6 Tips for Becoming a Better Sales Coach
There are lots of coaching models out there in the sales world. But the goal for each is the same: to improve sales rep performance and drive revenue. Our preferred and proven model, based on decades of our own experience working with sales reps and sales managers alike, consists of 3 stages: diagnose the gap, align, and develop. In this blog, we’ll focus on the second stage, align (how we actually coach) and put forward a 6 step coaching framework to manifest powerful and effective sales coaching sessions.
This topic is aimed at helping sales managers consistently improve their coaching practice, and therefore drive performance and revenue for their sales team. I sat down with ASLAN co-founder and sales coaching guru, Tab Norris, to discuss.
The 6 Steps for Effective Sales Coaching Sessions
As sales managers who coach regularly, I think it’s critical to use a coaching model, a specific framework, not only to keep yourself organized, but also to ensure consistency on an organizational level from coach to coach. This breeds a supportive, consistent, and aligned coaching culture across sales teams.
Within our coaching model, the second stage focuses on what occurs during the sales coaching session itself. It’s about aligning with your sales rep on an issue for improvement and a plan for moving forward.
Don’t look at these steps as “gimmicks” or “tactics” to trick your sales teams into following your commands. At the core of everything we teach at ASLAN is this idea of being Other-CenteredⓇ – so that mindset has to be at the heart of every sales coaching interaction. Being Other-Centered is the opposite of being self-centered – it means making the other person a priority and making sure everything you do or recommend is in their best interest.
This coaching model is a way for you and your reps to work together to drive results. So let’s unpack our 6 step framework to facilitate alignment and improve your coaching interactions:
Step 1 – Let Your Team Member Self-Assess
Most people are harder on themselves than anyone else ever will be. Not all people, but most. So ask your sales reps to self-assess their performance: “What did you think of that? What went well? What might you be able to work on?”
Tab has found that most reps launch into a laundry list of negatives about their abilities. When this happens, ask the rep to back up and pinpoint one thing to focus on.
Research is finding that it’s so much more powerful to start by having individuals assess themselves first, whether it’s sales, sports, or any other type of coaching. There’s more buy-in when someone is able to self-diagnose. People don’t argue with their own data.
The success of this technique of course depends on the individual’s level of self-awareness.
Step 2 – Begin with Positives
This step is obvious, but powerful. We want to build off strengths. Most people are naturally good at certain things, they have a talent for something, but they don’t realize it. The truth is, they need to know, and sometimes that means they need to be told.
We’ve seen many reps who are adverse to talking about things they do well, about highlighting or praising their own strengths. They want to focus solely on what needs to be improved. They don’t want to “waste time” with the positives. It can be hard for some people to take a compliment.
But we don’t want to bypass discussing a rep’s strengths, because as they work on developing their weaknesses, we want to ensure they continue doing the things they already do well.
Leading with their strengths is critical for building an effective coaching practice.
Step 3 – Expose the Gap
This step is the big one – highlight or underline this one in your mind. The key to this step lies in how we’ve intentionally phrased it. Notice that we don’t say, “Tell your rep what the gap is.”
As we said before, people don’t argue with their own data. So it’s important to lead the rep towards understanding the gap by asking good questions. Try to help them figure out the gap on their own and articulate it to you, instead of straight up telling them what the problem is.
GAP is an acronym for Get At (the) Problem. Getting someone to understand or admit (even if they don’t see it clearly at first) what the problem is, will be so much more effective than just informing them of it.
Here’s an example of how a sales coach might use a series of questions to expose the gap:
Many sales reps struggle with Discovery. They tend to show up and pitch. But if you’re coaching a rep that doesn’t see this as a problem in their practice, you may have to use questions to guide them to that realization. It may go something like this:
“How well do you think the presentation went over to the customer?”
“What did you uncover in Discovery that caused you to present that solution in that way?”
“Is there a chance this customer needed something slightly different than our usual pitch?”
“What could you have done to ensure that your presentation was completely relevant?”
In this way, you can expose the issue and get buy-in from your rep, without telling them, “Ask more questions in Discovery.”
Tab was recently coaching a sales rep who asked, “Tab, why do you always ask me so many questions? Why don’t you just tell me?”
He answered, “It’s because I want you to figure it out for yourself. If I just tell you, I’m making it easy, I’m spoon-feeding you. I want to teach you how to fish – I’m not going to just fish for you. Because when I leave, I want you to constantly self-assess. And if I don’t ask questions, you won’t self-assess.”
Step 4 – Validate Your Recommendation
After you expose the gap, you may need to validate your recommendation. If the rep is already bought in, they may validate it for you. But if not, this step becomes very important.
You’ve exposed the gap, but maybe your rep doesn’t quite see the impact of making a change. This step becomes about building value. Help your rep see the benefit and experience the payoff of making a change to how they sell.
Basically, you’re selling to your rep.
Continuing the example from Step 3, where the rep struggled with asking enough questions in Discovery, validating your recommendation might sound something like this:
“Jack, if you’d learned more in Discovery, your presentation would have been completely relevant to the customer – not just somewhat relevant. And remember, the goal is for you to be able to say to the customer, ‘Because you said _____…’ If you can’t say that, you’re not being as effective as possible, which will impact your close ratio. And Jack, I know that your goal is to go from a 20% to a 30% close ratio. That’s why this is so critical.”
Step 5 – Check Your Six
This step is always important. “Checking your six” is about figuratively looking behind you to ensure your rep is still with you. In doing so, you can address and remove barriers to change, if necessary.
You’ve landed on the gap (the problem to work on) and validated your recommendation, now you need to ask, “Do you agree with that? Does that resonate? What do you think about that?”
Observe your rep as they respond. If they hesitate, address whatever objections that surface.
This is a huge problem we often see with sales managers… they skip right over this step. They make the recommendation, come up with a plan, and then wonder why they keep coaching the same issues over and over again. It’s because the rep is not bought in.
That’s why “Check Your Six” is so critical for alignment and clarity.
Don’t be afraid to say to your rep, “Sounds like you’re not buying into this, what’s going on? Talk to me.”
If he gets push back when checking his six, Tab often says to the reps that he coaches, “If you don’t really think this is going to help you, let’s not do it. Let’s land on something else. Because this is all about your development.”
It has to be a partnership, a team effort. You can’t force someone to change, so you need to have the rep’s buy-in in order to see coaching sessions have an effect.
Step 6 – Gain Commitment to a Development Plan
This last step is extremely critical, but not complicated. You and your rep need to come up with a developmental activity, together. Based on your diagnosis and the 6 steps above, land on one skill or capability to work on and generate an activity for development. Make sure it is specific and measurable.
Many sales coaches get to this stage and then completely flub the end of the coaching session. They give some vague directions to their rep to, “Go out there and work on it. Do better.” This is where coaching breaks down. You need to both agree on a specific activity, “homework” if you will, that the rep will have completed prior to the next coaching session. Make sure it’s realistic and achievable. The goal is progress, not perfection.
Along that same line, be sure to focus only on improving one or two areas at a time. It’s overwhelming for reps to have to focus on improving multiple skills simultaneously.
And above all else, remember that the ownership of the development plan falls to the rep. It’s for their benefit and it’s in their hands.
This coaching model is designed for consistent and regular sales coaching. Session after session, you and your rep align on one gap, focus on it and work on it until you see substantial progress, then move on to build another skill. That’s how real change happens, one skill at a time, and in a one-to-one environment.
Remember the 6 steps for alignment during coaching: let your team member self-assess, begin with positives, expose the gap, validate your recommendation, check your six, and gain commitment to a development plan.
Learn more about our Quad Coaching Program, a 3 hour micro workshop that addresses the 2 main reasons why sales managers don’t coach: time and rep motivation. If you or your team are having this problem and want to solve it once and for all, learn more about this 3-hour ASLAN certified virtual instructor-led course (for up to 15 managers) and walk away with the strategy and tools to drive the change you seek.
The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.