If you’re a sales leader, you’re probably familiar with the phrase, “To always be closing, always be coaching.”

If you’re skeptical, consider that 65% of sales managers at high-performing organizations spend more than 20% of their time coaching, compared to 51% at average companies and 40% of low-performing ones.

Sales leaders need to empower their teams with practice, guidance, feedback and tools — everything they need to win deals. But, if you’re reading this article, you’re likely no stranger to the challenges of delivering strategic and effective sales coaching. We talked with 18 world-class sales leaders from companies including Zoom, Drift and SalesLoft to help simplify sales coaching and find out what works. Those conversations demonstrated that there are three distinct methods of sales coaching that lead to success. Let’s take a look at each one.

1. Performance Coaching

Performance coaching streamlines the knowledge, tools and support that reps need to improve at their jobs and close more deals. This style of coaching is about highlighting and celebrating what reps are doing well. This way, your best performers will stay motivated and seek more opportunities to grow.

Performance coaching also includes identifying areas for improvement and refining your reps’ sales strategies by reviewing their sales pipeline and conversion rates down the funnel. Analyzing the pipe in this way will help you zero in on areas where reps are struggling and may benefit from additional performance coaching.

While this style of coaching requires transparency and even, potentially, some uncomfortable conversations, it creates a feedback loop that encourages growth. “I want my learners and sellers to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, because we can only grow when we’re out of our comfort zones,” says Meganne Brezina, director of enterprise enablement at Lessonly. By approaching these sessions with empathy and kindness, you can help your reps overcome challenges and roadblocks.

2. Skills Coaching

If performance coaching is about helping reps improve their overall performance, skills coaching focuses on the interpersonal and tactical skills they need to do so. This style of coaching maximizes your reps’ talent and helps them develop new skills through intentional and purposeful practice.

While there are many skills that sales reps need for success, we heard again and again that reps need to learn to:

    • Be a trusted adviser.
    • Generate new opportunities.
    • Forecast effectively.
    • Deliver effective messaging.
    • Handle objections.
    • Negotiate beneficial terms and contracts.

When it comes to improving these skills, it’s important to give your reps a safe space to practice conversations and interactions. Whether you prefer in-person training, online learning or a mixture of the two, be sure to give reps time to hone skills and receive feedback on how they’re progressing over time.

3. One-on-one Coaching

One-on-one coaching is all about continuous growth and building the relationship. This part of coaching brings together performance and skills coaching to foster great relationships between coaches and reps that are built on consistency, trust and feedback.

Coaching seems to happen all the time: in passing, during informal conversations and in large group settings. But the sales leaders we talked to stressed the importance of leveraging one-on-one meetings to deliver the most focused and personalized coaching. So, what’s the secret to making these meetings production and effective?

First, be consistent. The frequency and length of your one-on-ones may fluctuate depending on the structure and the needs of your sales rep; what matters is that they’re consistent. Reps need to know they have someone who is continuously in their corner and available to help them when they need it. This consistency will build a relationship marked by trust and growth.

It’s also beneficial to start coaching sessions by watching, observing and listening. As a coach, one of the best ways to foster psychological safety on your team is to observe how your reps work and to listen to them before you deliver feedback. Ask open-ended questions, repeat what you hear and ask for clarification to make one-on-one sessions work.

Better Coaching, Better Sales

At the end of the day, great sales coaching is people-focused, not number-obsessed. It’s important to remember to ask questions, provide structure, give feedback and be human — no matter which style of sales coaching you’re delivering. There’s no such thing as coaching with too much compassion, authenticity or transparency, because these elements will help develop great reps and teammates.