Three Pillars Of Sales Coaching Success

Why does sales coaching continue to be an important sales enablement trend? Perhaps it's because salespeople learn new skills through mutually beneficial relationships with individual coaches. If you think about it, sales coaches can come from many parts of the organization and include sales managers, sales trainers, sales engineers, and in some cases from product marketers. When sales enablement professionals effectively support tailored sales coaching conversations between coaches and reps, salespeople learn faster, converse more confidently with their customers, and achieve specific sales objectives, like gaining access to the right buyers or building a winning business case.

If you think about it, the role of a sales coach is challenging. Sales coaches must process many different content inputs from across the organization, package those inputs (in their head), and then deliver content through an effective sales coaching conversation to one salesperson at a time. And, sales coaches must make sure they treat everyone uniquely, so they maximize their sales coaching impact. Sales Enablement professionals need a strategy, a methodology, and tools to effectively enable their sales coaches to implement and sustain high-quality coaching conversations that help salespeople achieve sales objectives. 

In order to make sales coaching successful, Sales Enablement pros need a clear definition. The definition should drive specific sales coaching behavior while at the same time clearly defining the business reason why sales coaching is important. The definition should serve as a clear design point for sales coaching success.

For example, Forrester defines sales coaching as:
The iterative and collaborative process of accelerating salesperson performance by creating lasting behavior change through one-on-one conversations that are relevant, developmental, and motivational.

Over the past 6 months, I have been diving more deeply into what it takes to support this definition of sales coaching. At an individual level becoming a great coach means linking individual performance improvement to strategic business objectives. At an organizational level, a great sales coaching strategy includes three distinct phases. These three phases are required to ensure consistently tailored sales coaching conversations.
Pillar 1: Prioritize
In this phase, coaches take stock of the reps they are responsible for coaching. To do that, you need to understand the behaviors they need to coach as well as the business objectives they need to support. Key actions include assessing performance, defining behaviors, setting goals, determining sales coaching priorities, and identifying the most appropriate sales coaching style to use with each seller.
Pillar 2: Facilitate
In this phase, coaches facilitate a tailored coaching conversation. For this, you need to determine who to coach, how to observe the seller in real time, and how to facilitate a tailored sales coaching conversation. Additionally, coaches need to document the coaching interaction and, finally, track each individual rep’s progress toward specific goals.
Pillar 3: Continuously improve
In this phase, coaches need to adjust and refine their approach. To be successful, you must identify ways to reach individual sellers in a more clear relevant way. Great coaches revisit long-term development needs of their reps in relation to the business objectives and sales strategy set forth by the sales leadership team.
Despite the need for these three pillars, it's hard to find all three in play in most organizations. While some sales enablement and sales training leaders focus on pillar 2 and help their sales managers engage in coaching conversations, they don't focus on providing the right content and tools to help coaches prioritize.
So perhaps it's time to take stock, and make a call -- do you have all three pillars in place? If not, do your sales coaching conversations flourish?
Share you feedback with me.  I am still gathering research inputs into this important topic.


Better data as a concrete foundation for your 3 pillars

Brian: great points. To wit I'd add: there's a need for better data on what's being achieved in B2B sales from what's being practiced. Until there's a tighter data connection between practices and performance, we're left to coach based on experience rather than observation. The best coaches have better data with which to see more clearly the bigger picture of how the end game will be affected by how we're performing 'in the moment'. They apply their experience to that picture in ways that make their ideas relevant 'in the moment.' Those on the front lines get to see, 'in the moment', the wisdom in changing their practices. Better data (closing the loop between what's done + what's achieved) enables better coaching needed to enable better performance. It's the concrete needed for your 3 pillars. Trust this adds some value. - John


HI John,

Data can definitely inform how coaches prioritize, facilitate, and improve. Of course, not all data is the same and I recommend that sales coaches gather specific metrics on their player's ability to drive sales objectives like gaining access to the right buyers, having successful meetings that move the process forward, creating a shared vision of success, and building a business case.

What data points/metrics have you found to help with the "in the moment" performance of reps?

Thanks for contributing!


Hi Brian:

Ones I've seen work well are ones which, taken together, clarify
how sales results are affected by sales activities. Two examples:
a/ how many conversations are Reps having with prospects?
b/ what share of those conversations are so valuable that
buyers take action as an outcome of the conversation?

In general, we're finding that as [b] rises, [a] rises. As Reps see
this occur, they gain the courage + curiosity to try new tactics
and coaches gain new opportunities to coach with impact.

Make sense? You seeing other examples of this type of data
being used to seed sales coaching?

Easy to read

“The iterative and collaborative process of accelerating salesperson performance by creating lasting behavior change through one-on-one conversations that are relevant, developmental, and motivational.”

Would that be the same as:
"This is a repetitive process whereby working together to increase the speed of a salesperson’s results through behavior modification, which sticks, by using face to face dialogues that are pertinent, cause change and are a positive incentive?"

Both my amended definition and yours have a readability score of zero, they are unreadable.

Why do we write in such a fashion?
Let us aim our writing at 10th graders, let us be clear;
write what we mean and mean what we write,
in such a way that the reader can follow us.

"Sales Coaching is a series of conversations.
These identify behaviours and attitudes which, if changed, will improve the salespersons results."

If we copy David Leadbetters’ Golf Coaching process then the sequence is:
Demonstrate, Prompt then Release.
We continue being Sales coached forever as Sales like Golf or Tennis is never A Game of Perfect.

Brian MacIver BMAC Consultants