The new ‘ABC’s of Sales: Always Be Coaching

BY:  Rebecca Herson
May 25, 2021
Updated on December 12, 2023

Table of Contents

In the tech world, sales coaching is one of those behind-the-scenes activities that’s crucial for closing sales and driving revenue, but doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s not as sexy as developing new algorithms for selecting leads or creating marketing automation workflows, so it often gets overlooked or dismissed as something that’s just for onboarding new sales employees.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Think of the world of pro basketball. You’d never expect an untrained, untried player to help a team win the NBA, or even a college basketball star to slide into a top team without any training. It’s obvious that they need plenty of tailored, personalized coaching that polishes their strengths and corrects their weaknesses.

But it’s not just new players who receive excellent coaching. Even the best, most experienced, veteran players like LeBron James or Stephen Curry still receive personal coaching every day. Elite athletes would laugh at the idea that they’re already “good enough” and don’t need any more training or practice.

The same is true for your sales team. There’s no sales employee or star seller, no matter how new or experienced they are, that doesn’t need coaching. We discovered this first hand when our 2021 Sales Coaching Survey found that 96% of respondents agree that sales coaching is crucial, but 64% feel enterprises aren’t delivering enough of it.

In the sales world, ABC stands for “always be closing,” but we’d like to propose a new, equally important ABC of sales:  “always be coaching.”

Hundreds of types of sales conversations…and they change all the time

When we analyzed how many different types of sales conversations one of our customers needed to coach its salespeople on by multiplying the number of product lines, industries, segments and sales stages, it quickly came to a three-digit number. And this figure is a moving target, because in reality, the company’s offering often changes. The product team is always adding new features, refining workflows, and releasing new versions, which means that there’s always something new for your sales employees to master.

The market environment never stays static, either. A new competitor comes to market, or the existing competition changes its messaging. Sellers need to have a clear idea of the competitive landscape as it morphs and grows.

And then there are different types of prospects, each of which requires a different type of conversation. Selling to a budget-focused CFO requires totally different tactics to selling to a brand-oriented CMO or a security-conscious CISO. The sales employee who’s awesome at selling to middle management in SecOps might struggle with the decision maker in the finance department. Your sales employees need time to practice their exchanges with every type of prospect they’ll encounter, not just the ones they’re already familiar with.

Everyone gets rusty

Everyone loses their edge over time, because that’s human nature. It’s a mistake to think that only new hires need coaching. Every type of sales performer at every level of your company needs coaching; your weakest sales employees need sales coaching to give them the basic skills they’re lacking; middling sellers need more sales coaching so that they can improve their tactics and rise to become top performers; and your best sellers know that ongoing practice is what keeps them at the top of the tree.

Just like in basketball, the more you practice a skill, the stronger it becomes. It doesn’t matter if that skill is sinking baskets or closing deals; practice may not make you perfect, but it certainly makes you better than you were yesterday.

CI/CD isn’t just for R&D

Every tech company today knows how the principles of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) enable DevOps teams to make small changes at every stage of development and production to keep on making your product better and better. But more and more companies are discovering that CI/CD isn’t just for DevOps.

Your sales team needs to keep up with all the new tweaks in your solution, and it’s too much to absorb in coaching sessions once or twice a year. Plus, sales employees need to stay on top of the broader company messaging, not just learn about new features. A learning mindset is one of the key habits of highly effective salespeople, helping them remain fluent in everything about your sales messaging.

Elite sellers never rest on their laurels

If you ever thought that the best sellers don’t need sales coaching, think again. Just like in pro sports, the best performers put more time into sales training, coaching, and practice, not less. Every top athlete has a personal trainer who helps them hone their strength, speed, and agility. Leading CEOs have mentors who help them spot opportunities, look for ways to manage risk, and guide them in making decisions. Why wouldn’t the same apply to your sales employees?

The best sellers don’t usually share their tactics and approach, but most of them also have support networks where they swap the best sales strategies, read the latest articles about sales success, and/or have sales coaches who help them improve their technique. Top performers are going through coaching on a continuous basis; now imagine what would happen if all your sales employees enjoyed the same experience.

Under-performers just need a bit more coaching

In 2020, around 60% of sales reps missed their quota. Although that high number has a lot to do with the sudden and unexpected changes wrought by COVID-19, it also shows that far too many salespeople are missing out on vital sales coaching.

Confidence sells, but the under-trained are inevitably less confident, less fluent, and less sure of their ability to close sales. 57% of sales people in our sales coaching survey agreed that coaching increases sales reps’ confidence, and 56% saw an uptick in the quality of sales conversations. Continuous coaching can help every sales rep to move up a level in terms of sales performance, giving them full knowledge of the solution, better understanding of customer needs, and more confidence when delivering pitches and answering questions.

Sales coaching is (mostly) not about information

It’s a common belief that the main point of sales coaching is to teach sales employees information about your solution and its competition. People think that once sales employees know the solution’s features, the company’s brand messaging, the relative pros and cons of rival products, and each product’s value add, they have all they need to make a successful sales call.

While all this info is important, the true value of sales coaching is to enable sales employees to practice important skills like discovery tactics, listening to the lead’s concerns, asking the right questions, and overcoming objections. Although the main concern for participants in our survey was to teach sales employees to present the full value proposition, the next 3 issues – discovery skills, objection handling, and building trust – are all soft skills. These skills can’t be transmitted through a lecture or video; they need to be practiced repeatedly, like practicing how to shoot a basket from the three-point line.

Know your sales ABCs

Continuous coaching is a must for all sales employees in every enterprise, whether they are new hires or veteran sellers, top performers or in the bottom quadrant of your sales teams. With improved coaching, your sales teams will have a better grasp of your solution, constantly improve the sales performance of your team, understand your customers better, and keep their skills up to date. If you thought ABC was “Always Be Closing,” now you know, it’s “Always Be Coaching.”

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About the author

Rebecca Herson

Rebecca is head of marketing at Second Nature.

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