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Teaching Sales Managers to Become Coaches

8 min read
Updated Aug. 25, 2021
Published May. 17, 2018

Coaching is one of the most important contributions to a successful sales organization. Time spent improving skills, implementing best practices, and focusing on the overall development of a sales team pays off tremendously in the long run. However, coaching practices are only as successful as the coaches themselves. Being a top sales rep doesn’t necessarily ensure a person is equipped to be good a sales coach.

Equally important to a successful coaching program is the continuous development of the manager who will put the coaching into practice. Over the last five years, companies have invested more time in improving managers’ coaching skills than the previous 50 years total (HBR). Managers need to have the knowledge and skills in place to ensure that their coaching techniques are effective and ongoing.

Not everyone is born with the ability to run a successful team, but those skills can be developed and nurtured in a variety of ways. As with sports, coaches must develop their own knowledge and skill set to create a winning team.

Start at the Baseline

No, we’re not talking about basketball.

Managers weren’t born with an innate knowledge of what it takes to lead a successful sales team. That’s why it’s important that a sales manager has a baseline understanding of how to coach a winning team.

An organization needs to implement management training practices to ensure sales managers possess the coaching skills required to grow the business. Salespeople have diverse experiences and will require training in different areas. As such, a coach will need to have the following in their personal playbook:

  1. Knowledge to coach in a variety of areas
  2. Ability to identify coaching opportunities
  3. A framework for regular, ongoing training

A certification program is one way to ensure an alignment with coaching knowledge. Of course, a manager will have personal knowledge and experience to pull from, but having a plan in place to fill the gaps is crucial in the creation of a successful coach and manager.

Developing such a program ensures that everyone is equipped with the necessary skills to move beyond average to excellent coaching.

If a sales rep is having difficulty in multiple areas, a coach will need to be able to understand and prioritize which areas will have the most significant impact on performance. It’s not about reporting metrics and calling out bad behavior. The focus should be on developing skills and making improvements that bring the best out of your sales team.

Prioritize Coaching Time

A common reason for coaching to take a backseat is that the manager doesn’t have the time. Between managing a sales team, reviewing metrics and pipeline, and their daily tasks, finding time to coach can become a challenge in itself.

Organizations can help make coaching a priority by allocating time throughout the week for managers to focus on it. Blocking time to concentrate on sales team development and reviewing areas of improvement guarantees that it will actually happen.

Including coaching and team development as a core performance metric for the manager can help solve this problem. Making coaching a priority and a performance indicator for the manager creates a vested interest in setting time aside to focus on it. Incentivizing coaching with specific performance metrics will serve to reward a sales coach for their hard work.

An organization should recognize the improvements a team has made. As the manager works harder to build a high-performing team, the organization can expect to see an increase in their overall revenue.

It’s *sort-of* trickle-down economics!

Provide a Mentor

A mentor can help collaborate on difficult challenges that a sales manager encounters. Sharing each other’s best practices and victories allows a sales organization to grow and learn together, which creates alignment across the organization. A mentor for sales managers can work in a few different ways.

Attending a workshop where managers can collaborate and share ideas in a group setting is one way to encourage sharing. These can be onsite or a group outing. For example, our management team recently attended a ropes course together. Not only did it bring them closer together, but they had fun at the same time!

Similar to the aforementioned time blocking to coach sales teams, managers should allocate one-on-one time to work with their own mentors. It may save time in the long run. Bouncing ideas often leads to discovering solutions; they could find the answer they’ve been seeking in one of their reps’ development.

Peer learning is a value-add for any organization. When studying best practices, who better to learn from than those in a similar role? We expect sales reps to utilize peer learning; why shouldn’t we take the same approach with sales managers?

Regardless of the structure you choose, the impact of a mentor program across a sales organization can serve to demonstrate the power of collaboration and sharing best practices. It fosters a team mentality that is essential to the success of any organization.

Utilize Technology for Deeper Insights

We all know that a critical element of a manager’s role is hitting the numbers. From pipeline activity to deals closed, an important part of a manager’s responsibility is to report on the performance metrics for their team.  What if the solutions go deeper than the numbers?

It’s essential for a manager to reframe how they look at metrics when looking for coaching opportunities. Having technology in place to report on metrics is not the same as understanding what the numbers are telling you. Coaching means improving behaviors and skills, which will then have a more significant impact on quota achievement.

Brad Ansley, a Sales Development Manager at Salesloft, provided insight into the metrics we measure and their correlation with efficiency (check it out here). To summarize, sales efficiency boils down to the number of touches it takes to convert to an opportunity. For some reps, it takes 100 touches to create ten opportunities, for others it requires 120 touches. Understanding the inputs behind the numbers can lead to coaching opportunities and ways to improve sales efficiency.

A manager will need the right technology and tools in place to pull information from multiple sources in order to understand the big picture. CRM data, sales enablement intel, and pipeline funnels all come together to provide insights into improvement areas.

We’re coaching behaviors, not quotas. The ability to identify best practices and improvement opportunities through technology is critical to understanding specific areas in which sales reps need improvement.

It’s All About Relationship Building

A successful sales coach is not a robot. Coaching goes beyond quota attainment and identifying bad behavior. It’s about developing relationships and trust within teams and inspiring success.

A manager possesses knowledge in a wide range of areas. Understanding the personalities of their sales team should be one of them. Each salesperson has their own personal and professional goals or preference for how they like to receive feedback. A successful manager is one that gets to know their team inside and out and works towards helping them achieve their goals.

A manager must understand their self to be better able to lead their team. Coaching based on personality type – both the team’s and the manager’s – helps to build a stronger relationship with the team. There’s a reason companies are continuously investing in personality testing. A manager that understands their individual strengths and weakness will be better suited to adapt how they communicate and provide feedback to their team.

Communication is the backbone of relationship building. Invest the time to train a manager on how different personalities receive feedback and effective coaching techniques will help build the bond necessary to be capable coaches. If a manager learns how to identify what motivates each team member, they will be better equipped to lead their team to success.

The development of sales coaches is an ongoing process. A study conducted by Neil Rackham found that if there was no coaching or reinforcement activity following training, there was a drop-off of 87% of the knowledge acquired. Bringing the best out in a coach requires investments in leadership skills development. This includes proper training, time allocation, and accountability.

Utilizing technology for sales coaching is only effective when it can be applied to real-world situations. Fortunately, we’ve put together some examples of how sales managers can leverage technology to create winning sales teams in our eBook, Effective Sales Coaching.How to leverage technology for effective sales coaching