Going in circles with your sales reps? Sales coaching can improve long term performance and employee retention, especially if these sessions are informed by a data driven approach. Here are 5 best practices from industry experts for sales operations teams to maximize coaching performance.

Tackle Tactics

Rehashing negative outcomes like missed goals doesn’t change selling behavior.  The Forbes Business Development Council recommends shifting to assessment-based learning, with plenty of tactical guidance, customized coaching, specific suggestions and structured practice.

  • Start with an assessment of each rep to determine what selling attributes and behaviors are strong today, and which specific skills need strengthening.

  • Schedule Early, In Depth Coaching. Vazzana and Jordan’s latest best seller Crushing Quota analyzed the tactical activities of high performing sales managers. They found early stage opportunity coaching, and more in depth sessions were commonplace for these managers.

  • Mix Up Modalities. Since every learner is different, Training Industry, Inc research found that integrating gamification, simulation, webinars, video and generational appropriate content into sales coaching improved effectiveness. Varied types of coaching, including a mix of tactical and strategic, can also help.  Use stack ranking of your sales team to understand when to apply each type. 
  • Customize and Practice. For example, improve role playing exercises by understanding the Selling Intelligence Score of your salespeople. Measure selling behaviors and performance indicators before, during and after sales coaching.

2. Get to Know Your Reps

Investing time in getting to know your sales reps is an important part of sales enablement. How do you know what a rep bringing to the table, in terms of selling behavior, sales skills and selling intelligence?

  • Learn each salesperson’s drivers. According to HubSpot sales director Dan Tyre, learning how you can best engage your reps involves getting personal. He recommends asking what they want to accomplish in both their personal and professional lives to uncover what motivates them.
  • Complete an evaluation. Does your sales manager spend time on your reps selling skills, when it is their product knowledge that needs improvement?  Go beyond standard metrics and assess sales intelligence to identify exactly how your rep needs coaching.
  • Uncover your Reps beliefs and needs.  In 9 Sales Weaknesses That Cripple a Sales Rep’s Ability to Qualify, Databox CEO Pete Caputa lists underlying causes that can contribute to low performance.  For example, don’t assume that your sales reps are comfortable talking about money, or have the same concept of what’s expensive. Beyond their time management skills, understanding their self-limiting beliefs, trust in others, or need for approval can help target sales coaching efforts.

3. Create Buy In

A new 2019 Salespeople Perceptions and Top Performance Study lists what many managers already suspect: reps are struggling in 2019 and spending less time on activities like generating leads and referrals. But perhaps the most important finding is that “culture and management effectiveness” was more important to reps than even compensation.

  • Share a vision or mission for the team. Contributing toward achieving larger actionable goals will help sale people identify with the brand. Think about how these goals can fit into cultivating a positive company culture.

  • Get specific. Involving reps in the improvement process is key. In Sales Coaching: The Ultimate Guide, Aja Frost recommends asking reps how they think they performed, what they can do to get better, and which metrics will help them measure their progress.

  • Ask what personal incentives reps prefer. In It’s Not a “Sales Transformation” If It Doesn’t Stick, Lisa Clark emphasizes that designing contests and rewards are more effective when customized and tied to a Reps’ specific goals. 

  • Create a culture of coaching. Rather than making an already overworked sales leader responsible for the team, Forbes contributors Randy Illig and  George Donovan recommend creating a culture of coaching. Involving the entire team reduces dependency, and the risk associated with selecting the wrong coach. Using video can help efficiently facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge sharing across time and geographies.

4. Focus sales coaching on your middle 60%

According to research from Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon, reported in Harvard Business Review, sales managers spend most of their time coaching the highest and lowest performers. A CSO Insights survey reported sales leaders only spend 20% of their time on average helping their team with sales- so every minute counts.

  • Top and Bottoms Don’t Move. Managers most often coach the bottom 20%, to make sure the team can meet sales goals. Adamson and Dixon found that coaching is ineffective, because most in this group are just not a great fit for the role. Frequently drawn to the top 20%, managers also focus on their star performers, as it is more fun to coach those who they identify with. Yet traditional coaching offers this group little to no performance improvement.
  • Focus on the Middle. The middle 60% salespeople get the least amount of attention, yet Adamson and Dixon conclude that when sales leaders invest their time in this core group, their sales intelligence and performance can improve by up to 19%.

5. Shift Focus Away from Failure

The groundbreaking HBR article Developing Employees’ Strengths Boosts Sales, Profit and Engagement outlined howorganizations benefit from strength based interventions. While other HBR articles question focusing exclusively on strengths, there is consensus that repeatedly focusing on sales shaming while ignoring accomplishments rarely improves performance.


  • Avoid the Pat on the Back. For organizational strengths based development to be effective, author Michelle McQuaid cautions managers not to repeat the Three Common Mistakes Companies Make Focusing on People’s Strengths.  Among these are meaningless manager conversations, in which only praise is given. Instead, Mc Quaid suggests scheduling time to understand and improve strengths, and “explore how someone’s strengths are being overplayed, underplayed and specifically used well at work.”

  • Use Positive Coaching Guidance. Outlined by LinkedIn Blogger Alex Hisaka, sales leaders generate more focus on strengths when coaching is filled with respect, open ended questions, empathy and genuine interest.   

So, in short, creating a data driven coaching plan involves better understanding your core sales reps’ professional strengths and personal perspectives, and using this information to inform customized tactics and create buy in. Use these best practices to improve performance and design your own customized data driven sales enablement strategy