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Coaching Sales People

Name one professional athelete that doesn't have a coach.

Quiz: Name one professional athelete that doesn't have a coach.

Coaching is the component of a sales effectiveness initiative that is most often sacrificed when costs must be contained.  (More accurately, coaching workshops and post-program reinforcement for first-line sales managers are what gets cut.)  Considering that coaching is the most important single mechanism for reinforcing and sustaining the impact of learning, this is a big problem. 

During a podcast interview I recorded Tuesday with Barry Trailer, partner with CSO Insights, the subject of coaching came up.  Barry feels as strongly about the subject as I do.  He considers getting a coach to be the first step on the path to sales mastery.  Both Barry and I have had coaches during our careers.  We agreed that if a salesperson is serious about selling as a lifetime career, then hiring a coach on their own, if their company won’t provide one, is mandatory.

Coaching is a skill.  It can be learned. The impact of coaching on an individual salesrep’s performance can and should be measured.  In my view coaching is a required capability for a sales manager.  It’s right up there in importance with hiring.  HR Chally’s The 2007 Chally World Class Sales Excellence Research Report  states, “World class sales forces implement processes and measurements to make coaching a top priority.”

We rarely see effective coaching in the companies we have worked with.  There are a number of reasons for that: 

  • Managers don’t have coaching skills when they are hired and their companies don’t provide training and coaching for coaches, so they are never trained on the skill.

  • Managers don’t understand the impact coaching has on performance, so they don’t pursue it.

  • Managers are unable to extricate themselves from a selling role to that of an observer and coach.  There are two major reasons for this:  First, some of their salespeople are unable to win a deal on their own so the manager takes over. The other reason is ego.

  • The comment we get most often from first-line managers is, ”I’m too busy to coach.”  It’s the old, “I don’t have time for you to show me your word processing software because I’m too busy changing the ribbon on my typewriter, plus I need to go out and by some more White-Out.”

  • Managers don’t know what to coach to.  Coaching to the manager’s individual and personal selling style is NOT the answer. 

  • The company doesn’t have a process in place to inspect what sales personnel are doing.

  • There are no methods or guidelines for changing salesreps’ behavior.

  • There are no performance standards for each step of their sales process, if there is a sales process at all. 

Some of the sales training companies ESR covers have very strong coaching processes and coursework.  Richardson, Performance Methods, Wilson Learning, The Complex Sale, The Brooks Group, and FranklinCovey Sales Performance Group are just a few.

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3 Responses

  1. Dave, one significant issue with this role (as I’d say with any role where managing “stars” is key, like managing software developers) is that often the skills that make you promotable (like being a sales star) don’t require the skills you need after you’re promoted–like coaching.

    And if you hire someone just for their managerial/coaching skills, they may have trouble gaining the respect of salespeople who are (or who believe they are) high-performers.

    The very best sales leaders I’ve worked with were super salespeople (whose accomplishments gained them instant respect) and who also had managerial chops–not an easy combination to find.

    regards, John

  2. Dave,

    a customer recently told me jokingly that he has come to the conclusion that executives must think that: sales managers do not need training, they get the skills with the title. I am afraid though that what was meant as a joke is probably not far from the truth.

  3. A fantastic post Dave and I agree wholeheartedly with you in championing sales coaching as one of the most relevant areas of sales management.

    I always look to inspirational leaders in history like Napoleon, Alexander, Caesar etc. who not only had exceptional abilities in their fields but had true leadership skills which included inspiring and empathising with those they led. People followed these great leaders because they believed in them but also because these leaders understood them.

    Interestingly, all of these great people studied with, learnt from and continuously engaged with peers and coaches throughout their careers. In sales, too many people think introspectively in thinking that they alone are the only people who can make a difference.

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