The most valuable skill in sales management is sales coaching. It builds or rebuilds sales pipelines. Even though sales coaching requires only a limited amount of time and addresses a specific set of sales skills, if well done it develops enduring competencies among the sales team. In this article, I will outline the key activities for sales coaching in 2021, and I will offer some ideas for methods to support sales coaching.

Although sales directors and sales managers have certainly been working on recovery for the last 10 months, coaching and rebuilding sales pipelines will continue to be a priority in 2021. The economy will be staggering through additional recovery stages in the late and post-pandemic at least until early fall (or whenever we see how the vaccination campaign and the new administration in Washington fare).

Who is the sales coach?

Ideally, the sales coach is the person who is accountable overall for sales. In larger organizations, that would be the sales manager, sales director, or business development director. In smaller organizations, it might be the owner of the business if no one else is specifically designated. It really should not be an instructional designer or someone from L&D, unless that person has a background in sales and sales coaching. However, instructional designers can help find and vet sales coaching consultants or organizations, and they can take the lead in developing support materials for the sales coach.

What are the sales coaching outcomes?

Sales coaching is about skills. Why do coaching? People are creatures of habit, and their habits are often the result of what they have done repeatedly in the past without ever identifying where their efforts fail. What they did in the past could have been a product of guesswork, belief in urban legends, bad training by a previous manager, or a combination of factors. A coach can identify the skills that a rep most needs, and can help the rep work on those areas first. The major skills involve:

  • Accurately identifying the person(s) in an account who will actually drive the buying decision
  • Accurately identifying the buying criteria of that person
  • Closing, based on meeting the identified buying criteria and the needs of the account

As Susan Jacobs pointed out in a past article, coaching is not the same thing as mentoring. It is important to understand the difference in order to get the performance results desired in the time available (often limited by the length of a given sales campaign).

Sales coaching in 2021

In 2021, do four things as your major professional development effort:

  1. For sales managers, owners, or the person tagged to do sales coaching, find a well-qualified consultant or consulting organization to help you build your own sales coaching skill and apply that skill. There are many of these consultants and organizations, from your own local geographic area or with international experience, and there are many that have experience in dealing with specific enterprise and government segments.
  2. Your objective is to help your account managers and reps learn how to know:
    • Who is on their side in the account or prospective account.
    • Who the key influencers are. Don't make assumptions.
    • What the key decision criteria of the key influencers are.
    • How to use this information to close.
  3. Track the results of your efforts in terms of the individual performance of the reps coached. Remember that a coach asks questions about the reps' answers (if you are giving your reps answers to their questions, you are mentoring).
  4. Make yourself accountable. Is your pipeline getting rebuilt? If your first attempts fall short, persist and fail better!

You may have to change how you coach from time to time to achieve the results demanded by the disruptions you will continue to encounter during this year.

Use technology effectively in your coaching

  • The sales manager should maintain a dashboard that identifies which reps need help.
  • Use video for coaching sessions. Also use video for peer coaching and exchange of information about what works and what does not.
  • Follow up with each rep, but make your follow-up about process and about questions. Don't make it about deals.

The second most important thing you can do in 2021

Implement better sales enablement. I will discuss this in the next article!