Sales managers take on the role of coach to help their direct reports improve abilities, set goals, and adopt behaviors that will lead to better short-term results and long-term business outcomes. The process is an interactive one and, in many companies, is ancillary to formal training sessions. Coaching also presents vital opportunities for training follow-up and on-the job learning, opening doors for employees to seek the advice of more experienced managers or peers. This kind of follow-up is critical in helping to close the gap between training and in-role performance.

Even as companies recognize the benefits of coaching, they often struggle with the adoption of formal programs and how best to integrate them into their organizations. They seek to understand best practices in areas such as who should coach, what they should be coaching and encouraging, how to implement coaching programs, and where to target their efforts and resources to achieve the most effective effort for their organization.

In late 2015, Training Industry, Inc., and Richardson teamed up to discover how organizations across industries are using coaching programs to support their sales professionals. Respondents from 266 companies completed a confidential survey about their sales coaching programs. They represented a range of industries, organizational sizes, functional areas, and job titles. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents – 74 percent – said their programs were “very” or “somewhat” effective, and 51 percent of those who rated sales coaching as “very” effective also said they “always” used sales coaching in the past year.

Other key findings include the following:

  • 53% of sales coaching programs tend to have a more formal than informal structure
  • 67% of respondents cite “personalizing learning to areas of need” as the most important sales coach behavior
  • 55% cite webinars as the most effective technology supporting coaching, closely followed by simulations (52%) and video learning (50%)
  • 76% agree the top challenge for coaching programs is lack of urgency, closely followed by lack of training for managers (74%)

Overall, the survey results identified seven best practices for sales coaching:

      1. Practice makes perfect
        Frequency of coaching leads to better outcomes. Managers who coach regularly embed the practice within their organization’s culture. Coaching then becomes a valued support network, providing individuals with a specific person they can turn to for support and guidance.
      2. Formalized structure
        Establish a specific time and cadence for coaches and employees to meet. This tempers any uncertainty about commitment to the coaching dynamic. Additionally, it becomes easier to get leadership buy-in when coaching becomes a formalized process that supports the business, helping employees to meet goals and objectives.
      3. Identify the right coaches
        Deciding who coaches is just as important as committing to coaching in the first place, and the answer can differ depending on the organization. Some companies use external professionals, others internal leaders, and still others tap their existing high performers. Find the best coach for your company and culture.
      4. Prepare coaches for success
        Don’t leave coaches to dangle on their own or just wing it. If they are to influence employee behavior, they need to be well versed in company offerings and possess deep knowledge of the sales process and how it links to business outcomes. Give your coaches the tools and skills necessary to coach their people effectively. 
      5. Gamification of coaching
        Game elements help to engage employees, while inserting some healthy competition between them. Additionally, games give more visibility to results and, with that, more public accountability, which helps to promote adherence to the desired behaviors.
      6. Support through multiple modalities
        There are many tools and delivery methods coaches can suggest their employees explore to further their learning. Let employees know about all the available resources and tools, so they can take responsibility for developing their skills in targeted areas.
      7. Generational appropriateness
      8. Acknowledge the different ages, experience levels, and learning needs of employees. Then bridge any gaps between sales training and field experience through appropriate means, which may make use of virtual or face to face coaching sessions.

    What is being managed in a coaching dynamic goes beyond outcomes and results to get to the very behaviors and strategies that ultimately drive results. By implementing these best practices in sales coaching across the workforce, companies gain an effective structure for improving performance of individuals, teams, and the overall organization.

    Download the full report, “Best Practices in Sales Coaching Across the Workforce,” from the Richardson website. 

    Meghan Steiner is the Director of Marketing at Richardson Sales Training