Four Steps to Create and Scale a Coaching Culture

By Kate Lewis, Founder and CEO, e4enable
Blocks with outlines of people painted on them connected by a web of string

The stats really do speak for themselves when it comes to the benefits of coaching your sales teams. According to CSO Insights, a properly implemented coaching culture can lead to a 16.6 percent increase in win rates for forecasted deals – and Sales Enablement Pro predicts that “those that measure ‘competency improvement post-activity’ experience a win rate that is 6 points higher than those that do not.” – both critical points when you consider that 57 percent of sales reps are expected to miss their target (Salesforce State of Sales Report).

Despite all of this, though, over 60 percent of organizations still opt for an informal coaching process or leave it up to managers who may or may not be fundamentally fit as coaches.

Informal sales coaching practices can often be cumbersome and not fit for purpose – limiting the true benefits of coaching. They often also involve endless admin, manually updating records for each rep, a lack of accountability, no tracking or visibility of where a team member is at any given time, and little measurement. While such processes may be impossible to scale, establishing a “coaching first” culture makes it possible to create a sustainable and scalable way to coach your teams.

Managers realize that focusing on sales results alone will not drive change and create a sustainable high-performance sales team – and, while sales results are important, they are also lagging indicators. A true coaching first culture means being prepared to lead with a coaching conversation, no matter the circumstance. Although this may not be easy in the face of month, quarter, or year-end pressure, it can also be the difference between a successful program and merely good intentions.

Think of defining sales competencies as outlining your goal. If you don’t know the destination, how can you plan the journey? If you don’t define what good looks like, how can you develop and coach your sales team to be the best versions of themselves? What makes your salespeople great? Is it their attitude? Technical understanding? Approach? This is an essential step, not only for you to know what you are aiming for but to enable you to scale. Everyone else needs to know, too. It sets a standard and an expectation from the beginning and avoids assumptions.

Effective competencies are specific and measurable. For example, “good communication skills” might become “being able to communicate with senior stakeholders.” You might also want to categorize them into skill- and will-based competencies; plus, if a certain structure or process is important for your team, then this can be a category, too.

Be careful to avoid competencies that should be the basic expectation of any employee – trust and integrity, for example – and make sure they are appropriate for each role (e.g., someone just starting out in sales is unlikely to be ready to communicate with the C-suite).

It is also important to know the competency path between each role. What competencies would you want a salesperson to exhibit to be considered for a leadership role?

To embed a culture of coaching for success, you need to clearly, constantly, and consistently communicate your intentions and gain buy-in from every level – from the top of the organization down. Senior leaders need to exhibit the coaching behaviors they want to instill in others, and should give consideration to how to communicate it before, during, and after every sales initiative.

Changing a culture takes an army, and everyone needs to be aware of their role in its success – establishing an operating rhythm for how often, who, etc., can help with this.

When getting started, it is important that the first one-to-one session includes a discussion and then agreement on where a salesperson is performing against the competencies in order to avoid misaligned expectations. You should then agree on the priority coaching activities and objectives – you can’t expect to improve everything in the next three months, but some objectives will stand out as moving the needle for the individual.

You should also remember to align these objectives to an individual’s personal goals to maximize buy-in. After all, the “what’s in it for me” factor is a powerful one.

Consistency is key to the success of your sales coaching program. The danger with any new initiative is that while, at the beginning, everyone is very excited – fully onboard and diligent – the enthusiasm and adoption rates wane over time.

The key to avoiding this to make sure the program is a truly top-down initiative. Sales leaders need to be held accountable for embedding it consistently. If a CRO/SVP holds direct reports to account and checks on progress, initiatives, and engagements, then this naturally flows down. Visibility is also key to avoid lip service – the more visible sales leaders’ actions are, the more accountable they will be.

Implementing a way to track sales coaching objectives against the competencies is a great way to hold every level of the business accountable and will increase your chances of success. Organizations doing this well have introduced gamification and company-wide sales challenges that can be used with great effect to up the ante and create a shared community-style learning-and-development sales culture.

If you use these techniques to promote wins across the organization in a common language, it will soon become apparent who is engaged and who isn’t – and, as in every good coaching culture, that creates a coaching opportunity for the sales leader.

Once you have defined your competencies and engaged your sales teams and leaders, the next step is to measure the impact on performance. But how can you track incremental progress?

The work you have done until now has laid the groundwork for this. Each salesperson is aware of the competencies and knows their individual starting points. You now need to decide how you will measure outcomes and improvements against each competency.

For example, the outcome for “improving negotiating skills” could be measured by an increase in the average order value or decrease in discount levels. “Teaching others” could be measured in how many win stories the salesperson shares or how many blogs they post.

Easy access to the right data can be invaluable here. The sales tech stack is now a complex combination of many platforms and products – from CRMs and call intelligence software to LinkedIn Sales Navigator, communications platforms, and HR portals. The list goes on. These disparate systems are all undoubtedly valuable in their own right but they present a challenge for sales leaders who need to be able to correlate data to get a full picture of activity, behaviors, and improvements. If there are blind spots, sales leaders will not be able to see progress, identify where extra help might be needed, or measure the true ROI of any training. In turn, therefore, salespeople’s successes will not be celebrated; gaps will not be acted on; and people will become disenfranchised with the program.

As sales leaders, we need to recognize the value of each distinct solution in our tech stack, but we also need to have a central place where all of the valuable intelligence is brought together and can be used to drive coaching and improvement.

Implementing, maintaining, and scaling a “coaching first” culture is not designed to be a set-and-forget program. Just like any culture, it needs nurturing, so keep iterating through steps 1-4 and continually review. Don’t be tempted to keep changing the competencies or metrics; a coaching program will take time to embed – but it’s worth it.