If you’re like most sales managers, you have trouble keeping the latest sales buzzwords straight. All you know for sure is you need an effective way to get the most out of your sales team. Before you decide where to allocate your resources, make sure you understand the differences among development tools and programs, especially sales training and coaching.

Too many sales managers believe they only need to invest in training, where their team members will learn how to use the customer relationship management (CRM) system and how to deliver the elevator pitch. At this point, their sales reps may feel ready to tackle their goals — but they will probably forget much of what they learned if there is no reinforcement and application.

If you want your organization to achieve top performance, you need to go one step further: Invest in sales coaching.

How Coaching Differs From Training

In most sales training, information flows from the trainer to the trainees, delivering the same information to everyone in a one-to-many learning environment. Reps may not pay attention during these sessions if they don’t find the information relevant.

The coaching process is different, especially since the content is personalized to the needs of the rep. During a coaching session, information flows in both directions. The rep must explain where they envision themselves going in the next six months, where they want to improve and what they want to accomplish. The manager, who typically does the coaching, should understand the employee’s natural tendencies and, just as importantly, their motivation. Then, they work to accentuate the rep’s strengths, develop their weaker skills and remove obstacles in their path to success.

When managers coach their employees, they see improved results. According to research by Gartner, “Employees who report to managers who coach effectively are 40% more engaged, exhibit 38% more discretionary effort and are 20% more likely to stay at their organizations than those who report to ineffective coaches.” The coaching process can seem too time-consuming, but if you don’t have the time to coach your sales reps, where will you find the time to replace them?

Whom Should You Coach?

We’d all like to have enough time to coach every sales rep, and many sales managers spend too much time coaching their weakest employees. You might fall into that trap if you are worried that a bad hire will reflect poorly on you, but it’s usually a better idea to cut your losses and move on.

Spend the majority of your time coaching your middle performers . These reps, who usually make up about 60% of a sales team, can make a big difference to your bottom line, especially if you can improve the performance of a couple of these folks by a percentage point or two. Even better, some could surprise you by turning into top performers.

Your youngest employees can also benefit greatly from coaching. These team members have not yet mastered the sales process, and they typically need and expect development. With their eagerness to learn, they will apply what you teach them right away. You’ll score a huge return on your investment when you devote some of your coaching resources to your newbies, especially since they haven’t entered your organization with bad habits.

How to Coach Your Top Performers

Some managers believe it’s a waste of their time to coach top performers. If that’s your attitude, you can’t expect them to stick around for long. But with personalized coaching, you can increase their loyalty and engagement.

Rainmakers love the big dollars they earn, but money isn’t the only way to motivate them. Ask them where they see themselves going in the organization. Find out which new products they want to sell. Work with them to develop a professional development plan, and help them work toward playing a bigger role in the organization. When you become an ally and help them achieve their goals, your top performers will respond to the personalized attention you’re giving them.

One of the biggest mistakes in sales happens when a rainmaker is promoted into a sales management position. Proceed cautiously when you’re considering this kind of change; the best salespeople often make less-than-stellar managers. These folks have natural sales talent, and they’ve never had to think about why they are successful, because closing deals comes easily to them. When it’s time for a sales star to coach a rep, they’re often unable to explain the process.

On the other hand, reps who’ve had to work hard to perfect their sales strategies can become great managers; they’ve personally experienced the struggles their reps will encounter. Coach these reps to become sales managers, and they’ll become successful coaches themselves.

A Regular Coaching Cadence

The most effective coaching programs contain a regular cadence and material that’s personalized to a rep’s needs. You don’t need to meet with every rep every week. You don’t even need to meet with them for half an hour. But you do need to know which reps need more hands-on time with you.

Build short one-on-one sessions into your calendar. Your star employees may only need a coaching discussion with you every other week. Your younger employees may respond well to shorter twice-a-week sessions. Reinforce and sustain training by delivering personalized coaching with an effective cadence, based on your reps’ goals and needs. The effort will transform your sales organization.

The Coaching Philosophy

You may be familiar with the late motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn’s famous quote, “Philosophy drives attitude. Attitude drives actions. Actions drive results. Results drive lifestyles.” When you think about the most effective way to coach your team members, think about where they are with respect to that sequence.

Many sales reps focus on their lifestyles, thinking that if they can close the next deal, they’ll buy the car they really want. Most sales managers, on the other hand, worry about actions and results. They stop by the rep’s desk and ask how many sales calls they made that day or if they’ve “closed the McGillicuddy account yet.” This kind of pressure fails to connect with what motivates the reps.

To coach successfully, you must understand the mindset of each rep. When you understand, for example, that a rep is selling because they want to make a difference for their customers, you have the information you need. You know how to motivate them to do their best work.

Never Lose Sight of the Multiplier Effect

Training and coaching are vital to a sales team’s success. All members of the organization need to be aligned with a consistent message and sales process, and reinforcing that sales training with ongoing personalized coaching will yield greater performance results. Not only will your coaching improve the skill sets of each of your sales team members, but when you show that level of personal investment, it leads to greater loyalty and increased motivation.

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