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Great Sales Coaching is Counter Inutitive

Tips & Ideas for Coaching Your Sales Team to Success

Great sales coaching is the key to success and improving the performance of the organization. It is the most important job a sales manager has. We examined why sales coaching is so difficult to master and what great coaching must look like to overcome the barriers. This paper is for sales coaches and learning leaders who want to drive sustained performance and growth in their team through a pervasive coaching culture.

It takes a certain kind of individual to step into a sales manager role — and an even more unique one to be successful at it. Most sales managers know that they have to drive performance through their team if they are ever to have a shot at making their goal. A team goal simply can’t be achieved by one single sales manager. Yet, we often see sales managers making Herculean efforts and resorting to hero tactics to win deals for their team members. Many times, they are putting in the longest hours — more than their direct reports. They put themselves in front of the customer when the stakes are high. They consistently have the monkey on their back.

If you ask a sales manager if coaching techniques are an important aspect of their role, most are sure to agree that it is. It is difficult to find someone who disagrees with the value of coaching. However, in the fast-paced, modern sales environment, in which almost everyone has more priorities, more initiatives, more customer issues, and more administrative work, “… it is easy for people to justify not making time for developmental activities.” (Conger, 2013)

Why is Sales Coaching Important?

Why does your organization need sales coaching to be successful, and what are the main benefits?

  1. Accelerate learning
  2. Achieve behavior change
  3. Improve results

Looking at these three basic benefits, where do you think most managers tend to focus their efforts? Their attention is on the third point: results. They focus on the numbers. Here’s where there needs to be a shift in mindset. Great sales coaching is not about numbers — it is about learning and behavior change. If you accelerate learning through the right coaching methods and affect permanent behavior change, the numbers will come. Numbers are indicators; they tell you where there is success or pain. By accelerating learning around success and pain points and affecting behavior change, you position your team members to achieve and exceed goals.

So, if the path to sales success is driven through the team, and coaching is so critical, then why is it so hard to build a sustained coaching culture? In our work with thousands of front-line sales managers, we have heard every reason — not enough time, too many competing priorities, lack of trust in the team, etc. And yet, when you peel those reasons away, the problem persists.

To truly build a sustained and high-performance coaching culture, one must first understand the true barriers that prevent success.

Common Barriers to Successful Sales Coaching

In coaching a sales team, be aware of the following:

  • Sales managers often can’t see the forest through the trees
  • An innate huaman propensity to tell
  • Natural defensiveness
  • Managers don’t know what great sales coaching looks like
  • Lack of precision
  • The struggle for authenticity

Great Sales Coaches Take a Different Approach

Making the transition to more effective sales coaching typically involves changing the conversation. It’s not about having more conversations. It’s about changing the dynamics of the conversation from telling and directing to collaborative problem solving, in which you help team members to self-assess and self-discover ways to leverage strengths and improve performance.

Let’s begin with the core tenets and guiding principle ideas that underpin Richardson’s sales coaching methodology:

  • Salespeople should be involved in and responsible for their own performance and development.
  • Every person has blind spots that cannot be seen clearly or completely. To see a full, sharp picture, everyone needs an outside perspective.
  • A successful coaching interaction opens perspective for both the salesperson and the sales manager.
  • The sales manager’s role as coach is to be a thought partner and resource — to ask questions, listen, learn, and offer perspective, with the goal of helping the team member gain insight and inspiration to grow and strengthen sales performance.
  • Trust is essential. While the focus of the conversation is on the business issues, the essence of a coaching interaction can be deeply personal and emotional. The salesperson must trust that the sales manager’s intent is to help and support, not criticize, judge, or control.
  • A key opportunity for performance improvement lies in turning routine management inspections into coachable moments. Coachable moments exist everywhere in our daily interactions and routines. Taking advantage of planned and unplanned coachable moments is the cornerstone of a manager’s success in creating an engaged team that meets and exceeds goals.
  • Learning is accelerated by continuously focusing on incremental growth. Focusing on one thing at a time allows coaching to happen in targeted, quick, efficient bursts.
  • Ensure that the seller talks first, last, and most. Developmental sales coaching helps sellers move toward more self-motivated behavior because it meets our inherent psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
  • Ask more than tell. The heart of the coaching conversation lies in the manager’s ability to engage in a collaborative process to help sellers to self-assess and self-discover ways to leverage strengths and improve performance through effective problem-solving.

Embracing these tenets and principle ideas helps not only the seller but also the coach enjoy job satisfaction, improved performance, and improved quota attainment.

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