by Ben Simms

6 Tips for Effective B2B Sales Coaching

Sales training is of course a big topic that covers a lot of ground. To be clear, there is a difference between training and coaching. Training can refer to a one-time activity whereas coaching is ongoing. An ideal training environment is one where coaching is a significant component.

MarketSource has trained and coached thousands of B2B sellers, and our years of experience have taught us what works best. Here are several tips for sales leaders who want to make their sales coaching more effective.   

Create a safe coaching culture. A coaching culture where sales reps are allowed to be vulnerable and authentic is essential. Sales reps should not be afraid to ask questions or express concerns and should have no fear of repercussions when they ask for help or struggle in a certain area. You have to build a culture of psychological safety that relies on sales leaders who encourage reps to be genuine and ask to be coached without fear of retaliation. Sales leaders should never be judgmental. They should also be willing to share their own personal humility with the teams that report to them. In fact, there are studies showing that building this kind of forthright environment leads to better performance. 

Use conversation intelligence. Once you’ve created that coaching culture, one of the most effective tools you can use to help sales teams, whether remote, inside or field sales, is conversation intelligence. We use a mobile-friendly conversation intelligence platform called ExecVision, which applies artificial intelligence to analyzing call recordings. The software notates conversations between sellers and buyers to provide insights into best practices. The sales reps and their managers can listen to specific sections of the call that flag certain keywords, for instance, and dictate and exchange comments back and forth to pinpoint topics they need to cover with the buyer. The recordings also reveal simple but important things like how many times the rep said “umm” or how much time they listened versus spoke during the call. Conversation intelligence uncovers more data that a rep can use as a self-coaching tool, because they can start to self-identify areas where they can improve.

We encourage our reps to send two calls per week to their manager to request feedback. One would be considered a good call and another is one that didn’t go so well. Doing this can prevent the need for micromanagement by the sales manager, and the good calls can be shared as best practices with the rest of team. 

Conduct call coaching sessions. Call coaching is the most effective coaching approach for remote sales teams or inside sales teams because when you give feedback on the call, there can be immediate improvement on the very next call; it provides instantaneous impact. 

How do you provide effective call coaching? I have a six-step method that sales managers should use to give optimal feedback to their reps.

1. Start with the question, “What can you tell me about the customer?” This opens up a dialogue and a conversation. It’s an icebreaker and you’re not zinging the rep right away by pointing out what they did wrong. From the answer, you can evaluate how well they are reading the customer.

2. Then ask, “What did you do well on this call?” This opens the door for the rep to self-coach. We are trying to avoid sniper-fire coaching; you don’t want to trap the rep in a catch-you moment. Good coaching pulls the answers directly out of the employees themselves and makes the dialogue more positive.

3. The manager then says, “I agree that you did this (and this and this) quite well.” You point out multiple, specific ways the rep handled things well. Again, this keeps the conversation going in a positive direction.

4. You would then ask the rep to “Tell me where you are trying to improve.” Again, this allows for self-evaluation and lets the rep reflect on their capabilities on their own, without having the manager point out what they did wrong.

5. The manager can now say, “I agree, and I also think you can improve in these other areas.” The agreement puts you both on the same level of play, and reps are more likely to be receptive. Make sure to mention areas where improvement is needed that the rep may have missed.

6. Finally, ask the rep, “What are three things you will implement during your next conversation?” and agree on the three things that the rep is going to immediately apply to their next sales call. 

Whether you are doing ride-alongs or listening to phone calls, this approach works because it gives reps the opportunity to make immediate improvement while at the same time providing them with the psychological safety of being coached without criticism. It makes coaching a collaborative experience.  

Recognize milestones. As training proceeds from a basic level for a new rep, the rep should be coached and trained at a level that matches their experience. As they complete a level, you can recognize their achievements with certification. The curriculum should include milestones or benchmarks for each rep to reach, keeping your team moving forward with tangible proof of improvement. 

Make sales coaching a priority. Managers often don’t prioritize training and coaching because they “get too busy” with other things such as pipeline review, meetings with senior executives, and other leadership activities. They don’t recognize that the number one job for sales leaders is developing their people, and coaching and training are significant ingredients in doing that. You have to carve out time every week to coach and train your reps. 

The need for call coaching and, in particular, conversation intelligence, has escalated due to the pandemic because everyone has been working remotely. Many outside sales reps will return to face-to-face selling but many sales teams now realize that you don’t necessarily have to meet every customer in person anymore. Reps will continue to sell virtually, and coaching must proceed in kind. When it’s done right it can definitely improve performance.

Our experts can show you how training and coaching can make a positive difference in your sales results. LET’S TALK >> 

Topic: B2B

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As the executive director of commercial client services for MarketSource, Ben Simms leads a portfolio of client engagements and teams to execute a wide range of B2B sales and marketing solutions across several verticals and industries. Ben deploys and manages inside sales, outside sales, sales training, and brand ambassador teams representing Fortune 500 companies.

At MarketSource, an Allegis Group company, we believe better sales begin with better relationships. Our proven alternative to traditional outsourced sales is led by a proprietary process that helps businesses thrive by fostering deeper connections between people and brands.