don’t know how to do yourself. It’s one thing sell intuitively and quite another to sell deliberately. If you haven’t been formally trained in selling, either take a professional sales training workshop and/or read a good book on selling. It’s hard for a seasoned sales manager to admit that they’ve never had any formal sales training but if you don’t get some you are in danger of having a situation where the hard-of-seeing are trying to lead the blind!

2) Use a checklist to keep score. This will simplify your note taking during the sales call. Check off the things the salesperson does right as well as those areas that need attention. We’ve developed a Sales Manager’s Coaching Checklist specifically for this function.

3) Never interrupt your salespeople. No matter how tempted you are to jump in to save the sale or how justified the interruption may seem to be. It undermines the salesperson’s credibility in the eyes of the prospect and lowers the salesperson’s self-confidence. No matter how painful the experience, it’s better to use the disaster as a learning experience. If you don’t, the salesperson will keep on creating chaos when he’s back on his own again.

4) Pre-plan the sales call. Get the salesperson to set some sales call goals before going in to see the prospect. This gives you both something to measure against when you do the post-sales critique.

5) Start with a positive. When reviewing the call, start with something that the salesperson did RIGHT before covering the areas for improvement. Ask the salesperson what he would do different if he could do it over. If they figure out what went wrong or what could have been better, don’t bring it up. No use flogging a dead horse unless you’re into that kind of thing. What you want to know is the person learning from the experience.

6) End on a positive. No one likes to be evaluated. After you have critiqued the sales call, tell the salesperson what you liked about how he handled the situation. Be specific. Leave him feeling good about himself and ready to go into the next call with an upbeat attitude.

7) Coaching should be a learning experience for both people. The salesperson should learn how he could improve his selling skills and you should learn what additional training your salesperson might need to become even better.

8) Coach all your people, not just the junior or new ones. Seasoned salespeople can quickly develop bad habits. Even the most expensive knife can get dull if you don’t pay proper attention to it. The other advantage of coaching your more experienced people is that you might actually pick up a trick or two that you pass on to your more junior people.

9) Plan to coach. Build it into your work schedule. Absolutely no sales manager has the time to spare doing coaching. Unfortunately, coaching isn’t a spare time job; it’s a prime time one. Whether you travel with your people once a month or once a quarter, if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.

Your salespeople are your most valuable asset and it’s your job as a sales manager to increase the value of that asset by helping them to become as good as they can be.

Work with your people in a spirit of cooperation and mentorship and you’ll find your sales soaring because your people are soaring.

It’s better to have your people soaring with the eagles than standing around with the turkeys.

Go mak’em soar!