Becoming a better observer of sales rep performance is key to effective sales coaching. One of my mantras when working with sales managers is “prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.” And diagnosis of a sales rep performance problem takes observation.

That is, you cannot provide effective sales coaching if all you have to go on is your conversations with a rep or their monthly sales reports.

To correctly diagnosis sales rep performance issues, you need to observe a sales rep “in the field”— whatever that means for your organization. It could be doing ride-alongs on site visits or listen-alongs on phone calls with prospects or customers.

To make the best use of your time in the field, know ahead of time what you want to look for. I highly recommend having a checklist, which will help you ensure:

a) that you don’t miss anything important.

b) that you are consistent in what you look for across all your reps.

I offer a free observation checklist you can use as a starting point. As reflected in that checklist, I advise sales managers to have specific issues they want to observe in three areas:

1. General sales skills

The most important skills for sales reps who need to master “value selling” are not related to talking about your products and services (though that is required, too). It’s getting the customer to talk—and listening to what they have to say. This category reflects an evaluation of how good the sales rep is at connecting with the customer or prospect on a personal level and getting them to share information about their needs and requirements.

2. Moving a customer through their buying process

The true indicator of sales success isn’t how quickly a sales rep can get through the steps of your organization’s selling process. It’s how quickly and effectively they can get a customer to move through their buying process.

What you want to look for is how good a sales rep is at identifying what step of buying each contact is in and what each individual’s buying criteria are. Does the rep do a good job of connecting the buying criteria to specific features and advantages of your offerings?

Bottom line: Is the customer or prospect closer to making a buying decision after the meeting then they are before it?

3. Preparation

Going in unprepared. I’ve been there as a sales rep, and you probably have been too or at least witnessed the debacle that occurs when a rep lacks basic knowledge about a prospect and the marketplace.

In this category of skills, look for whether the sales rep can speak clearly about the prospect’s challenges and opportunities. Does the rep sound authoritative when discussing your company’s products and services? Can the sales rep recognize when a client or prospect is using a competitor’s language or framing issues the way your competition does?

Effective Observation

To become a more effective sales coach, hone your skills at observation. The better you are at diagnosing each rep’s specific strengths and challenges, the better you’ll be at offering specific advice to help overall sales rep performance. That’s what I see as the #1 priority for all sales managers.

This blog is part of TopLine Leadership’s series called Sales Coaching 101. On the first Tuesday of every month, we’ll cover a fundamental skill that helps sales managers interact more effectively with their sales reps. Here are other articles from this series: