Every SaaS founder knows that sales are critical to revenue which is critical to growth which is critical to success. In the early days, it’s enough to know this and for the founding team to be good at sales. But as the company grows, the founder’s skill doesn’t automatically translate to sales success at scale.
Highly successful SaaS companies are those whose founders master the art of scaling an effective sales operation. An effective sales operation requires an effective sales strategy and an effective sales team.
And an effective sales team requires effective sales coaching.
You Can’t Expect Your Sales Team to Know What To Do
One of the worst (and most common) assumptions we make about sales is that salespeople are born, not made. This assumption feeds a laundry list of further bad assumptions:
- A good salesperson can hit the ground running and sell the same way a founder does
- A great salesperson can innovate on the fly and sell with minimal training
- The only training a salesperson needs is to understand our offering and our customers
- We can hire a superstar from another company and expect them to succeed at ours
- A solid sales team will be self-motivated and knowledgeable enough to perform on their own
- High performers don’t need coaching
The truth is that sales, especially in the complex environments of many SaaS companies, is a skilled profession, not a born talent. Almost anyone who wants to can become an outstanding salesperson. But in order to do so, they must have a combination of a willingness to learn, and the support of process, training, and coaching.
In order to be truly successful, salespeople must understand the following about your company:
- Your Offering
- Your industry
- Your ideal customers
- Your sales strategy
- Your sales process
- Your differentiating value
- Your position and messaging
But they must also be skilled at:
- Building trust
- Asking probing questions
- Discovering what the customer values
- Navigating multiple stakeholders with different priorities
- Building and communicating business acumen
- Collecting information
- Advising and guiding the customer
- Helping the buyer build consensus across stakeholders
- Helping customers make decisions and move forward
Plus, they must hold and develop supportive mindsets, remain motivated and aligned with their personal and professional goals, and work together with their team to move the company’s initiatives and priorities forward. And all of this has to happen within a fast-paced, results-driven environment.
To make matters even more complicated, HOW you sell is WHY you win… meaning that your sales team must learn to sell HOW you sell, and not how they learned at the last company they worked for.
If you just hire superstars wherever you can find them and expect them to grow your company, you will end up with a mishmash of maverick operators, creating market confusion and failing to develop the structure you need in order to truly scale up.
To Scale, You Need Structure, and You Need Coaching
As you grow your sales operation, the first thing you need is a clear and focused sales strategy, backed by an executable sales process. Then you need a team that understands your strategy and your process and has the skills necessary to execute it.
That’s the structure part. But it’s not enough. To differentiate from the rest of the pack and get the most out of your sales team, you need to be continuously improving HOW you sell. And for that, your team needs feedback and coaching.
Sales managers are the greatest lever on your team to ensure that every single salesperson is constantly growing and performing to their best. Effective sales coaching is the critical multiplier for scalable revenue growth.
How to Coach Your Sales Team Effectively
Effective coaching doesn’t happen by accident. To develop an effective coaching system inside your organization, start with these 3 keys.
1. Promote The Right Mindset
Too often, the wrong people are promoted to sales management positions. Management is often seen as the only way to progress in your sales career, and management positions are coveted as a sign of success.
Unfortunately, this means that we often promote our highest individual performers to this position, on the assumption that a great salesperson will be a great sales manager.
The biggest problem with this mistake is that sales management requires an entirely different mindset from individual sales performance. It requires that managers shift from a focus on being the hero to a focus on supporting the success of others.
So the first thing you need to do to set up an effective coaching system is ensure you promote people who have a team-oriented, collaborative mindset. Look for team players who:
- Readily share information with their teammates
- Collaborate freely and help others regularly
- Demonstrate genuine care for customers and colleagues
- Frequently coach their peers effectively and in appropriate contexts
- Are willing to learn new skills and abilities
2. Make Coaching a Priority
From the very first time you hire or promote a sales manager, demonstrate your commitment to their role as a coach. Teach managers that coaching is one of their highest priorities, and prioritize time and space in their workload to focus on it.
Allow them to shift from their role of selling directly to customers into their role of supporting the team in selling to customers. This means:
- Free them from excessive reporting duties
- Encourage them to plan and prepare for coaching
- Invest in training and support for their coaching skills
- Provide them with resources and enablement to support coaching as a key aspect of their job description
3. Build a Coaching Framework
Just like people aren’t born as salespeople, sales professionals aren’t born as coaches. Support and prioritize coaching by establishing a framework within which your managers can coach effectively.
An effective coaching framework should provide structure for:
- Strategic coaching. At the strategic level, the coach focuses on the salesperson’s goals and aspirations. These conversations help the salesperson align their own motivations with the goals set by the organization. Effective coaching at this level ensures salespeople achieve goals that are meaningful to them, while also staying motivated to achieve the organization’s goals for them.
- Planning. Coaches should be regularly helping salespeople understand the process to follow to execute on their strategy, as well as what to do during specific calls. Planning coaching includes pre-call planning, post-call debriefing, and general planning to improve the pipeline and progress through the sales process.
- Skills and attitude. Great coaches pay attention to whether their salespeople have the right skills to execute the plan and provide the coaching to help them gain those skills. They should know their people’s strengths and weaknesses, and be committed to helping them achieve the mindset and attitude necessary for success. Analytics, ride-alongs, and probing questions are all great tools for coaches to use at this level.
- Pipeline. Coaches should keep their eyes on the size, quality, and velocity of each salesperson’s pipeline, and watch both leading and lagging indicators. Then they can step in as soon as problems or obstacles arise, and help salespeople navigate them.
- Accounts and opportunities. Coaches should be working proactively with sales team members to review current accounts and opportunities, define next steps, identify barriers and slow-downs, and develop approaches to keep each one moving in a good direction.
- Activities. Coaches should be able to see what activities salespeople are engaging in, and help them focus on more of the right things at the right times. Coaching should include encouraging salespeople to engage in the best activities, and enough of them, to meet goals. This type of coaching may include call planning, call coaching, and general accountability coaching.
- Ad Hoc. Great coaching doesn’t ONLY happen on a schedule. The best coaches make every conversation an opportunity to learn and grow. They meet their teams at random times and in random circumstances to check in and see how they’re doing and feeling. They make themselves available for questions and impromptu coaching sessions when the team feels they need it. While this shouldn’t lead to an environment where the coach never has time for anything else, it should be a regular and supported aspect of the manager’s job.
All of these coaching activities need to happen within a framework that helps the manager keep track of their own performance as a coach and keeps them focused on coaching at the right times and in the right ways to best support their team.
Sales Coaching is The Critical Multiplier to Scalable Revenue
When we think about scaling a SaaS, a lot of thought is generally given to strategic planning, having the right people in the right seats, and going after the right markets with the right products. Too often, the sales department is treated like a magical black box that will naturally deliver revenue if we just fill it with the right people.
But the best performing and fast-scaling SaaS companies invest in their sales strategy, sales process, and sales team. The best-performing sales teams are also those that are best supported by outstanding sales coaching. So don’t forget, as you’re building your company, to also build your sales coaching.