The American job market is tighter than it’s been in years, and the sales industry is no exception. Great sales reps are at a premium -- especially those with experience. As a result, sales managers have been turning to reps with far less experience. According to research from The BridgeGroup, even a requirement of one to two years of experience is giving way to hiring reps straight out of college. This utter lack of expertise in early-career sales roles, and the need for rapid improvement after initial training, has put sales coaching is on the tip of nearly every sales leader’s tongue as they look for new ways to help inexperienced reps outperform competitors.

Silicon Valley has responded accordingly with a slew of sales coaching technologies. Due to strong demand, I expect such solutions to become a staple in sales technology stacks for businesses of all sizes in the coming years.

Sales coaching vs. sales training

One question I often hear asked is, “What’s the difference between sales training and sales coaching?” Sales training refers to an event or a series of events that occur as baseline education. Sales coaching, on the other hand, implies an ongoing relationship between reps and managers, with continued optimization and improvement. The scope of coaching ranges from process enforcement to the improvement of the sales conversation itself.

Why coaching?

Sales training programs often assume that reps can undergo some boot camp that lasts weeks or even months before reps are up and running. But the reality is that most companies don’t want to wait that long to see if reps have what it takes to be successful. Coaching focuses on building incremental improvements over time rather than trying to cram a bunch of knowledge in at once, which will usually be quickly forgotten.

Sales coaching has also grown more important because companies have rediscovered the importance of conversational skills, which are best taught by coaching. In particular, the lack of phone skills among millennials is a well-documented business phenomenon that cuts across all industries. This skill gap is especially painful in B2B sales, since voice conversations -- in which the rep and customer rarely meet in person -- remain absolutely vital to closing typical five-to-six figure deal sizes.

5 Basic components of sales coaching

As a founder of a sales acceleration company, I’m tuned in to the needs of sales teams. I’ve witnessed a burgeoning landscape of sales coaching offerings sprouting up to address five basic needs:

  • Increased visibility into performance assessment metrics

  • Better access to communications data (such as voice call recordings, real-time call monitoring or email)

  • The ability to give reps feedback in real time

  • The capability to set clearer objectives

  • The power to measure increases in reps’ performance over time

New trend: measuring the actual effectiveness of coaching

More recently, however, a new trend is emerging that seeks to measure the actual effectiveness of sales coaching across several hierarchical management layers. For example, during a recent call with a customer at an enterprise technology firm, I learned that the results of sales coaching for the front-line sales development team was being measured from the immediate supervisors, and up two additional levels, including regional management and the executive team.

I thought this case study was incredibly telling, because it reinforced what I had heard from other sales leaders at companies experiencing hyper-growth. The lesson is this: as your sales team scales, you, as an entrepreneur, need to be able to measure the effectiveness of your managers. This underscores the importance that performance improvement and identifying effective training techniques have taken within the enterprise itself. And I’ve found that trends that originate in the enterprise often trickle down to growth-stage companies and even small businesses.

This expansion of focus to the effectiveness of the actual coaching will help sales leaders address common data-driven questions that might include the following: Which call performance metrics indicate that a rep needs help? How many calls can a manager reasonably be expected to monitor and/or listen to and provide feedback on per month? To what extend is peer review and collaboration helpful? How does a control group (reps that aren’t receiving coaching) compare during the same period as the group that is receiving coaching?

With the increasing proliferation of coaching software, these questions will evolve to focus on whether the managers themselves performed coaching adequately. This naturally will revolutionize sales management. Why? Because sales coaching software may then reinforce better management, leading to more successful reps and managers with longer tenures in their roles. A lofty goal, but one that seems well within reach.

Howard Brown is the founder and CEO of RingDNA, which aims to maximize inside sales performance. Previously he founded 4Therapy (acquired by CRC Health) and Senior Transitions (acquired by RealPage).