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Sooner or later, if you have a career in sales, you’ll find yourself in the role of a sales coach. You’ll be responsible for mentoring an individual to become a better salesperson, or you’ll be responsible for developing and motivating an entire team of salespeople to achieve their goals.
It’s a huge responsibility and one that even experienced salespeople are sometimes underprepared to meet. So what is it that makes an effective sales coach, and how can you embody those qualities?
Understand Your Role
First, you need to understand what your role as a sales coach is — and what it isn’t. In most situations, as a sales coach, your job will be:
Setting goals and encouraging goal achievement. First, you’ll be responsible for either setting goals directly or helping your reps set their own goals. Then, you’ll be responsible for helping them achieve those goals.
Identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. It’s also your job to identify the personal strengths and weaknesses that shape your individual reps. Working with and around those qualities is a major factor for sales success.
Providing high-level and low-level feedback. High-level feedback allows you to guide salespeople in general practices, while low-level feedback helps you correct failures in individual interactions.
Increasing knowledge and skill. It’s also your job to increase the skills and knowledge of your sales reps, either by directly teaching them or by pointing them to external resources that can help them.
Inspiring motivation. Good sales coaches also serve a powerful role as a motivator; they inspire their teams to do their best.
Improving professional relationships. If you’re working with a team, it’s also important to foster and nurture individual professional relationships within the team, enabling more effective and harmonious collaboration.
These are the principles you should be building around. Don’t get bogged down in other details.
Be Challenging, Yet Reasonable
Make sure you’re actively challenging your sales reps to improve. If you’re setting goals that are easy to achieve, or if you’re constantly saying things like “just keep doing what you’re doing,” you won’t effectively inspire change. At the same time, it’s also important to be reasonable; don’t tear salespeople apart for simple mistakes, and don’t set goals that are practically impossible to achieve. Find a middle ground, and strive to remain there. When setting goals, try to follow SMART criteria to achieve this.
Treat Individuals Differently
Next, understand that each individual on your sales team is going to be unique. They’re going to have different strengths and weaknesses. They’re going to have different personal preferences and tolerances. They’re also going to have slightly different mentalities and approaches to the sales process. It’s important that you acknowledge this and adjust your approach accordingly.
If you treat everyone as exactly the same, giving the exact same advice to every individual, it’s going to work against you. Instead, you need to tailor your discussions, your approaches and your advice to each individual uniquely.
One of the best tools for communication is active listening, and it’s vital for any sales coach. Too many coaches believe their role is almost exclusively outwardly communicative; it’s their job to dispense advice and provide pointers. However, it’s just as important, if not more important to listen to what your employees are thinking and feeling. Spend time asking critical questions and hear what your sales reps have to say.
This strategy serves two main purposes. First, you’ll learn more about your sales reps individually so you can serve them better. Second, you’ll build mutual trust so you can engage with your team members more effectively in the future.
Empower Your Reps
Too many sales coaches think their job is a dictatorial one; they set the goals, direct the action and tell salespeople what to do. But better sales coaches give their reps more independence, autonomy and power. It’s far more effective to guide a sales rep in setting a goal for themselves than to set one for them. It’s far more effective to ask your sales rep what they think they could have improved on a call than to simply tell them what you think from the outset.
Set the Right Tone
As a sales coach, your reps will be looking to you as an example, so it’s important that you set the right tone as a leader. Try to maintain a positive, optimistic disposition at all times, and remain calm under pressure. If you keep your cool and remain positive, your employees will follow your lead.
You aren’t going to be a perfect sales coach, but you also don’t have to be. As long as you’re spending time on these key strategies and are genuinely interested in helping your sales reps succeed, you can make a positive impact in your organization.
Originally appeared in Forbes