How to Create a Highly Collaborative Sales Coaching Environment

1 Jul 24

One of the most essential qualities of effective sales coaching is collaboration. Learn what are the ways to create a highly collaborative sales coaching environment.

When we think of great coaches, the picture that frequently comes to mind is of tough, no-nonsense football coaches—"field generals”, Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi, and Bear Bryant all come to mind. However, famous coaches do more than just give motivational speeches. They are also great teachers during practice sessions, getting their players to buy into new ideas, techniques, and strategies with the goal of constant improvement. Let’s see how you can implement these strategies in your sales coaching and make it more effective through a collaborative approach.

What Is Collaborative Sales Coaching?

Collaborative sales coaching is a philosophy that emphasizes mutual accountability and shared learning between sales managers and salespeople. It is a shift from the traditional "sage on the stage" approach, where the coach imparts knowledge, and the salesperson passively absorbs it. Instead, collaborative sales coaching encourages a two-way flow of information, with both parties engaging in open dialogue, sharing insights, and working together to identify and address performance gaps.

Some of the key principles of collaborative sales coaching include:

  • Shared ownership of goals: The sales manager and the salesperson work together to define clear and measurable goals for the coaching program.
  • Active participation: The salesperson actively participates in the coaching process, not just a passive feedback recipient.
  • Continuous feedback: Salespeople receive regular feedback from their managers and seek feedback from peers, customers, and other stakeholders.
  • Behavior change focus: The coach works with the salesperson to identify specific behaviors that need to be improved and develops strategies for achieving sustainable change.
  • Empowerment and ownership: Salespeople feel confident in their ability to identify and address their challenges and take ownership of their development.

While collaborative coaching has plenty of benefits, its implementation requires some key mindset shifts. Building these foundations will allow you to ensure that the behavior changes among your team will be lasting and effective.

Develop a Coaching Mindset

To create a collaborative sales coaching environment, a sales manager should enter into each sales coaching conversation with a coaching mindset based on the 3 A’s:

#1 Ask Before Advocating

You have just observed one of your salespeople on a sales call, and you saw them make several mistakes. You are now ready to sit with the salesperson and debrief the call. Even if it is obvious what the salesperson did wrong on the call, you must start the debriefing process by asking questions.

The purpose behind asking questions first is to promote self-discovery by the salesperson since self-discovery is the most persuasive motivator of behavior change. Even if you eventually have to advocate your position (e.g., “You need to ask more ‘need’ questions to uncover customer needs”), such advocacy will be more effective if you start with questions because the process is more collaborative.

Good sales coaching questions to ask include:

What…?

  • What else did the customer say?
  • What surprised you about the customer’s reaction?
  • What did you notice when you started asking the customer more questions?

So what...?

  • So what did you see?
  • So, what went well?
  • So what could have been better?

Now, what...?

  • Now, what steps would you take?
  • Now, what would you do differently?
  • Now, what questions do you have?

#2 Actively Listen

Listening is a great way to help build a collaborative relationship with a salesperson during the sales coaching process. Unfortunately, many sales managers are poor listeners who feel they need to do all the talking.

The most successful sales coaches excel at active listening, which means they suspend their thoughts when the salesperson is speaking and focus 100% on listening to the salesperson.

#3 Assume Best Intentions

Sales coaching should never be viewed as remedial or punishment for poor performance. Great sales coaches assume that their salespeople want to improve their skills and get better. This helps create a positive environment where the salesperson is motivated to change behavior.

Once you have developed the right mindset, you can start creating a more collaborative sales coaching environment for your team.

How to Create a More Collaborative Sales Coaching Environment.

#1 Co-Define Coaching Outcomes

Start the coaching process by co-assessing the salesperson’s sales behaviors and jointly identify the salesperson’s strengths, development needs, and areas where you have disagreements. Then, co-define which behaviors will be addressed during the sales coaching process.

Many sales managers have an aversion to co-defining coaching outcomes. After all, if a salesperson on your team executes a skill incorrectly, just tell them to fix it. But remember, no one likes to be told what to do, and salespeople are no exception. That is why just “telling” often results in resistance, not behavior change.

#2 Establish Clear Collaborative Sales Coaching Roles

To ensure the success of such coaching calls and to prevent the sales manager from jumping in and taking over the call (a common occurrence), the sales manager and salesperson must establish clear roles before the call.

As a sales manager, there are three types of joint sales calls that you can go on with a salesperson. The most common type is a collective call – you accompany the salesperson to help them sell. For example, the salesperson needs help with a large, complex opportunity. This type of call is the least desirable from a coaching standpoint.

The second type of joint call is a modeling call where you sell, and the salesperson observes. It is appropriate for a new salesperson who doesn't yet have experience or confidence. This approach will also work for someone with a persistent development need that you can best address by demonstrating the “right” way.

However, the most effective kind of call for coaching is a coaching call where the salesperson sells, and you are the observer.

#3 Ask First

Salespeople will take more ownership of changing their behavior if they feel they are discovering problems and solutions independently. By asking questions, you help them with this process. You should express your opinion only after thoroughly inquiring into the salesperson’s perspective.

#4 Focus on Behaviors, not Judgments

When providing coaching feedback, it is critically important to focus on behaviors - observable, objective, specific acts or actions – and avoid making judgments.

If a sales manager says, “You did a great job,” there is no detailed information about what was great. A better way to say this could be: “You did an excellent job clarifying the client’s objection by asking, ‘Are you concerned about the delivery schedule or implementation?’ before answering the customer’s concern.” This statement tells the salesperson they did a good job and describes the behavior upon which the judgment was made.

Conclusion

Collaborative sales coaching is a transformative approach to cultivating a high-performing sales team. It emphasizes mutual accountability and shared learning between sales managers and salespeople, shifting from the traditional "sage on the stage" model to a two-way dialogue that fosters growth and development among sales professionals.

Collaborative sales coaching centers on behavior change, not just knowledge transfer. It empowers salespeople to take ownership of their development, fostering self-discovery and motivation to improve. By embracing the 3 A's - asking before advocating, actively listening, and assuming the best intentions - sales managers can create a supportive environment where salespeople feel valued and empowered to excel.

To effectively implement collaborative sales coaching, sales managers should co-define coaching outcomes with salespeople, establishing clear roles and expectations. They should also focus on asking questions before providing feedback, allowing salespeople to reflect on their performance and identify areas for improvement. Managers can provide constructive and actionable feedback that leads to lasting change by focusing on specific behaviors, not judgments.

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