I have a love/hate relationship with sales coaching. I love learning, I love improving, but you can ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you how much I absolutely detest listening to my own voice recorded. Even though it makes me want to melt into the floor, I can recognize the value of being coached on my calls. Coaching has helped me immensely, being that I started in this world an absolute blank slate. I’m no sales expert; I came into the craft from a restaurant job, so nearly everything I’ve learned about sales I’ve learned from coaching. I want to preface this by saying emphatically that I am by no means an expert. The only perspective I can offer here is that of the rep who gets coached.
It’s interesting to note that virtually every blog post I’ve seen about sales coaching is written by a sales coach. They delineate what has worked for them and give tips on being a good coach- coaching vs. managing, providing swift feedback, etc. There are some commonalities like those I just mentioned, but the biggest common thread that I noticed is that none of those blogs give the perspective of a rep who is actually being coached. It makes sense that people with experience coaching would offer advice; however, it also seems relevant and valuable to take into consideration how it feels to be on the receiving end.
So, I’ve decided to shoulder that burden. I’m here to offer up one humble SDR’s opinion on sales coaching. First, let’s define it. What is sales coaching? I know that there are myriad definitions out there, and I’ll be the first to admit that others likely have a much firmer grasp on the meaning than I. To me, sales coaching is an opportunity to reflect, learn, improve, and grow. Why do we do it? I’ve asked myself this question a lot, and I think that it’s ultimately because doing the same thing over and over again is meaningless if it doesn’t foster growth. I think of the myth of Sisyphus and how it can be analogous to cold outreach. Without something driving us forward and pushing us toward something, toward knowledge and growth, we are basically pushing a rock up a hill ad infinitum. Coaching adds meaning to purpose.
However, this absolutely does not mean that coaching always feels great. While I can recognize the definite merit of coaching, it can be frustrating, intimidating, and sometimes discouraging. It’s hard to review the recording of a call that I was proud of, only to be told it missed the mark. That’s why I feel so strongly that good coaching can make a sales person, and bad coaching can break one. Here are my 7 tips for coaching sales reps, from a sales rep:
1. Understand your reps’ individual talents and natural abilities
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that is going to work when it comes to sales coaching. Different people have different skill sets and talents. That seems like an incredibly obvious statement, but I think that there are instances where it seems like reps are disregarding coaching when, in reality, they didn’t understand. In that same vein, it’s important to know what to work on with different reps. Tailor your coaching to develop each individual’s strengths and build them up where they struggle. Employing one overreaching method for everyone is not going to be successful.
2. One type of coaching doesn’t work for every situation
Just like it’s important to consider the differences in reps, it’s important to recognize the different situations that arise and hone your coaching to address those situations in a relevant manner The way you work to build on strengths should feel different than the way you work in an area where they struggle. Put simply, some things need to be explained in-depth and worked on diligently to see improvement. In other areas, it’s more about fostering growth where there is already strength.
3. Don’t coach on too many things at once, coach one thing at a time
While it may be true that a rep needs coaching in a lot of different areas, it’s important to focus coaching on one thing at a time. The more areas you try to cover, i.e. voice tone, dealing with resistance, call pacing, the fewer things your rep will retain. It’s not a reasonable expectation that a rep will be able to remember each pointer given on each different part of a call the next time they’re on the phone. However, if you give them a few pointers that pertain to one aspect, chances are that something will stick.
4. Set clear goals for coaching
Effective coaching requires clear, tangible goals. It’s important for reps to know and understand what we’re working toward. Aside from basic metrics and quotas, what is it that we’re supposed to be striving toward, personally? I promise if your rep can answer that confidently, they’ll meet the goal sooner.
5. Positive reinforcement
I know, I know, we need to have thick skin. The reality is that our job actually entails being told to get lost, to leave people alone, and to STOP CALLING. Every day. All that, along with being hung up on. I’ll exclude the expletives, since this is a professional environment, but suffice to say, most coaches started out as salespeople. You know how it is. Have pretty thick skin, but that doesn’t mean that a little “attaboy” here and there doesn’t go a long way. Constructive criticism inspires growth, encouragement inspires.
6. If you have a specific criticism, don’t make us guess what it is
It’s true that a lot of times, I know exactly what my boss is going to say about a call. But sometimes I don’t, and I absolutely cannot read minds. If you have a specific piece of criticism, don’t make us guess what it is. The ability to self-assess is a really useful skill, but it will never, ever develop into telepathy. We can’t guess specifically what you’re thinking. Just tell us, please.
7. Sales is a participation sport
Don’t just tell your reps what/how to do something. Reps can’t really learn what to do from concepts alone. We need to have something tangible to attach those concepts to, or they’re just philosophical. As Ben Franklin said, “Teach me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and learn.” Encourage expanding business acumen/education--within the sales profession there is obviously a wide range of business expertise, but it is still helpful to encourage outside learning (ie reading suggestions), as well as expanding knowledge in coaching sessions. Remember, coaching is teaching, as well.
Once again, I want to stress to any coaching gurus out there who may have stumbled upon this modest SDR’s opinion: I do not consider myself to be an expert on this subject. My only qualifications here are that I’ve spent 3 years getting coached, and I’ve worked with other SDR’s. As the youths on TikTok say, don’t come for me.