Performance-based sales coaching for life sciences

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Performance-based sales coaching is vital for life science sales teams, now more than ever. 

Skill development has changed a lot in recent years thanks to the pandemic and the resulting acceleration in digital transformation. Possibilities in digital training really allow us to do a lot more immersive development and competency enhancement, so we need to take these changes into account when developing the training curriculum.

Why? Because there is scarcity in the talent market.


Recruitment is no longer about finding the best fully formed sales reps, but rather, finding the most promising candidates and coaching them to success.

The other challenge is retention. When competition is high, salespeople can easily find a new job if their specific needs are not being met. Investing in employees via a personalized competency development program is therefore a key tool in combating attrition.


What can effective performance coaching achieve?

Sales coaching is a valuable tool, but it’s not a magic bullet. A sales coaching program will be much more successful if everyone is clear about what it can help with.

Successful coaching programs are designed to address mid to long-term behavioral changes and build things like:


  • enhanced competencies and capabilities
  • confidence
  • trust
  • a sense of belonging

How can I create an environment where sales coaching thrives?

Performance coaching can be carried out in all business environments, but not all businesses are at a stage where they can take full advantage of everything coaching can offer. 


Define goals

In an ideal scenario, your company would have clearly defined sales team roles and created job success profiles before beginning a coaching initiative. Also necessary: competency models and performance metrics. When everyone involved knows exactly what’s needed to reach the next goal, the chances of them achieving it are exponentially higher.

Design the path

A functioning talent assessment and calibration system is also essential. Not every member of the sales team is good at every single part of the job. Tools like job success profiles and panel interviews are especially useful here, as are asking questions like “what jobs or tasks are the best fit for this person’s existing knowledge and talents?” and “which roles could they most easily develop into?”.


Measure progress

The third key step is to develop effective mechanisms for evaluating performance. Internally, these can be things like observational studies or 360-degree reviews.

Customer perception tracking is also a very useful exercise – even more valuable because it’s usually carried out by an objective third party and includes information about how customers perceive your competitors.


What does good sales coaching look like?

Coaching is not a one-off thing. It is a continuous process of collaboration; a mutual agreement between the coach and coachee based on objective observations and structured conversations focused on what is going well and what could and should be improved.

This can be a bit complicated when the line manager is also the coach, which is often the case. Doing it well requires an ability to separate the two roles and relate to the coachee differently in each. 

When working as a coach, the manager and sales rep are peers working together towards a common goal, not boss and employee. This can take some getting used to, particularly if your company has a strong hierarchical structure.


Performance coaching done right is:

  • a genuine engagement between coach and coachee
  • collaborative and based on two-way dialogue
  • based on observed behaviors
  • flexible and collaborative

Performance coaching done wrong is:

  • hierarchical and authoritative
  • inflexible and based on what the coach thinks is best
  • reliant on discipline and judgement to change behavior
  • uninterested in what the coachee wants or needs
  • only focused on numbers

What should coaching sessions look like?

Together, the coach and coachee can decide exactly how the sessions will run. There’s usually a bit of chat to get everyone comfortable, and there’s an emphasis on listening, turning negative experiences into positive lessons, and agreeing on objectives for the next session.

If there is an observed call involved, then interaction before and after is also needed. 


Before the call

The pre-call chat needn’t be long but should include aligning on smart objectives, reviewing the HCP profile, and discussing what happened on previous visits. 


During the call

The coach and coachee should also agree on the coach’s involvement in the call. Are they just observing? Are they helping with some more technical aspects? Or are they taking the lead and modeling a new technique or skill?


After the call

In the post-call session, coaches should take care to reinforce the desired behavior displayed by the coachee and build confidence and trust. Talk about what went well, or at least better than the last call. This should motivate the rep to keep trying.

When discussing less desirable behavior, consider the STAR approach:

  • Situation/task – what they planned to do
  • Action – what they actually did
  • Result – what happened and what they might do differently next time

The final step in the coaching process is to enter quantitative and qualitative measures into the sales coaching software and send it to the coachee for approval.


How do I know that coaching is working?

Having a robust analysis framework in place is immensely helpful for people on both sides of the coaching relationship, but it is one of the most difficult things to properly calibrate.How, for example, do you measure the progress of someone who gets the highest scores on knowledge tests but is perhaps less skilled at implementing those skills in real time or dealing with a sales situation that goes off script? Or vice versa?

What about using snapshot averages as a metric? This is a mistake I see people making a lot. Averages do work well for some metrics, but not coaching. People don’t develop their skills in a linear way, so one-day averages are not useful at all for measuring progress or permanent behavioral change. A long-term focus on proficiency and excellence will translate into more sales, just via a path that is easily translated into numbers.

Here’s a quick overview of metrics and tools that do work:


Establish a baseline

  • Self-assessments against sales competencies
  • Line manager assessments against sales competencies
  • Expected level for the role

Chart progress

  • Keep good records. Use a sales coaching tool or other software to log quantitative and qualitative notes.
  • Limit each coaching session to 1-2 competencies or other achievable goals.
  • Understand where in the development process the salesperson currently is. New reps, for example, will advance quickly across a wider range of competencies. Senior reps should usually delve more deeply into just a few areas.
  • Look for actionable insights as guidance for future coaching sessions. Consider absolute ratings and key trends for each competency over averages. If there is a change, either positive or negative, try to uncover the cause.

Helping sales reps to achieve higher levels of performance and creating this safe environment where people dare to change and try new things is what performance coaching is all about. The sales rep of today and tomorrow is different from the one we had before COVID hit the marketplace. Let’s set them up for success.

This article was adapted from an on-demand webinar, access the full webinar here.


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