In this guest blog post, Tim Conroy, one of our inaugural Miller Heiman Group Icons, learning and development director with Applied Materials and an expert on sales coaching strategies, shares how he drives sales managers to perform their best.

Most sales managers arrived in their position because they’re outstanding at selling or at managerial skills like developing market share or driving revenue. But that doesn’t mean that they’re equipped with one of the most essential skills to develop their team: sales coaching.

For many organizations, sales management coaching isn’t a primary focus because of time constraints. Many sales managers harbor the misconception that sales coaching takes too much time away from selling. Some sales managers wait for salespeople to seek advice, ask permission to take the next step or get a review of a deal.

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But it should be the other way around: sales managers should actively look for coaching opportunities to share information and communicate with their team. This is where many companies have significant room for improvement.

Why Sales Management Coaching Matters

Salespeople have a lot of information to absorb, whether it’s sales methodologies and processes, product information or value messaging. The more information you throw at your salespeople, the less they’re likely to retain.

The Ebbinghaus Curve, a mathematical formula devised by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, shows that when people learn something new, they’ll forget 80% of what they learned within 24 hours. But Ebbinghaus also discovered that it’s possible to lessen the learning loss by repeating what you learned at regular intervals—what he called “spaced repetition.”

I’ve seen this play out with sales teams at my company. With continual reinforcement and relearning of concepts over a certain period—say that we retrain our sellers every couple of days or once a week—the learning curve flattens out and retention stays higher. We’ve been able to reverse the curve through relearning, microlearning, reinforcement and—one of the key components—sales coaching.

Sales managers need to help their team relearn by coaching in the process of work. By coaching in the midst of deals, it helps sellers retain key knowledge and become more effective over time. This is a concept I call “coaching in the flow.”

I borrowed the concept from analyst and talent and learning expert Josh Bersin, who devised the idea of “learning in the flow.” The sales manager should coach while the seller is in the process of selling, analyzing what is happening to deliver real-time feedback. Immediate, in-the-flow constructive criticism encourages salespeople to stop behaviors that aren’t working and to adopt new, more effective selling strategies. By using this process, we’ve gone from an 80% learning loss to 80% learning retention within four or five reinforcement cycles.

Here’s an example of coaching in the flow using Strategic Selling with Perspective. To follow the sales methodology in this course, sellers must identify all of the relevant stakeholders or decision-makers for a deal. One way that sales managers coach sellers in this process is by asking, “How are you sure that you’ve identified all of the stakeholders?” The goal is to ensure sellers are able to say with confidence that they’ve done it correctly. After we’ve gone through this process four or five times, our sellers get the concept, and we move on to coaching on the next topic.

The important thing for sales managers to remember is that coaching isn’t a one-and-done project or a check-the-box item: it must be ongoing to succeed.

Ready to Learn How to Coach Your Sellers to Success?

Want to learn more about how effective sales coaching strategies help sales managers improve their team’s performance and why a customer-centric sales process is essential to winning more deals? Check out the Miller Heiman Group’s Professional Sales Coaching training and listen to my Move the Deal podcast.

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Tim Conroy has 26 years of experience in semiconductor service and product sales and has risen through the sales ranks over his career. He also has a passion for sales training and development that he applies in what he describes as a “triumvirate” of roles at Applied Materials: sales process enablement support, employee development, and learning and development.

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