August 23, 2018
Updated: January 7, 2020

Your Frontline Sales Managers are a Key Cog in the Coaching Process

Sales managers at any organization are in a position to guide and motivate those they lead, similar to the coach of a sports team. So it would make sense to give managers the proper training for sales coaching, right? It may seem obvious, but a study by ATD discovered that only 11 percent of organizations train their sales managers to a high extent.

While you may offer some sort of management training for sales leaders, training them to coach is entirely different. Coaching includes ongoing guidance to reinforce knowledge on an individual level and allow sales reps to realize their full potential. While management covers high level goals and skill-building on a team scale, coaching focuses on strengthening each member of the team to realize those goals. Unfortunately, many sales managers do not know how to coach properly and aren’t being held accountable.

Continue reading to learn how to use an effective culture of coaching to set up your sales managers, and therefore your whole sales team, for success.

Training Sales Managers to Coach

In order for your sales managers to be successful coaches, your entire organization needs to commit to the concept. Before you begin, all leaders involved in the training should align on the coaching approach sales managers should take. If you leave this up to each manager to decide on their own, messaging for reps will be inconsistent and there could be learning gaps and disjointedness amongst the team. Determine specific goals surrounding opportunity management, account management, call management and other important selling skills.

Once you’ve agreed on the approach you want to take, establish expectations and metrics for success, and communicate these to the sales managers. You can teach people how to coach all you want, but unless you put some expectations into place and hold everyone accountable, managers may not feel the need to leverage what they’ve learned. Knowing how their performance will be measured on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis gives an incentive to do their job properly and effectively. Quantitative metrics can include team quota attainment, win rates, conversion rates, and more. Qualitative goals are also important; such as managers observing their reps on sales calls and having regular discussions with each person on their team. All managers should be committed to coaching and passionate about helping their reps prosper, and if they aren’t, you may need to reconsider their role in your business.

An important element of a coaching culture is pairing managers up with the right sellers. You may need to do some shifting amongst the team so personalities are compatible. When a salesperson butts heads with their manager, they’re unlikely to accept feedback and criticism. Managers must also be taught how to deal with sellers of different personalities and working styles; not all people succeed in the same way, so knowing how each person learns and works best will increase the likelihood of a cohesive, well-working team.

Once you’ve got a fitting structure in place and managers are equipped with the tools and knowledge to coach effectively, it’s time to implement your strategy.

Ongoing Coaching for Optimal Sales Performance

In organizations without a formal coaching structure, actual coaching only happens when there are issues, whether it be a rep severely underperforming, conflict amongst members of the team, or a problem with a client. In fact, over 47% of sales managers spend less than 30 minutes a week coaching their reps. For coaching to be truly impactful, coaching needs to be a continuous part of a manager’s job to connect with people on their team. Taking the time to get to know their reps and building trust will motivate those reps to work hard and deliver results. Sales experts will likely be obstinate and inflexible if they don’t trust or respect their manager.

The best way to build that trust is for managers to keep open communication with regular one-on-one meetings. The reps should guide these discussions, bringing forth any problem areas or concerns they have, whether it be with client communication, using sales technologies, conflict with a colleague or anything else. An effective coach will listen and ask open-ended questions such as, “what could you have done differently?” or, “how can I best support you?” These meetings should also include self-evaluation from every individual. Focus on one area of improvement at a time, so the rep doesn’t get overwhelmed and can leave each meeting with actionable feedback.

Chances are your managers started as reps themselves, and an essential part of coaching is for managers to use their experiences, both good and bad, to provide insights and instruction to each rep. They should draw from their own career path to inform how they lead others; by doing so the members of their team will find their advice more credible and feel more comfortable discussing their own performance.

Coaching should also focus on the manager’s team as a whole. They should have time set aside to evaluate overall performance through data analysis, day-to-day observations and notes taken during meeting with reps. When they see the bigger picture, they can identify both strengths and weaknesses to form a plan on how to move forward, including how to help underperformers and use top performers as mentors and examples of best practices.

Areas that need improvement can be improved upon with ongoing training materials. Rather than sitting everyone down for hours of training to review, you can offer learning materials via mobile, video and other technology. This way, those who are struggling in certain areas can learn and grow on their own time, while top performers don’t waste time reviewing areas they in which they are already successful.

Reps aren’t the only people on the sales team whose work and conduct should be regularly appraised; you need to be sure your managers are continuing to coach and working to better every individual on their team.

Feedback Loop

All is not said and done once your managers have started coaching. Just as their reps should accept feedback to learn and grow in their roles, their work should also be reviewed so they can learn and progress. The feedback loop is an important element of your coaching culture that includes a cycle of feedback, learning, and improvement on the part of the sales manager.

Schedule your own meetings with each manager individually, where the manager provides reports with insights into each member of the team, as well as observations of behavior and performance. Look over these reports in detail to offer feedback and advice for rewarding wins and resolving issues. Discussion should also include an assessment of how they are holding up to the expectations you set before coaching began. There is always room for growth and advancement for sales managers and coaches, and your feedback will help them coach more effectively and be a better resource for the team they serve.

Following these feedback sessions, managers should take your comments to learn and improve their coaching styles and the way they work with their team. This loop should be ongoing, so after a certain amount of time you can meet with them again to gauge whether they have listened to your advice to elevate their coaching skills.

You can’t expect your sales reps to continuously improve and hit higher goals if you don’t provide them with the resources to do so. Having a coach to supervise and steer teams in the right direction goes a long way, and sales managers are the ideal people for the job. They already have an awareness and work closely with the team, not to mention the selling background and experience to know what truly makes a great salesperson. Providing managers direction to positively influence their reps and holding them accountable will allow your entire sales organization to thrive.