Sales Coaching 101

Why Coaching Matters

If you want your people to perform at their best, you need to give them every opportunity to succeed.

Personalized coaching is the fastest, most effective way to improve the performance of every member of your team.

Millions of managers know this, and yet the overwhelming majority of them have no regular, formalized coaching program in place to help their employees grow. Some are still relying on the dreaded annual review, instead of providing relevant and timely feedback regularly throughout the year.

Part of the reason for this is that a notoriously “fuzzy” field. If you put 20 coaches into a room, you’ll get 30 different opinions on the best methodology for coaching.

Many companies opt to avoid starting altogether, rather than try to wade through the hundreds of different opinions on the “best” coaching solution.

That’s a shame because it’s often the case that even bad coaching is better than none at all.

But you don't need to settle for a bad coaching program. If you don't have an actively followed sales coaching process in place, or you don't feel like you're getting the results you should from the program you do have in place, then this is the right place for you. The investment required (in terms of both cost and time) is miniscule compared to the payoff, and it couldn’t be easier to get started.

If you want to get a head start on creating a coaching practice with your sales team, sign up below and we'll give you some bonuses and updates on when the training & coaching platform are done.

Coaching First Principles

Let’s start by defining coaching. Simply put, coaching is the process of working directly with another person to help them achieve their goals.

Each of the bolded terms is important, so let’s unpack them a little further:

“Coaching is a process…”: Coaching is something that must happen regularly in order to have any effect. Just like you can't say “I went to the gym once back in 2007, so I’m physically fit now”, you cannot achieve the benefits of coaching from a single session.

The benefits from coaching come from the iterative approach - you set a goal, you take action towards it, you notice what worked and what didn’t, you adjust your approach, and eventually, you work on more challenging goals. Every part of that is dependent on the simple fact that coaching is a process, and not a one-time event.

“... of working directly with another person…”: The best results (especially when you’re just starting to provide coaching) happen when the sessions are 1:1.

“... to help…”: The word help here is important. It implies that you’re providing some combination of support, guidance, advice, and direction. This means that the coach must have something useful to offer the salesperson that will help them achieve their goals.

Broadly speaking, that usefulness can come in two flavors: Content Knowledge, and Process Knowledge. We’ll explore both in more detail later, but be aware that Process Knowledge will be both more valuable, and easier for a coach to develop, than Content Knowledge.

“... them achieve their goals.”: Ultimately, this is the only important piece. Coaching exists to help people achieve their goals. Sometimes, it can also be used to help people set their goals, but setting alone is not enough.

The only measure of the success of a coaching program is as follows: “Did it help me achieve my goals?”

If you want to get a head start on creating a coaching practice with your sales team, sign up below and we'll give you some bonuses and updates on when the training & coaching platform are done.

Types of Coaching

For most companies, we can look at two broad purposes of coaching:

  1. Achieve minimum required standards
  2. Achieve excellence (and create new standards)

Minimum standards are easy to understand. As an example, your company might have a sales quota that all salespeople must hit, or your call center might have a minimum required closing rate. In these cases, the coaching is built around helping people reach these standard goals.

This will typically be achieved by working with the salesperson to find out what’s stopping them from achieving those goals, identifying the biggest problem areas and assigning the salesperson specific “homework” to bring their skills up to the minimum required level.

This is easiest to do in organizations that:

  1. Have well-defined processes in place to demonstrate how things should be done; and
  2. Have a lot of others who are easily achieving the minimum standards, to demonstrate that it can be done

With those two elements, it becomes easy to see which part(s) of the process the salesperson isn’t doing well, and to develop individualized exercises for them to practice in order to see improvement.

Coaching to achieve excellence is a much looser, more open process… It starts with the premise that the salesperson is doing great and working together to find ways for them to do better.

This might mean actively ignoring the process in some cases (and monitoring the results of that), adding new elements to it, or looking at the individual elements of the existing process to see how the salesperson scores on each one.

For example - imagine a salesperson who generates about 20% higher revenue than average, but who goes through 100% more prospects than average.

Without knowing anything else, you know that there is a problem - this person is doing “better” in an absolute sense (more revenue earned than average), but is having to work much harder to do it, and is burning through twice as many leads as everybody else.

Something is broken in how they are selling, which you would never have found if you only looked at their bottom line numbers, and which may be quite easy to improve by coaching properly.

If you want to get a head start on creating a coaching practice with your sales team, sign up below and we'll give you some bonuses and updates on when the training & coaching platform are done.

Process Knowledge vs. Content Knowledge

Content Knowledge (also known as Domain Expertise) is the understanding that you bring about the specific skill you’re coaching somebody on. If you were a superstar salesperson who was promoted to sales manager, then you would score very high on content knowledge when it comes to sales.

When most people think about coaching or teaching in general, they immediately think about content knowledge. It’s not uncommon to hear people say “Why does John insist on trying to coach me? My sales are way higher than his were when he was selling.”

This perspective is intuitive, understandable, and dead wrong. It rests on the faulty assumption that there is a direct link between performance, understanding, and the ability to pass that knowledge along.

Process Knowledge is a mastery of the processes involved in creating change. It can be completely divorced from content knowledge and still create a dramatic impact.

As an example, let’s consider an inbound sales call center. Imagine a performance coach is brought in who has no experience at being a call center agent (but who has a few years of coaching in other domains). Coming in, the coach only knows two things:

  1. The highest performing agents generate 40% more revenue than the lowest performing agents
  2. The agents that follow the established sales process most closely are the ones who are most successful

The coach can use this information to create a simple process to improve the results of the low performing agents. It might look something like this:

  1. Monitor all calls from lowest performing agents
  2. Identify every place in every call where the agent deviates from the sales process
  3. Meet with the agent twice per week to go over the “worst offending” calls, train them on the process if needed, and get the commitment from them to improve on their use of the sales process
  4. In each meeting, track the progress made; keep providing encouragement so long as the agent continues to get closer to 100% adherence to the sales process

This 4 step process, undertaken by somebody with no content knowledge, will outperform many “content experts” who do not have coaching process knowledge.

Content Knowledge can be helpful when working with high performers to get even better by sharing tips, tricks, and ideas to experiment with (though even there, the process knowledge of high performance is more powerful).

For achieving baseline standards, though, content knowledge can be an active detriment. High performers who don’t have process knowledge often struggle to help poor performers grasp the basics required, and struggle to create realistic goals & training plans to help the poor performers improve.

When you’re starting your coaching journey, consider content knowledge to be a bonus feature, not a requirement. Being confident in the coaching process that will be used is much more important than any specific content knowledge.

If you want to get a head start on creating a coaching practice with your sales team, sign up below and we'll give you some bonuses and updates on when the training & coaching platform are done.