Traditional and Modern Sales Coaching Models
What if sales coaching was actually more than an acronym? What if sales coaching was more than call reviews, pipeline management, or action plans? Great news: that's actually (finally!) where sales coaching is headed. At Ambition, we're passionate about smart, effective sales coaching that has a measurable impact — and we talk about it a lot.
But to really understand where sales coaching is going, it's important to take a step back and understand exactly where it's been and how we arrived at "modern-day" sales coaching. Because even if some of these methodologies are slightly outdated (or in some cases, we'd argue, misguided), there are pros and cons to every one.
Traditional sales coaching models
1. What is the GROW Sales Coaching Model?
GROW stands for Goals, Reality, Options, and Will. It boils down to asking these questions: “Where are you now?” (Reality) and “Where do you want to be?” (Goals). To achieve going from where you are to where you want to be, you assess your options to get you there and then decide what you are willing to do.
The bad: Aside from the fact that it's not specific to sales teams and managing sales performance, there's no plan for showing your team how to get from where they are to where they want to be.There should be a much more specific plan for how to achieve the desired outcomes.
2. What is the GAINS Coaching Model?
The GAINS coaching model stands for Goal, Assessment, Ideas, Next Steps, Support. This model is about giving constructive feedback to your team. You are to state the goal or expectation for the individual and then provide feedback on the actions of the rep (either commend or critique) how the behavior impacts the goal. Finally, you give next steps and support the behavior change.
The good: The GAINS model supports the concept of clear next steps to achieve the desired outcome and the idea of creating behavior changes to see a different, more desired end result.
The bad: In the GAINS model, the leader declares the goal and gives all of the directives dictating everything — i.e., what the end result should be and the path to get there — without seeking development for the reps to uncover these ideas for themselves. This directive style of coaching has been shown to be less effective than some developmental models.
3. What is the CIGAR Coaching Model?
The CIGAR coaching model feels very similar to the GROW model in that you establish where you are now in your current reality and then where you want to be in the future. The acronym stands for Current Reality, Ideal, Gaps, Action and Review. The concept is to identify the Gaps that are preventing you from getting to where you want to be. Take Action to overcome the gaps, then review to see how it went and adjust strategy from there.
The good: The built-in review here is a great component to coaching. There is never a single strategy that works forever. If there was, we wouldn’t even be discussing coaching models! Continuous review and development are an essential part of successful coaching.
The bad: Similar to the GROW model, the CIGAR coaching model has nothing specific to sales. Plus, getting to the point of, say, "more monthly booked revenue" shouldn't rely on someone pointing out gaps like, “We need more enterprise deals,” or “Increase your meetings held to closed won ratio.” There needs to be specific coaching and teaching for how to actually do those things.
Modern Sales Coaching Models
Modern-day sales coaching is more than reviewing calls or setting goals. And it's more than sporadic coaching or quarterly performance reviews. We need processes; we need to take actions based on visible sales data; and we need measurable outcomes attributed to the work our sales managers coaches are doing.
But we also need to remember the human element of coaching. Great coaches put people first and develop them into confident, goal-hitting reps. There's a culture shift to replace sales managers with sales coaches — but we aren’t always teaching our managers what good coaching could be. So, oftentimes, they are left to the outdated and ineffective models above. Here's a look at some modern-day plays specific for sales coaches.
1. Aligned AOR Sales Coaching Model
An aligned model explores the continuous relationship of activities, objectives and results. The whole concept of the alignment strategy is to give a clear set of activities and objectives that have been shown to produce the desired results. It is a data-driven approach to create a proven strategy that reps can still tailor to their individual selling styles. It is an ongoing, continuous coaching model where there are opportunities to coach every day, even as frequently as every hour. But it may not be how you have once thought of traditional coaching. This style of coaching doesn’t have to take place behind closed doors with a laptop open to every deal the rep has seen stall out or close:lost. This can look more like creating a competition when the daily leaderboard shows that your team is light on outbound call activity that you know is necessary to produce the meetings objectives to close their deals.
The good: The great thing about this model is that is a playbook of sorts that reps can pick up and run with. It is not ambiguous and reps can be measured on hustle with the number of activities they are completing. If you set a target of 100 phone calls, and you have a rep who consistently hits that number, you know his heart is there. If it isn’t panning out in the objectives of meetings set, then you know you need to work on the connects to meetings set ratio by helping him with his pitch, or identifying the right buyer persona, or target fit. That part is elaborated on in the ARC Execution model below.
The bad: The downside to the AOR model is that there are no predefined activities and activity benchmarks for you already laid out. There will absolutely be a trial and error process in place for you to know if you want to focus more on phone calls or social selling. If you look at your historical data conversions, that will give you a starting place, but you will need to continuously make time to try new strategies and ideas. If you want to see some templates for other sales leaders AOR sales scorecards, you can download them here.
2. ARC Execution Sales Coaching
The ARC Execution Sales Coaching model is about structured sessions with your individual reps and your team. ARC and Aligned AOR aren't mutually exclusive; they can be used together as an integrated coaching strategy. The concept of the ARC Execution model is that you set aside individual time to review how your team and reps are performing on their activities, and how they'e converting to the objectives and results. Then, you can have specific conversations isolated to the conversion points where you’d like to coach improvement.
The good: The best thing about the ARC Execution model (when integrated with the AOR model) is that you're setting aside time to have human conversations, which are supported with data beyond just revenue booked. You're able to coach on selling skills and measure the performance of activities that do or don’t convert to desired objectives. There's also time to coach around other softer sales skills, such as:
how to advance SALs and Opps through each stage of sales process / funnel
how to accurately forecast and commit opportunities
how to upsell or not compete on price but something else
retention coaching around ensuring we are closing deals that are the right fit and have tenure
The bad: The ARC execution model does require standing commitments on your calendar. Sales managers are some of the busiest people out there, and making time for consistent 1:1 sessions is tough. If you're willing and able to stick with it, you will absolutely see results improve; many sales articles tout these 1:1 sessions as the number-one performance driver for sales teams.
Tactics to implement modern sales coaching
Sales scorecards: Sales Scorecards are a way of tracking the activities and objectives concept outlined in the AOR Aligned coaching model. Providing your reps with the actual day-to-day plays is "step one" of being a successful sales coach.
Visibility into data with leaderboards and alerts: When your whole team can see where they rank, they're more likely to perform better. Not because of big brother over their shoulder, but because of things like the psychology of “last place aversion” or generally being motivated by data visibility <survey>. Sales TVs and leaderboards are a common mechanism that top sales managers leverage to help improve visibility and performance. Visibility can go beyond TVs into automated, triggered alerts to Slack, email, or your TV to help celebrate small wins or privately be alerted when a specific metric is deviated off track.
1:1 coaching sessions
In a 1:1 scheduled coaching session, directive style of sales coaching allows for you to schedule 1:1 sessions with your reps and give them direct feedback for behaviors they could improve upon. This feedback should be trackable data that can be referenced by the manager (or rep) and you should automate the measurement of performance metrics via scorecards or conversion rate metrics so that without any hassle, you can pull up historical performance and see if the coaching is working.
The developmental style of sales coaching is more about asking questions and helping the rep develop their selling skills (as opposed to the manager giving them directive style feedback). The developmental style of sales coaching has been shown to be more effective.
Goals: Setting sales goals is something every sales manager does, but they should also be highly visible and the tracking should be automated and real time. Every closed deal that pushes you toward your ARR goal should be celebrated and the impact on the goal should be highlighted. This is a very easy way to implement modern sales coaching tactics as a sales leader.
Sales competitions: Sales competitions are part of almost every modern sales org in today’s time. As a sales coach, it is up to you recognize which style of competition is going to most effectively drive the behaviors that lead to the results you are after. Here are some things coaches consider when launching competitions:
Team competitions: Should you find yourself managing different offices or locations or teams, it can be very effective to have teams compete against one another. The positive side to team competitions is that even if a rep is not competitive, they will likely go above and beyond so as to not let their team down. It also builds comradery and trust on the team.
Individual competitions: First-place finisher competitions, especially when paired with a great incentive, will drive the most performance. The rep who does the most MRR or the rep who books the most meetings, or any metric you currently want to see a lift in, is perfect for launching a quick competition around. And not every great incentive has to cost an arm and a leg. There are plenty of free sales incentives that have been shown to improve performance.
- Threshold prize competitions: Sometimes, sales coaches or managers find themselves in situations where the same rep is winning everything — which crushes the competitive atmosphere. To eliminate this, you can set a threshold-style competition where anyone who hits a certain threshold criteria wins. For example: a set number of booked meetings wins.
More Sales Coaching Models
The methods we've mentioned aren't even all of the coaching models you can look at for you and your team. Here's a few additional models (time for more acronyms!) and the breakdown of their basic methods.
CLEAR: Contracting, Listening, Exploring, Action, Review
STEER: Spot the opportunity, Tailor the intervention, Explain, Encourage, Review
ACHIEVE: Assess situation, Creative brainstorming, Hone goals, Initiate option generation, Evaluate options, Valid action plan, Encourage momentum
OSCAR: Outcome, Situation, Choices, Actions, Review
How do you measure effective sales coaching?
Ahen you find yourself coaching through all of these different tactics, you’ll want to prove and measure success. Contrary to popular belief, sales coaching actually can be measured. Just like you measure your sales team on quantitative efforts like activities and qualitative metrics like objectives, the same can be done for the coaching itself.
Quantitative sales coaching metrics
Number of 1:1 check-ins
Number of call reviews
Number of competitions held
Number of goals created
Qualitative — attribution metrics
% lift of total sales activities
% lift in connects to meetings set
% lift in opportunities to closed:won deals
% reps hitting quota (not just total team attainment)
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