Susan is one of the best salespeople in her company. Late last year, she discovered her fourth quarter numbers were short and she needed to nail down one more sale in order to meet her quota and, more importantly, help the company achieve its financial goals. Her last opportunity was far from a slam dunk: The chief decision maker had a relationship with a competitor and had been tepid to Susan. Fortunately, before she left for her presentation, she reached out to a trusted executive, who helped her with the final presentation and delivery. The coaching helped – Susan closed the deal and made her numbers.

Everybody needs a coach – from the newly hired sales associates all the way up to the top sellers. For companies to succeed, their sales teams need to be at the top of their game, and that means getting the training and guidance they need. In many organizations, sales coaching is an important tactic among sales effectiveness leaders to help improve performance and achieve business goals. In fact, most management among organizations rate sales coaching as one of the highest-impact activities related to sales effectiveness investment. Not only is sales coaching a helpful tool in terms of talent development, but it also has a major impact on business performance.

Despite high praise for sales coaching from managers, the most significant obstacles to coaching are manager-related. The challenges include managers who:

  • Don’t prioritize coaching or make time to coach.
  • Lack the skills needed to be an effective sales coach.
  • Are not accountable for coaching their teams.

While sales professionals at all levels can benefit from coaching, most coaching efforts are used to help poor performers or those asking for help. Coaching sessions are focused on informal feedback rather than actionable guidance. They address specific opportunities rather than strengthening sales skills across the board. Many of these programs are fraught with lack of measurement, accountability and objectives, and are therefore unsuccessful.

Despite all the challenges that sales coaching can introduce, when it is consistently applied, it is proven to improve sales performance, salesperson engagement and more. So, how do organizations ensure their sales coaching programs are most beneficial to the sales team and the organization as a whole? Below are a few tips to consider when constructing an effective sales coaching effort:

Set expectations. To be effective, sales coaching programs need to provide the sales team and coaches with a clear definition of what sales coaching is and what the organization’s expectations are for all those involved in the program. That can include anything from a positive impact on business performance to the further development of the softer people skills that sales professionals need. In addition, it is vital to consider the program’s relevance to other performance management activities.

Treat coaching like other sales change initiatives. Sales organizations implement major change initiatives, and they do so by securing stakeholder buy-in and endorsement from the leadership team. Sales change initiatives also include established measures of success, provide appropriate training for all involved, and track performance. Unfortunately, the same cannot typically be said for sales coaching efforts. These initiatives lack the necessary programmatic elements that many less impactful other initiatives utilize.

Focus coaching efforts on specific behaviors, competencies and performance objectives. Informal coaching can be useful, but only if it is combined with coaching focused on specific performance outcomes. Organizations should prioritize these outcomes, based on competencies considered essential to each sales role. These should include activities most closely connected in time with a favorable sales outcome. For example, that could be a skill in pitching a program in order to secure customer commitment. It should also focus on activities farther upstream, such as building the sales pipeline, knowing how to identify and nurture quality leads or crafting solutions that are in demand.

Invest in managers, not just salespeople. Though it is important to train salespeople, many firms forget that it is just as important to train managers. High-performing firms’ coaching programs include manager training, formal coaching objectives and appraisals of coaching effectiveness. When senior leaders provide coaching to managers, who will then in turn coach salespeople, it is one of the most important activities an organization can undertake to support effective sales coaching.

Sales coaching is a valuable resource that, when applied correctly, can play an integral role in achieving business impacting results. Organizations need to understand the goals for the program and the participants, as well as what success looks like in order to achieve optimal results.