If your goal this year is to increase revenue and improve the bottom line, one of the best investments you can make is not hiring more sales reps or spending more on LinkedIn ads—it’s coaching your sales reps. Sales leaders call coaching an “investment” because coaching pays off its dividends.
The cause-and-effect relationship between coaching and achieving better sales outcomes might not be obvious at a glance, but the correlation starts to emerge if you scratch beyond the surface.
Businesses with a formal coaching process attain 91.2% of the overall quota attainment as opposed to companies without a coaching program.
High-revenue growth companies understand the value of investing in developing their salesforce, which is why they get superior results than lower revenue-generating businesses.
Here’s how Gartner defines effective sales coaching:
But the problem is, very few companies have a proper coaching program in place to provide their teams with valuable development opportunities.
The ones that do offer good coaching programs also have challenges—they either don’t measure the success of their coaching effectively or fail to map its impact on the revenue.
The challenges—and importance—of coaching your sales team is more critical than ever, especially in today’s world of remote selling environment. The remote (and hybrid) work setup doesn’t allow a lot of room for leaders and their direct reports to get enough facetime in person. Instead, they are forced to rely heavily on guesswork, an asynchronous style of communication, and a disparate number of tools that add to the chaos.
In this post, we share insights that we gathered from sales experts on how you as a sales manager can leverage coaching to drive revenue, what loopholes to look out for, and how to apply coaching more effectively in your business.
The existential crisis of coaching
In the modern B2B environment, three areas pose major challenges in making sales coaching more effective for businesses:
- The gap between managers and their reps
- The managers’ perceived lack of time
- The managers’ lack of talent
The gap between managers and their reps
A few years ago, Scott Edinger—Founder of Edinger Consulting, a Tampa-based business consulting firm—did some research on the topic of coaching with the sales org of a Fortune 500 telecommunications company.
During the research, sales leaders responsible for coaching reported that they invested enough time coaching their direct reports. When it came to filling out a survey, they ranked themselves pretty well on their efforts—just below 80% to be precise.
When Edinger’s team asked the direct reports to fill out the survey, they claimed that they got little to no coaching from their leaders and ranked their company’s coaching efforts at around 38%—less than half of what the leaders had self-reported.
“That isn’t really coaching. Coaching requires a focused effort on developing talent and building sales capability,” said Edinger in the context of the research findings.
This is an example of the major disconnect that lies between sales leaders and reps in the B2B landscape—although both groups clearly understand the benefits of coaching. It highlights that the way leaders perceive coaching (1:1s, team-level feedback, pipeline reviews) is way different than what reps expect (mentorship, personalized coaching and feedback, career guidance).
U.S. companies spend over $70 billion annually on training and an average of $1,459 per salesperson—almost 20% more than they spend on workers in all other functions. And yet, 2 out of 3 reps still miss their quota.
Companies have always had the habit of checking the efficacy of their coaching programs directly with the managers, who tend to overestimate their success. For sales coaching to be successful at driving desired revenue results, this has to change. Your business needs to set better coaching benchmarks and offer your reps a seat at the table for feedback.
Managers’ perceived lack of time
When we say “perceived,” we are not undermining sales managers’ busy schedules. Sales managers in B2B orgs are some of the busiest people on the planet. We know because we interact with dozens of sales managers who choose Avoma to make the most of their packed calendars.
Most sales managers we know think that coaching is an arduous and time-consuming process that they can’t manage efficiently as part of their routine. And they aren’t entirely wrong—coaching definitely requires a lot of heavy lifting.
The majority of sales managers spend most of their time looking at dashboards, going through the CRM data, monitoring their team’s activity metrics, and attending back-to-back meetings. These are never-ending admin tasks that prevent them from doing meaningful work which can have a direct impact on the revenue, such as coaching.
The reality is, you can leverage technology solutions to help you with that—and we will get around to talking about that in some time.
Managers’ lack of talent
This is a bitter pill for many managers and their employers to swallow: a lot of people become sales managers because they were really good salespeople. They are promoted to managerial positions by virtue of being high-performers—coaching falls into their lap as part of their new job description. And most of them fail at it spectacularly.
This phenomenon is so common—and not just in sales—that it has a managerial theory around it: The Peter Principle. The theory states that people often get promoted according to the competencies that apply to their current jobs rather than for the skills that they need for the roles they are promoted for.
Refer to this finding, for instance, which found that outstanding sales performance increased the probability of a salesperson’s promotion. However, the promotion was also associated with sales declines among the new manager's subordinates.
Just like in sports, the best performers don’t necessarily have the right skills or talent to be the best coaches. They are two very separate skills. Tyler Gaffney, CEO, ZenHub, articulates it best:
Most sales managers have never done this job before. They were high-performing reps who got promoted. They are not trained to develop the consistency and clarity required for pipeline reviews (and coaching). They are also spread too thin managing more reps than they should. This leaves them with little time to coach reps or to prepare themselves for deal reviews.
Coaching is a critical revenue driver
The lack of proper sales coaching causes problems for salespeople not hitting their quotas, leaving their companies for greener pastures, and not contributing to the bottom line as much as they should. By the same token, a well-designed and well-executed coaching program improves your organization’s chances of crushing sales quotes and improving profitability.
Sales coaching involves influencing your team members' thinking, which, in turn, improves their sales behaviors and results in greater sales. It's a cause-effect dynamic.
- Peri Shawn, author and founder of Coaching and Sales Institute
Here’s an example from a study that the Sales Readiness Group did a few years back. The research found that sales managers in high-impact sales organizations spend more time coaching. As a result, over 75% of sales reps in those organizations constantly achieve their quotas.
There are four ways how an effective sales coaching program can help you improve your sales and profitability:
1) Helps reps build the right habits
Coaching helps improve rep productivity and performance by letting reps focus on the right set of actions. The best sales coaches help their reps prioritize the right habits—and deals—that can get them closer to the expected outcomes.
For instance, the number of prospects that a rep is interacting with at a given time is usually a good indicator of the kind of revenue you are looking at in the next month, quarter, or year. Similarly, the number of deals sitting in their pipeline or the potential ticket size of those deals gives you a good idea about your revenue forecasts.
To get to those outcomes, your reps must first develop predictable habits—non-negotiable processes that they repeat regularly as part of their routine. When every rep in your sales has defined habits and routines around how they will run their day-to-day business, they can contribute to building a predictable revenue.
2) Improves performance
Industry-wide studies and research have shown it time and again—well-coached sales teams consistently outperform the teams that receive poor or no coaching. Research data by the Sales Executive Council found that the best-quality coaching can improve performance by up to 19%. It also helps sales reps increase their win rate by up to 15%—according to an Oracle report.
That’s mostly because good coaching shows reps the value of spending more time on strategic sales activities and helps them raise their game. There’s no mistaking this: sales reps that have the access to high-quality coaching are your company’s strongest business moats.
Good coaching improves your reps’ performance by offering them focused, specific, and individualized guidance that they can apply directly to their sales processes.
3) Increases your team’s forecasting accuracy
Coaching and sales forecasting are interdependent. You can scientifically break down your revenue goal into a pipeline goal based on your understanding of conversion rates across the stages of your sales cycle. Coaching your reps across all stages of the sales cycle is what helps you improve those micro-conversions along the way.
One of the goals of coaching is to make reps self-reliable in diagnosing the health of the deals in the pipeline and take the right decisions on their own. Coaching allows your reps to learn to identify the problems across their pipeline, fix them, and improve the sales outcomes.
Fortunately, reps and coaches today have access to the tech that allows them to accelerate the process. For example, Avoma offers revenue insights where reps can get a quick and real-time overview of the pipeline and the deals at each stage so that they can run better pipeline reviews and make accurate forecasts.
Here’s Nathan Hymas (Nate), our VP of Sales at Avoma, sharing his insights on how to run effective pipeline reviews by leveraging insights across the deal stages.
4) Improves employee retention
Employee training and development programs are known to improve retention—and sales is not an exception. Offering your sales team access to regular coaching and job-related development opportunities highly impacts their career decisions—and inspires them to stick with you for the long haul.
This is key to driving revenue, given that businesses on average lose 25% of new employees within one year of hiring them. From a financial standpoint, the price of replacing an employee typically costs you 6–9 months of their salary.
Hiring new sales recruits is great, but it keeps burning through your profits—not to mention the long ramp-up time that sales reps need to start delivering outcomes that costs your company in more ways than time or money.
When leaders make an effort to continually refine their coaching, they will not only see astounding growth, they will be able to effectively engage and retain top talent.
- Margaret Rogers, Harvard Business Review
Should you outsource your sales coaching?
It’s tempting to answer this question in the affirmative when time is the most valuable commodity and you don’t seem to have enough of it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with partnering with external consultants who offer coaching as a service. After all, they are experts who have years of deep experience in developing people and most of them will likely bring real outcomes.
But if you were to be pragmatic about it, it’s better to groom your own managers into better coaches in the long run. There are two major benefits to keeping your coaching program in-house:
a) It has a lower overhead cost
b) It builds better relationships within the sales team
The first one is a no-brainer, especially because hiring sales coaches and consultants comes with a hefty price tag.
The second one is more important to understand because it involves relationships—the bedrock for better collaboration and decisions among humans. In the long time horizon, grooming your in-house managers into better coaches who can foster deep relationships with the sales reps can inspire more grit, productivity, and loyalty.
And that’s where sales technology comes in. Tech is also what helps fix the perceived lack of time in managers.
To avoid anecdotal examples, we will talk about our own technology because we see Avoma playing out on these two fronts with our customers every day. To be specific, Avoma helps sales orgs develop great coaches internally in three ways:
- By helping sales leaders find meaningful coaching opportunities
- By fostering peer-to-peer coaching and feedback
- By facilitating self-paced coaching
Finding meaningful coaching opportunities
Avoma records, transcribes and analyzes conversations that B2B sales teams have (with their prospects, customers, also internally with their teams), and offers insights to the entire organization, including the sales leadership.
For example, the insights include valuable information like the common questions that prospects bring up, their most frequent objections, pain points, competitors, or business needs.
By making these insights available to sales leaders—and everyone across the board—Avoma helps them identify patterns and gaps to improve their win rate at scale.
Avoma also helps you highlight the defining moments in those sales conversations so that the sales leaders can take off the heavy lifting out of their way to focus on coaching their teams.
For instance, Avoma tells you which conversations need more attention over the hundreds of sales calls and meetings that your team has recorded over the past two weeks.
It allows you to pinpoint what missed opportunities could have been captured, which conversations have the highest coaching opportunities, and where should the managers spend their limited coaching time.
And that’s just for the sales leadership to save valuable time. But Avoma also enables SDRs and AEs to be better at their craft.
Fostering peer-to-peer coaching and proactive feedback requests
At the rep level, Avoma offers features like Scorecards to facilitate peer-to-peer coaching. It’s a trend that we are seeing becoming more common in B2B SaaS where P2P coaching is more effective because it's more open, informal, and faster (and it takes a significant amount of time and responsibility away from the managers).
This, of course, helps reps to score the calls and meetings of their peers objectively and share valuable feedback with each other. What makes it objective when you use Avoma to score meetings is—you can clearly define what a specific score means (i.e., what does it mean if someone scored you 3/5 for a specific parameter).
While peer-to-peer coaching is very helpful, you also need to encourage and build a culture of proactive feedback requests. For instance, we at Avoma highly encourage reps to proactively request scores from specific people (ideally sales leaders) to get specific feedback and speed up the learning.
Facilitating self-paced coaching
There’s something uniquely scientific about listening to your own calls and reflecting on them. Salespeople are smart professionals—they can figure out the highs and lows in a conversation 90% of the time if they can listen to their calls on playback.
This is helpful especially if they have had a few meaningful 1:1 coaching sessions with their managers and they are trained on what to look for. They can identify the low points of the conversations or areas for improvement on their own without having to depend on external sources to validate your calls for you.
One of the biggest advantages of coaching is for reps to become better professionals and look for answers on their own. If they always look up to the managers to give them all the answers, they will never grow. There’s nothing more empowering than self-reflection and the ability to understand yourself.
By norm, salespeople are extremely competitive. When they have a technology like Avoma that exposes them to what the top performers in their team are doing differently, access the playbooks of top sellers, and figure out the reasons why certain reps are always on the top of the leaderboard—they can learn the ins and outs of high-impact sales on their own.
5 ways to effectively coach your sales reps
Coaching works, especially if you can build the right coaching culture in your organization. Without the right culture, no amount of technology can help you map coaching to the desired revenue goals. The other important thing is to build a regular coaching cadence because repetition leads to predictability—both in terms of rep performance and pipeline management.
If you want to leverage coaching as a competitive advantage to increase revenue, here are five tips for you to apply in your coaching.
1. Contextualize your coaching
Coaching is different from training your sales rep to be more proficient in using a new software. Training people to use a sales software is a technical skill—everyone has to follow the same set of instructions to get to a certain point.
Coaching is different. It’s exactly like coaching players in a team sport. There are general strategies that the whole team should know, but the team can win only when the quarterback plays to his strength and gets feedback specific to his abilities—which differs vastly from the coaching advice that the running back gets.
Here’s what Nate, says about applying the same coaching standards to all reps:
Offering the same coaching advice to all reps is like watering all your house plants the same way and expecting all of them to grow roses. Peace lilies suck a lot of water while Saguaros can survive on very little water—and they grow different flowers at different paces.
If an SDR ranks at 2 (on a scale of 10) at prospecting or cold calling, you can’t coach them to go from 2 to 9 overnight. That would be unrealistic and unreasonable. Instead of giving that rep full-fledged coaching and guidance, you should prepare their emotional readiness and get them to make incremental changes to improve their game. Those reps need an evolution—not a full-blown revolution.
On the other hand, if you have middle-of-the-road SDRs who are 7 out of 10, you can personalize your coaching to help them reach their true potential sooner. The point is—good coaching is personalized and contextual. It takes every small nuance such as a rep’s personality, individual strengths, weaknesses, past performances, and career goals.
2. Speed up the feedback loop
Your sales reps’ productivity and performance are directly proportional to the amount—and speed—of help and support they get from other functional teams, including you. As a coach, you should teach your reps the importance of building a robust sales process. That means you have to create a direct and speedy feedback loop between you and your reps. It also means opening the forum between sales, product, customer success, and marketing for an easy and fast exchange of feedback.
From the managers’ perspective, you can’t scale the impact of your coaching program if you start reviewing each of your reps’ emails or cold calls individually. It’s the kind of manual process that slows down the speed of the deals and sucks you into a vortex of mundane activities.
To improve the speed of feedback, lean into the power of technology. Avoma offers a ton of coaching insights for sales leaders to improve the speed of feedback. These insights will help you:
- Get visibility across all conversations to make data-driven coaching recommendations
- Identify the best talk patterns that reps can adopt to increase quota attainment
- Proactively learn issues in deals and guide the reps to improve the win rate
- Coach and onboard new reps continuously in a lot lesser time
Similarly, Avoma’s Scorecards helps you close the feedback gap by assigning a score to calls and meetings so reps can improve their performance with every interaction.
Leaders set the pace. People sometimes ask to get back to me in a week, and I ask, why not tomorrow or the next day? Start compressing cycle times. We can move so much quicker if we just change the mindset. Once the cadence changes, everybody moves quicker, and new energy and urgency will be everywhere. Good performers crave a culture of energy.
- Frank Slootman, Chairman and CEO at Snowflake
3. Teach them to deal with adversity
One of the traits that separates high-performing sales reps from their average Joes is their ability to deal with adverse situations like customer objections, difficult selling conditions, or economic downturns.
In 2021, ValueSelling Associates surveyed more than 150 B2B sales leaders to identify the behavior patterns that separated the best reps from the rest. The survey results found that traits like active listening, practicing empathy, building a high-caliber pipeline, staying open to coaching and development, and dealing with adversity set top-performing reps from their counterparts.
The present-day market offers a perfect example. Most B2B sales teams today are worried sick about the recession that’s affecting most industries. In times like these, it’s common for sales reps to wonder if they should be selling right now—or for many managers to ask themselves how they should coach their teams.
The thing about sales is that selling is unconditional—come rain or shine. It’s not an optional thing that you stop doing because of unfavorable market conditions.
Instead, what you should do—in terms of coaching—is to encourage your reps to change the type of questions they should be asking, the tone that they should adopt when interacting with prospects, or the strategies they should apply in sales. The same principle applies when there’s a lot of money floating around in your target account’s market.
At a human level, your coaching shouldn’t be just limited to how many deals are flowing through the pipeline. Understand that your reps are distracted and/or burdened with a lot of obligations during difficult times (e.g. COVID-19 pandemic).
Check in on your reps regularly to see how they are juggling between their parenting and work, how they are managing the challenges of selling in the remote work environment, or how they are handling their personal lives amid the external chaos.
One thing we see in our survey results all the time is that a great coach is really, really strong at building connections with the individuals on their team and the collective team at large.
- Will Kloefkorn, VP of Sales, Ecsell Institute
4. Encourage coachability
Here’s a sad reality about sales coaching: you can go the full distance, join your reps in their calls and meetings, or give them the best advice you have, and yet—all your coaching efforts are rendered useless if the reps aren’t coachable.
Sure, everybody is coachable—but coachability comes in varying degrees. The best salespeople often are higher on the coachable quadrant, which means they are serious about their professional development, open to honest and regular feedback, and have a high degree of work ethic.
The best part about a coachable sales rep is that they have a burning desire to improve their performance—with little or no push from their managers. If a rep is not responding well to your coaching feedback, it’s a sign that they are either not a good fit for your team or need more specific guidance.
You can make everyone coachable—it’s a natural talent to an extent. However, it’s important to try and foster coachability in your reps so that they can improve their sales acumen and deliver expected results.
Most sales reps are programmed to talk a lot to make the sales. Our research data shows that sales conversations tend to have positive outcomes when the sales reps listen to their prospects 60% of the time and speak for 40%. When you make your reps aware of the importance of active listening, you can see an immediate change in their sales behavior.
Using Scorecards is another way to foster coachability among your sales reps. Avoma’s Scorecards feature allows reps to identify the areas of improvement in their sales calls by asking their managers and peers to rate their sales conversations. It makes them proactively seek feedback and improve their performance.
The Scorecards include context embedded in the questions that help the managers and other evaluators assign an objective score against the set criteria.
We highly recommend you to create scorecards for the various types of calls and meetings so that you can set the right expectations with the reps on what makes for a great meeting.
For example, if you want your reps to set up the agenda well for the prospect at the start of the call, you can set up a scorecard with clear pointers on what a well set up agenda looks like, and the parameters you’re going to score them on.
The sales reps can self-assess the improvement areas based on the specific feedback they gather through this process and improve their performance on the next call. This way, they don’t have to wait for their managers to coach them 1:1—they can review the scores and coach themselves on what they need to improve.
5. Incentivize coaching success/outcomes
From what we have seen in our interactions with most sales orgs, nobody measures coaching in a way that maps it to revenue performance. Most sales teams measure employee engagement, surveys, sales productivity, etc. but these are metrics that look great on paper. Most teams don’t know how to measure the success of their coaching program and translate its impact into sales.
If you don’t measure coaching or its impact on your sales rep, it’s never going to be effective. Like we discussed earlier, coaching doesn’t come naturally to every manager. Some sales managers are born with an innate talent to be good coaches, others have to learn it over the years.
Hypothetically speaking, your A reps are almost always closing a disproportionate amount of revenue versus your B and C reps. But you won’t know that unless you do some digging around, because—culturally speaking—nobody is measuring where the managers are spending their time and how it’s impacting revenue.
Coaching is just like any other sales activity that yields more results if you measure it. To make the most out of your coaching program, you have to be trained on how to coach better, how to give feedback in the right way, and where to spend more time within your sales team.
Businesses should enable their sales managers to be better coaches and give them the right tools to coach their reps in a way that drives revenue. It’s the only way for sales managers to become more confident in coaching and approach it more seriously.
There are several ways you can measure the impact of sales coaching effectiveness:
- Increased rep productivity and competency
- Number of reps applying the coaching feedback
- Better team performance and pipeline coverage
- Improved lead conversion rate and sales velocity
- Shorter sales cycle and higher quota attainment
- Sustained improvement in time spent on selling activities
If you see an uptick in these metrics, it’s proof that sales coaching is working wonders for you. If you don’t see the needle moving, you need to change tack and bring in better coaches who can leverage it to meet your revenue goals.