sales coaching
Training & Learning

Better Sales Coaching: 3 Ways L&D Professionals Can Foster Learning for Sales Teams

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg used to joke about how people in Hollywood always want comedians to do things other than comedy. He’d say, “They always ask me, ‘All right, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script?’ That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?’”

Likewise, when we ask our star sales reps to coach their peers, it’s like asking someone with a career's worth of farming knowledge to cook a gourmet meal for their colleagues. Despite their expertise in growing crops, cooking it up is not their area of expertise.

This is why it is so important for L&D professionals to take an active role in the sales coaching process. The sales reps grow the leads, and you turn their knowledge into a recipe for success.

By fostering a flexible and collaborative culture of learning L&D professionals can ensure sales reps have the support and tools they need to be more effective and efficient coaches and learners.

What is sales coaching?

Sales coaching is a way to help sales professionals increase performance and motivation by mastering the skills, processes, and techniques of selling.

If you think this sounds a lot like what your sales training program already does, then you’re right—with a couple of key exceptions. The main distinctions between sales training and sales coaching are the timeline, the scope of the goals, and the personalization of the instruction. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Sales training vs. sales coaching

  • Sales training happens in response to specific changes or milestones—such as when an employee joins the company, a new product or process is introduced, or a new sales methodology is adopted. Training programs typically focus on fundamental skills related to a specific role, such as sales strategy or software use. Due to the broad, generic nature of the program’s goals, sales training isn’t customized to each employee.
  • Sales coaching, on the other hand, is a continuous process that happens throughout the employee’s tenure with the sales team. Sales coaches use this ongoing relationship with sales reps to go beyond the basics and help them build the underlying skills that lead to sales success. Through ongoing training that is customized to the employee’s skill level, sales coaches can adjust their approach to the needs of individual team members and provide personalized feedback on their progress.

Related: How to Improve Your Sales Training Techniques (in 5 Steps)

3 tips to foster a culture of learning with sales coaching

Because, by definition, sales coaching is tailored to the individual, it is a powerful tool for elevating your sales teams. And when L&D professionals take an active role, they can push the sales coaching process to another level.

1. Create opportunities to learn in the flow of work

Normal “training” classes take employees out of their daily activities, reducing productivity or breaking their flow. But learning doesn’t have to happen at the expense of productivity if you learn in the flow of work.

The key steps in flow of work learning are identifying where an employee can improve, developing a plan of action, and providing guidance and feedback on performance in real time (or as close as possible).

For example, say your goal is to increase a sales rep’s upsell numbers from the current 5% to the 10% target. With a flow of work approach, an L&D manager would explain the new target and then lay out a series of goals and concrete steps. The salesperson can incorporate the steps into their daily sales calls to meet these goals.

A sales coach follows up at each step to help the sales rep improve to reach each goal. To ensure coaches and reps can fit this into their busy schedules, you can lean on asynchronous formats, like asking a rep to record themselves practicing their new pitch, instead of having to book endless in-person meetings.

The plan may look something like this:

Goal 1: Build a habit of bringing up add-ons or upsells in every call.

  • Strategy: During each call, inform the client of one additional service the company offers.
  • Follow-up: Help the sales rep identify which clients responded positively, what the sales rep did to create the positive reaction, and how they can improve.

Goal 2: Get 20% of clients to sign up for a demo of an add-on product or service.

  • Strategy: Each time a client responds positively to the idea of additional services, explain the benefits and offer to schedule a demo.
  • Follow-up: Work with the sales rep to review their sales calls to identify what is working and what isn’t. Provide tips or other tools the sales rep can use to improve their sales skills.

Related: 3 Biggest Challenges of Remote Sales Training and How to Overcome Them

2. Encourage peer-led coaching through collaborative learning

As the saying goes, “none of us are as smart as all of us.” Your senior sales reps have invaluable knowledge that can help less-experienced sales reps increase their output. And even the newest addition to the team has something they can teach their veteran counterparts.

When L&D professionals give their sales teams the tools they need to share knowledge as a team, they make it possible for every employee to be both a teacher and student through peer training. With a collaborative learning approach, employees with different experiences, backgrounds, and skills can share their knowledge and expertise—teaching and learning from one another at the same time. The entire group benefits from each employee’s skills, ideas, and institutional knowledge.

While traditional corporate training is often one-sided, hierarchical, and top-down, collaborative learning can make your sales coaching program more democratized, relevant, fast, iterative, and impact-driven.

Collaborative Learning

Peer training can come in many forms, depending on the needs and strengths of each team. For example:

  • Peer-created courses: High-performing sales reps can create courses for their peers where they discuss new ideas, skills, or tips they have learned. These asynchronous presentations give everyone on the team the opportunity to learn from expert sales reps without disrupting anyone’s busy schedule.
  • Brainstorming sessions around a recurring challenge: When your team identifies a common problem, a group brainstorming session can help identify possible solutions. These sessions allow sales reps to provide unique points of view and collaborate on unique solutions to a shared problem.
  • Presentations on customer challenges or wins: When sales reps share unique challenges they’ve experienced or new ways they’ve found to delight a customer, everybody on the team benefits from this shared knowledge.
  • Peer feedback: You can leverage your team’s collective expertise by promoting collaborative feedback. When everyone on the team is able to share insights and feedback on their peer’s work, it creates tribal knowledge that exposes everyone to different ideas, methods, and sales strategies.

Related: A Practical Guide to Employee Coaching for L&D Teams

3. Create sales skills exercises for low-pressure learning

Like professional athletes, top-tier sales reps shine brightest when they’re under intense pressure, but athletes and sales reps alike need low-pressure exercises to help them master new skills. Low-stakes, controlled sales exercises give sales reps an opportunity to try new methods and experiment with new skills without the fear of failure looming over them.

For example, the sales reps at Clearbit gather every week in small groups to practice their sales skills. Sales reps rotate through three roles in each group: seller, buyer, and coach. The short sales-call roleplay sessions focus on the week’s subskills, creating a laid-back learning environment for sales reps.

After each session, Clearbit encourages the reps to help each other by providing feedback. “They give themselves feedback, then their peers give them feedback, and then the manager can give feedback,” says Connor Fee, the head of GTM strategy at Clearbit.

To take this type of skills training to the next level, you can empower team leaders to provide 1:1 feedback through asynchronous online forums.

peer feedback asset

The template you need to make sure your peer feedback isn't shooting you in the foot.

360Learning can help you build a better sales coaching program

The collaborative learning LMS from 360Learning gives you the tools you need to empower employees to learn and share knowledge throughout your organization. If you’re curious to learn how 360Learning can support your sales training strategies, sign up for a demo today.