The New ABCs for Sales Leaders: Always Be Coaching

“Always Be Closing” is selling 101. Every salesperson in the world has heard this A-B-C metaphor throughout their career. After all, it’s what sales reps do. But what if there is a new A-B-C for salespeople to live by?

We’re talking about Always Be Coaching.

Nothing will make a busy salesperson roll their eyes more than the mention of an all-day training workshop. But learning is essential to ensure that your sales team keeps improving and hitting their targets. This is where coaching comes in. According to a recent CSO Insights report, organizations that provide consistent coaching enjoy a 27.6% increase in sales win rates. However, with 47% of sales managers spending less than 30 minutes a week coaching their reps, how can you start to create a culture of coaching in your organization?

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4 Ways to Build a Culture of Coaching for Your Sales Leaders

1. Evolve Your Onboarding Program to Reduce Information Overload

It’s really difficult to find and retain talent amid ‘The Great Resignation.’ So, when you hire great salespeople on board, it’s crucial to hold onto them, inspire them, and coach them to reach their full potential.

There is no  blueprint for onboarding. It starts on day one, but when should it end? After 60 days? 90 days? What if onboarding never stopped? This shift from onboarding to “ever-boarding” means your salespeople are constantly onboarding for new growth opportunities in your organization, helping you demonstrate your commitment to each individual. Ever-boarding doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. It could be a two-minute video once a month—it’s just a way to show your sales reps that you care about their development and want to help them succeed.

Preboarding is another great activity, which is all about starting the onboarding experience before the new hire’s first day. Activities such as reading case studies or meeting peers virtually are effective ways to help new salespeople get their heads in the game, feel more comfortable, and be prepared for their new roles.

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2. Use Peer-to-Peer Learning to Effectively Coach

It’s very limiting for organizations to only have sales leaders coach the sales team. According to SRG and Selling Power Magazine, 73% of sales managers don’t get the coaching they need to effectively coach a high-performing sales team. This means that most sales managers are not adequately prepared to learn how to become effective sales managers. “Coaching the coaches” is just as important as coaching the sales reps, and will ensure that everyone has the skills they need to thrive.

Three ways sales leaders can succeed as coaches:

  1. Find out each of your sales rep’s strengths and maximize them for the benefit of the team. If you spend more than 15 minutes on a task and can’t figure it out, find an expert on the topic or ask for help. For salespeople, this may be grappling with an Excel formula or creating slides for a new business pitch.
  2. Let learners digest heavy content on their own time. For salespeople, the idea of sitting in a classroom all day is a waste of time that could be better spent selling. For complex topics, provide them with the content they need to learn on their own time. Break this up into shorter pieces of content to read or bite-size videos.
  3. Try the “5 minutes of learning’ technique. At the start of a sales meeting, ask one team member to provide 5 minutes of learning. This could be an overview of an interesting article, tips for handling specific objections, or analyzing a sales email. Learning on demand, in the flow of work helps take the pressure off busy salespeople and sales leaders.

In SiriusDecisions’ Sales Talent study, high-performing sales reps report their top three sources of learning as:

  • In-field observations of others
  • On-the-job informal learning
  • Peer collaboration

While Covid-19 came with a host of challenges for salespeople, it has made the in-field observation process much easier. This can now take place on Zoom, making it easier for other sales reps to listen in, or meetings can be recorded and analyzed later. Short snippets of best practices can be taken from these recordings and shared with the team for more effective peer-to-peer learning.

3. Keep Front-line Sellers Selling, While Supporting Continuous Improvement

McKinsey found that top-performing sales organizations are 67% more likely to provide frequent sales capability training, which includes ongoing access to coaching, short videos, and reinforcement. To be part of these top-performing sales organizations, sales leaders need to ensure that they have visibility into where people are getting stuck, then close gaps with short bursts of just-in-time learning in bottleneck areas.

Learning in the flow of work means:

  • Keeping sellers selling and not wasting precious time on lengthy face-to-face workshops or e-learning modules
  • Give sales reps the information they need when they need it in bite-sized chunks of information
  • Skill and drill—many salespeople dislike roleplay, but think about athletes and musicians—they are constantly practicing their skills because they know it works

Another way to support continuous improvement while keeping sellers selling is by consolidating platforms. Salespeople often complain that there are too many platforms and systems in their ecosystem. So, make it easy for them by consolidating as many platforms as possible to ensure they are easily accessible in the flow of work.

Surprisingly, throughout the pandemic, we found that 45% of sales reps accessed their learning platform via mobile device. Even though they were stuck at home, salespeople still found it more convenient to access learning via mobile in their new flow of work, so ensure that your bite-size content is optimized for mobile devices.

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4. Train Your Sellers to Self-Assess Their Own Skills and Performance

The final technique is to train your sellers to assess their own skills and performance before someone else starts coaching them. If you do something bad, you know that already. If a seller messes up a pitch, or can’t respond to an objection, or doesn’t know a crucial piece of information, they know that. Training your sellers to self-coach is a powerful tool, as it allows them to think critically about their performance and pinpoint where they need improvement, making the coaching process much more impactful and efficient.

The “Always Be Coaching” culture must be pervasive across the entire organization in every direction. Everyone should be open to feedback, be receptive to learning from their peers, and identify their own areas for improvement.

The good news is that the technology already exists to support this process of self-assessment. Artificial intelligence (AI) can support coaching and give reps insights into their performance before they receive coaching from their manager.

The benefit of our digital-first world is that sales reps now have access to recordings of real game tape, which can be analyzed for improvement areas and best practices, which can then be broken down into short snippets and shared with the team to coach other people asynchronously, on their own time. To get expert advice on how to get your reps up-to-speed faster, use onboarding as a culture tool, and conduct bite-sized coaching without disturbing the seller’s workflow, get access to our webinar, “The New ABCs for Sales Leaders: Always Be Coaching.”

Sean Frontz

Sean Frontz is the Global Practice Leader over Sales Performance at Performance Development Group, where he is responsible for thought leadership and the design and implementation of transformational approaches that increase the performance of his client’s sales cultures.

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