How (and How Not) to Coach Sales Reps: An Inclusive Guide to Sales Coaching

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

By now, Mike and I have hopefully made it clear that we think sales coaching is critical. But, in case we haven’t yet, let me reiterate that coaching is the highest leveraged activity a sales manager can undertake. With that as the basis for this post, Iet’s address how and how not to coach.

What Coaching Is and Is Not

First, let’s be clear with what we’re trying to achieve through coaching. The goal of coaching is to maximize a term member’s ability to perform in their current role. While we might also look to develop team members to step into bigger responsibilities in the future, the primary focus of coaching is the current position.

Coaching is not a performance review! It’s not that thing HR forces us to do annually. If we do a good job in coaching, that annual performance review should be easy. We’re not trying to ‘fix people’ either. We aren’t shrinks, we aren’t trying to change people or look at deep rooted issues, we’re just trying to help them perform their jobs as well as possible.

Coaching is as much about finding people doing things right as it is about correcting the things they are doing wrong. Too often we think coaching is about correcting deficiencies or errors in performance. But we can have even greater impact by finding something a team member has done really well and coaching them to keep up with it. For example, “Mike, you did a particularly good job executing that sales call today. Did you notice how your preparation helped you…?”

Effective coaching focuses on helping the sales person learn or discover what impacts their effectiveness, positively or negatively. These may be behaviors, attitudes or skills — we will want to coach each of these.

Finally, coaching is a lot about teaching and learning. This is important, I’ll come back to it later.

Coachabilty

To have an impact with coaching, the person has to be coachable. They have to be open to learning, discovering and improving how they perform. If a person isn’t coachable, we’ll have zero impact, regardless of how great our coaching skills are.

When a person isn’t open to coaching, they’ve essentially made the decision to stop learning and growing. Ultimately, the uncoachable person has no place in the organization. While they may be performing well now, at some point they’ll be left behind because they won’t be willing to learn, change or adapt.  

But, be cautious leaping to the conclusion that someone’s uncoachable. Part of the problem may be the coach. We may be doing the wrong things or we might not be doing things in a manner that is effective for the individual. That’s our problem as managers to fix, we have to find a way to coach each individual.

Coaching Frequency

Too often, managers think of coaching as a kind of meeting. People try to schedule “coaching sessions” but, when the press of everyday business is on, the first meeting to be cancelled is the always coaching meeting.

We’re most effective when we integrate coaching into what we do every day. Since we’re already conducting deal, pipeline, territory, prospecting, account and sales call reviews every day (or at least I hope so), it should be fairly easy to incorporate teachable lessons into these daily activities.

Coaching throughout daily reviews provides an awesome way to kill two birds with one stone — we can achieve business management objectives and coach our team at the same time. Incorporating coaching into everyday activities also improves timelines. Think of the difference in coaching a sales call, “Jill, let’s talk about that call we just made,” versus “Jill, do you remember that call you made a month ago…” Our coaching will have much more impact if we’re talking about what we just observed versus something we observed weeks or months ago.

When we incorporate coaching into normal daily routines, we turn coaching frequency on its head. We have the opportunity to do a little coaching for each person every day! Think of the impact that will have on your sales organization.

How to Coach

There’s a ton written about coaching, but it ultimately boils down to two techniques: directive and non directive coaching. Directive coaching is all about telling the person what they should be doing while non directive coaching helps the coachee discover and learn what they should be doing on their own.

Since non directive coaching encourages team member to learn on their own, it’s a more sustainable and impactful technique.

Good non directive coaching is based on asking really great questions — focusing on deal strategy, improving the results of sales calls and so forth. Just think of how powerful great questions are when talking to a customer. Great questions get the customer to open up, think differently and consider different approaches. Great questions engage the customer. Apply the same skills used to question customers to come up with questions for your team.

While I’m definitely a proponent of non directive coaching, certain cases call for taking a directive approach. For instance, in very high risk situations where there’s little room for error or in situations that require immediate action, we simply don’t have the time needed for non directive coaching.

No matter which technique you choose, remember that the best coaches use a variety of methods and are able to adopt the technique to the the individual and the specific situation. So, build an arsenal of coaching tools. Learn how to coach non directively, learn the power of questions, learn when to be directive. Leverage a mix of techniques to improve and don’t get locked into one approach, instead use whatever is appropriate.*

Don’t Worry About Making Mistakes

You’ll make some terrible mistakes as you start coaching and throughout your management career. But, don’t worry too much, it’s a learning process. Own the mistakes, laugh with the salesperson and move on. The magic about coaching is it’s a learning and discovery journey — both for the coach and coachee.

Want to learn more about sales coaching? Be sure to join Mike Weinberg and me for a sales coaching webinar August 20. You can register here.

*For a brief guide on coaching techniques and how to use directive and non directive coaching, email me: at dabrock@excellenc.com. I’ll be glad to send a free copy.

More Tips for New Sales Managers

Get caught up by reading any previous posts in the series you may have missed:

  1. So You’re a New Sales Manager: The Biggest Change to Expect
  2. Your #1 Priority as Sales Manager (Plus 3 Things to Stop Doing Now)
  3. 10 Questions for Assessing Your Sales Reps (& What to Do Next)
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