How to build a sales coaching culture that drives more revenue

By Steve Richard | March 7, 2023

Sales coaching is a crucial part of your sales program. On average, companies that invest in training and coaching their employees can expect a 353% return on investment, a 29% increase in win rate, an 8.4% increase in revenue year-over-year, and are 57% more effective than their competitors that have no formal training program. Yet, 26% of reps say their sales training needs improvement and 84% of training is forgotten in the first three months

Despite the benefits, sales coaching is put on the back burner at many organizations. Most say it is because they don’t have the time, they have trouble finding coachable moments, and they don’t know how to effectively coach reps. To build a successful coaching program and create change, you have to make it part of your organization’s overall culture. We’re here to show you how in five phases.

Download the 6 steps to sales coaching success

Phase 1: Identify your ‘why’

The first step to creating a successful coaching culture is identifying your organization’s motivations behind the coaching. Culture is what happens when no one is around, so your ‘why’ needs to speak to more than just results.

Since each organization is unique, it is important to identify what yours is looking to get out of a coaching culture. Work with other leaders in your company to identify key quantitative and qualitative metrics you would like to improve through coaching and development. 

After you’ve uncovered why you need a coaching culture, review the current atmosphere and uncover any roadblocks you may face while building this new culture. Evaluate the pain points of your existing sales culture and coaching program by answering these questions:

Every sales leader finds themselves struggling with two things: accountability and consistency. Making coaching a priority within your organization’s culture helps reinforce both of those things. A coaching culture sets the expectation that coaching is not optional. It will also help keep teams aligned on messaging and what successful calls sound like.

Phase 2: Define what good looks like

In order to cultivate a coaching culture, the entire organization must agree on and understand the traits of a “good” customer-facing interaction. Without clearly outlining the messaging, behaviors, keywords, and phrases, as well as the anatomy of successful conversations, it’s impossible to create consistency and accountability. 

Get the entire leadership team together to create a framework of successful calls and align on the definition of “good.” The objective of this session should be to build out a scorecard. Ask each manager to come prepared with 5-8 objectives they believe to be the most critical behaviors that reps should follow on a good call. Next, review everyone’s responses and narrow them down to a final selection of 5-8 key behaviors (any more than that will be overwhelming for the reps to remember). Use the final 5-8 metrics to create a scale rating such as 1-5, Great/Meets Expectations/Needs Improvement/Not Applicable, or whatever best fits your organization to objectively score calls.

To align all sales leaders in your organization to score each call on a level playing field, play calls during a team meeting. Ask each rep to present a complete scorecard and review answers as a group. This collaboration will establish the key differences between scores and ensure managers can easily coach one another’s teams in their absence. This exercise is also a great way to establish the baseline metrics for conversions at your organization. Use that time to identify what best practices are for:

Mandate the use of scorecards and make reps score their own conversations with them. That way, they can see where they need improvement and what they are doing well. 

Phase 3: Sell your team on a coaching culture

A coaching culture does not happen overnight. Big changes are often met with skeptical attitudes. Instead of announcing your new coaching initiatives at a company-wide meeting, spend some time planning how to announce this to your teams in a more personal fashion. Start by explaining why and how you’ll build a coaching culture as a team. Managers have established a foundation of trust with their reps, so the message may resonate better coming from them. Reps may also feel more comfortable in that setting to ask more questions.

The key to implementing a shift in coaching culture is to make sure reps understand that it’s all about making them better sellers. As a manager, use what drives your sellers to your advantage and let that be a factor in how you coach them. Are your reps motivated by money, a promotion, or something else? You can coach them so they make more money, you can coach them towards a promotion, or help them achieve some other goal. 

How to manage reps that reject sales coaching

Sometimes change can be met with resistance. Some reps may feel they don’t need coaching because they are doing fine without it. While resistance to coaching may be harmless to some degree, it can create a larger problem if that attitude spreads to the rest of the team. When building out your coaching culture, discuss guidelines for managing coaching-resistant reps. Whether it is failure to improve over X sessions, not sharing calls with managers, or ignoring feedback entirely, work with the leadership team to agree on how you’ll tackle reps who don’t want guidance. Try the following tactics:

Ultimately, the only person who can decide if they want to be coached is the rep themself. Your job as a leader is to create an environment where they feel safe to learn and fail. Encourage the behavior that is needed for them to learn and grow.

Phase 4: Build your sales coaching playbook

Create a playbook that outlines how coaches should format review sessions and set expectations for leaders, coaches, and those receiving feedback. This helps create accountability for each party and ensures review sessions are productive.

To build your coaching playbook, first, outline what each review session should entail. Don’t try to cram too many things into one coaching session, reps will get overwhelmed and shut down. Then managers will get frustrated that reps are not absorbing any feedback. To avoid coach overload, try these ground rules:

  1. Only coach 1-2 areas for improvement per session
  2. Lead with positive feedback
  3. Keep discipline separate from coaching sessions

Next, set expectations on what both reps and managers should bring to each session. Try having reps send 1-2 calls to their manager each week to go over in their coaching session: one call where they think they did well and one call they think they could have done better. Reps should complete scorecards for their calls before the coaching session.

You will also want to outline how small-group, team, and department-wide coaching will occur. Going beyond one-on-one coaching encourages collaboration and helps maintain alignment across the organization.

Call of the month contest

When building out your coaching playbook, consider incorporating coaching-based incentive programs. A call-of-the-month contest is a great way to drive peer coaching and get reps involved in their own development. It encourages quality over quantity, so top performers aren’t necessarily winning week after week, giving every rep a fair chance to win.

Have each rep pick their best call from the previous month, score it, and share it with their manager. Each manager will select the best two calls from their team and pass them along to an impartial judge who will then pick the winners and runner-ups. 

Remember to save the winner’s calls to keep in a library as an example of excellent calls to play for new hires!

Phase 5: Make your coaching culture last

Creating a coaching culture is not effective unless it lasts. A change in leadership could jeopardize the coaching culture you worked hard to implement. Here are a few tips to keep a coaching culture going when personnel changes occur.

  1. Hire into coaching culture. Be on the lookout for coachable candidates during the hiring process. Learn how to spot those who may be open to coaching versus those who will not. During onboarding, make it known that coaching is a part of your culture. Share why it exists and what it means to your team members and the organization as a whole. 
  2. Make managers great coaches. Make sure managers are adding to your coaching culture rather than working against it. Hold regular meetings with managers to make sure they are aligned on what “good” looks like and that they are empowered to own the culture just as much as you do. 
  3. Keep reps accountable. Keeping reps accountable to always be invested in their sales coaching will require some work, but it is key to maintaining your coaching culture. Make it a habit to always review the elements of a successful call and get reps involved in their own development so they feel invested in your coaching culture. Reinforce that everyone is accountable for a coaching culture, not just the leadership team. Don’t be shocked if reps need additional training from time to time– remember that 84% of training is forgotten within the first 3 months. That’s why it is imperative to always be coaching.

Phase 6: Measure & calibrate

Remember the metrics you identified when building out your coaching culture? Make sure you are measuring them and the impact that coaching has had on your team’s performance. The best way to make your coaching culture last is to prove its results.

Here are some metrics we find useful to benchmark and review each quarter:

It may take time to see the full return on investment of a coaching culture, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t see incredible results after just one quarter. But that is why maintaining consistency in your coaching cadence and continuously measuring metrics is so important. You will see a gradual improvement over time, and have the ability to tweak your coaching culture quarter-to-quarter if necessary.

When you see improvement and success, be sure to recognize that. Congratulate reps as they move up the leaderboard. A coaching culture will stick when you acknowledge the success of your team.

Get started building your coaching culture with this checklist.

Steve Richard is the founder of ExecVision & Vorsight (sold in 2021).  Steve’s mission and life’s work is to help as many sales teams as possible become wildly successful.  He has been featured in numerous publications including The Harvard Business ReviewThe Washington Business Journal, and The Washington Post.  Outside of work, Steve enjoys scuba diving, skiing, running, and watching lots of football.  He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Ellen and their four kids ages 6, 8, 10, and 12.

Follow Steve’s one minute sales tips of the day on LinkedIn.

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