Sales enablement teams: As you put the finishing touches on your plans for 2022 and tweak your priorities to get that final buy-in from sales leadership, let’s take a closer look to see if you might need to put a finer point on your programs — specifically, let’s take a look at your plans to support/create a sales coaching culture.

Have you clearly defined what “coaching” and a “coaching culture” means so that everyone understands the behaviors you need them to demonstrate and the outcomes you’re looking to drive? It constantly surprises us how differently our customer organizations view the terms and manage to them.

The issue we commonly see is that sales leaders and managers are held accountable for developing their teams through “coaching,” but few are taught coaching skills or know effective ways to coach. What ends up happening is they equate coaching with things like pipeline reviews or giving advice about closing a particular deal. They haven’t been shown what good looks like in terms of facilitating a proper coaching conversation with their team members that includes defined, desired outcomes.

To create a stronger coaching culture, start by considering these four strategies:

    1. Define sales coaching. What do you mean by “coaching”? Let’s start by what you are ultimately trying to achieve. Successful organizations tend to view effective sales coaching as a way to achieve long-term performance improvement in their customer-facing reps.

Effective coaching means instilling confidence in reps to help them develop problem-solving skills. Coaching is collaborative and interactive and isn’t about simply giving reps information or telling them what to do. One of the fundamental best practices of coaching is to ask the right questions, forcing those being coached to work out the answers themselves. Give a rep a fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a rep to fish … force multiplier!

Coaching, therefore, is an important tool for learning and is critical for skills development. The coaching relationship between reps and their managers represents huge potential for ongoing learning and development and needs to be viewed as an extension of reps’ learning paths in competency development. As part of Forrester’s Continuous Learning Framework, the learning theory comes to life and is retained when a rep can consistently execute in a live environment — and is reinforced through coaching.

    1. Give managers the needed resources. You can’t just change managers’ responsibilities without changing their skill sets. Calling a manager a sales coach just because that’s what needs to happen is the same thing as me saying “I’m a professional golfer” because that’s my latest obsession — saying it doesn’t make it so. To properly coach, managers must be proficient at coaching, and that requires training and support tools to help them continually develop their coaching muscles — which often entails a new way of thinking for managers.

In the same way that you’re looking at coaching as development opportunities for individual reps and your organization’s commitment to their success, you also need to dedicate the right resources to sales managers’ success, such as specific learning paths and opportunities to “coach the coach” and commit to developing their coaching skills on an ongoing basis.

    1. Understand the time commitment for coaching. Often, sales managers are in their position because they were high performers and therefore promoted into management. This often accounts for some additional needed competencies for their new role — including coaching skills. But don’t forget to take into consideration their added accountability in their role as a manager. Keep in mind that with their new teams comes the added responsibility of having to now hire, develop, retain, and manage these individuals — this is on top of driving quota attainment. Guess what’s the first thing to drop from a manager’s to-do list when the week gets busy? Here’s a hint: It’s their attention to meaningful coaching.

More demands placed on managers and fewer resources available to them to successfully perform what you’re asking of them will lead to negative results. Be extremely mindful of the time commitments you’re requiring of your managers and ensure that you’re establishing realistic expectations to set everyone up for success.

    1. Agree on success metrics. Many metrics of sales success rely on lagging indicators such as “Did you meet your quota?” While that does have value, sales coaching effectiveness can arguably be better derived from leading indicators so that managers know the different levers to pull to get the most productivity from their teams.

Again, start with outcomes in mind. For example, when designing a competency map for the manager persona around rep coaching, sales enablement teams need to certify sales managers on the type of coaching that is highly specific to rep activities (e.g., how to interact with customers, how to handle account planning, and foundational selling skills). In breaking down the specific coaching areas, metrics can then center around knowledge, skill, and process attainment from individual reps based on quantifiable outcomes in each area throughout the sales process, such as identifying expanded buyer personas and deal velocity. Examining rep productivity through every step of the sales process provides the most complete picture of the effectiveness of sales coaching.

Be very specific about your definition of coaching and what it takes to create a coaching culture in your organization, then align the metrics and supporting resources to set managers and reps up for success. If you don’t take the time to do that, “coaching” runs the risk of becoming just another diluted buzzword, with managers mistakenly believing that they are already effectively coaching their salespeople, leading to nothing of significance getting accomplished.