10 Sales Coaching Skills Sales Leaders Need to Know

Well-trained and coached sales reps perform better. Here are 10 sales coaching skills sales managers and leaders need to know to set their team up to succeed.

11 min read

What comes to mind when you think of a great coach? The first person you think of might not be a sales coach, per se.  However, you might be surprised to learn that sales coaching skills are very similar to those needed in all other kinds of coaching. Sales coaches in a corporate environment can also use many of the same techniques used by the greatest athletic coaches.

Do you want to lead your sales teams to success? Of course you do, and sales coaching is a critical component of this success. It isn’t always easy, but having a few tips and tricks up your sleeve can help you lead your teams to unprecedented success.

Here are 10 top sales coaching skills you need to lead your team. 

1. Observe Behaviors and Activities

The first way to become a better sales coach is to observe existing sales rep activities. This, along with the use of data, will help you fully understand rep conversion rates from stage to stage.

This will allow you to focus on the core reps more than the bottom or very top performers, and identify if problems are due to skill gaps or based on attitude. During this stage of sales coaching you’ll want to identify internal process challenges versus external (customer-related) challenges.

2. Question & Listen 

If you want to improve your sales coaching skills you’ll need to master the art of listening. A lot of skilled sales coaches know that sometimes it’s more about the questions than the answers. This means you should be purposely asking questions that begin around goals and then change to specific action items and time frames for sustainable changes.

During these sales coaching sessions, it’s critical to actively listen and minimize the use of feedback. It’s always good to be able to point to specific, observed behaviors as examples to discuss areas for improvement.

When you use questions rather than lectures your reps will arrive at solutions, instead of you just giving them the solution. You want reps to come up with and explain options to explore on their own.

3. Build Sales Reps' Skills

Role-playing with your reps is critical when it comes to good sales coaching. Act out a customer asking about your most complicated or tech-intensive product, have a faux conversation about your company’s newest offering, and ask other more experienced reps to jump in and add their two cents.

In addition, make training materials—like scripts and videos—readily available to your sales people. Lastly, you must set ground rules so that feedback is constructive and delivered in a positive manner. Otherwise, it can backfire. No one likes to feel criticized, especially in front of others.

4. Set Smart Goals

What good is a team without goals? When you’re trying to up your sales coaching game you need to be able to measure, track, and follow-up on, agreed action items, plans, tasks, and dates. Warning: don’t try to boil the ocean when it comes to improvements—focus on one or two skills to be improved at a time.

5. Motivate Team Members

This should go without saying, but that’s not always the case. Think back to your little league days, or the time you spent on the soccer field in high school. Which coach inspired you to take it to the next level? The one that learned about what motivates you personally, or the one that thought yelling the same inspirational quotes at the whole team was a good idea?

Take these lessons from the soccer field to the sales field, and remember that everyone is motivated in different ways, by different things.

The Harvard Business Review article, “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works,” states that sales reps require different levels and kinds of attention. Take the time to get to know the individuals on your team and you will be much more likely to successfully coach them.

6. Sharpen Your Debate Skills

Very few people like change, so if you’re going to be asking people to make a shift in the way that they’re selling, or make a huge pivot in their messaging or actions, then you better have good reasons ready to back up the need for the change.

Trust me, “Because I said so,” or “It’s aligned with our new corporate objectives,” is not going to be enough to convince a sales rep to change the way they do things. Be ready to explain, in detail, how the new changes will benefit them.

7. Be Proactive

Don’t wait until there’s a problem to start communicating freely. If things are going along great, and it looks like your team is closing deals without much issue, that doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off as a manager. Looking to the future, and trying to manage future roadblocks before they happen is a daunting task, but it’s also the difference between a good coach, and a coach with excellent sales coaching techniques.

8. Allow Your Team to Brainstorm Solutions

You’re the boss, it’s your job to come up with all the answers…right? Not so much. If you want to enhance your sales coaching, it’s imperative that you teach and not just do. Are your teams’ numbers significantly down quarter over quarter? You might be panicking, trying to immediately add a SPIF, or take it into your own hands in some way.

This isn’t always the best solution. See what your employees can come with before you add your two cents. They might surprise and delight you with their innovative thinking, and information from the field.

9. Practice Consistency

This is a big one, and not just for managers trying to hone their sales performance coaching. This is a big one for any person that’s in charge of managing a team and tasked with improving employee morale. There are many ways to be consistent. First, be consistent with your time.

If you schedule a weekly one on one with each of your reps, but you seem to always cancel last minute because something comes up, you’re not being consistent and you’re not going to see the same results as you would if you stuck to that weekly meeting.

Think of your progress in the gym: If you skipped your workout every other time, you are not going to get those abs you’ve been dreaming of.

If you skip your 1:1 sales coaching meetings too often, chances are your results will come up short there as well. Secondly, be consistent in the way that you treat the team, in the way that you handle setbacks, and in the way that you react to successes. Being a stable, predictable manager is an important skill to add to your repertoire.

10. Build Stronger Relationships 

In these aforementioned one on ones that you’re having every week, don’t feel like you have to only talk about work. Does your employee have a new baby? Ask to see some pictures. Did their son just go out for the basketball team? Remember to follow up and ask about his last game in your next meeting.

Corporate life moves quickly, and it’s easy to forget the importance of bringing in small amounts of who we are outside of work into the office in order to build relationships which will help you become a more effective sales coach with excellent sales coaching skills. For an extra edge above the competition, check out a sales coaching software solution like Xactly Inspire™.

With Xactly Inspire, managers can boost employee performance by shortening new hire ramp times and assuring alignment to corporate goals by matching coaching actions to sales incentive metrics. By optimizing the behaviors of sales reps through effective on-boarding and sales coaching, organizations can drive higher performance and reach revenue goals