“Everyone needs a coach.”

Bill Gates selected these words to open his TED Talk with impact. Interestingly, the point he emphasizes — and the single common attribute of all high-performing individuals, from billionaire chief executive officers to professional athletes — is the fact that they all have a coach. Sales managers and reps need great coaches, too.

Sales coaching, the process of developing people to reach their next level of excellence and performance by helping them master skills and overcome obstacles, is growing in importance. In an increasingly technology-enabled sales environment, companies have rediscovered the value of communication skills. Millennials, in particular, rely on digital and social media communication rather than talking on the phone. The lack of phone skills is especially painful in business-to-business (B2B) sales, since voice conversations are vital to closing large deals.

Communication skills, as well as other necessary sales skills, are best learned through training. For organizations to realize a return on those training investments, however, they need to support them with coaching. A sales coach’s role is to optimize performance by observing; providing constructive, truthful and specific feedback; and role-modeling best practice skills.

How can sales leaders build high-performing sales teams and achieve their revenue goals? By focusing on supporting salespeople with consistent, quality coaching to reinforce what they have learned through training.

Last year, ValueSelling Associates, Inc. and Training Industry, Inc. surveyed 330 U.S. learning professionals responsible for sales training within a wide range of industries to explore the role of sales coaching within B2B companies. According to the research findings, 67% of companies that have had a formal coaching program in place for three years or more experienced high revenue growth. Here are some of the highlights from the research and three tips to keep you on track in developing successful sales coaching programs.

1. Making a Long-term Investment in Coaching Pays off

For a coaching program to work, businesses need to have patience and invest in a formal coaching program for a minimum of two to three years. If you’re looking for quick wins and stop coaching after a year, you’ll be disappointed in the results.

Building proficiency in any new skill set takes time, and the adoption and effectiveness of sales coaching is no different. More than two-thirds of companies that participated in our study had a formal coaching program in place for three years or more and experienced high revenue growth. The most successful sales leaders reported using coaching more now than in the past.

When you experience success from your sales coaching program, maximize the momentum and keep it going.

2. Support a Wide Range of Skills

Just as championship football teams are coached on how to pass the ball, block their opponent and rush downfield, winning sales teams receive coaching on a variety of skills. After all, each sales engagement is different, and salespeople require an assortment of skills to converse with buyers and close deals. The best sales coaching programs support the development of these five skills:

3. Measure the Impact of Your Sales Coaching Program

Measuring the effect of your sales coaching program is of critical importance. Companies with the best programs gauge the impact of coaching in multiple ways (rather than by looking at a single outcome) to develop a complete picture of their performance. To assess the health of your sales coaching program, use metrics as a reflection of what’s working and an indicator of where to go next.

High-growth companies measure the impact of coaching in many ways and see significant outcomes from their investment in sales coaching, including:

  • Individual productivity
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Individual quota achievement
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Bottom-line growth

The Value of Investing in a Coaching Program

Bill Gates was right — everyone does need a coach. Sales leaders who are passionate about growing their team members’ skills, improving their performance and achieving bottom-line growth have the patience to invest in an ongoing, formal coaching program for at least two to three years.

Coaching is a critical component of continuous improvement. Our research shows that while some companies have defined periods of coaching engagement, 29% of companies make coaching an ongoing priority. Winning sales leaders understand the importance of doing so, and they invest in training their managers on how to coach while investing in their reps. They ensure that their salespeople learn a wide range of skills to be able to navigate each unique sales engagement they encounter. Most importantly, they learn to measure success and determine how value-based selling is making an impact.

Your company can benefit from increased revenue too by investing in a valuable sales coaching program.