The Truth about Coaching Sales Reps (& Why You’re Doing it Wrong)

Most sales managers understand the importance of giving their reps effective guidance and motivation as a way to lead their teams. Unfortunately, many fail to differentiate between coaching and feedback (and when/how best to use each).

Typically, a sales manager will take any opportunity to offer up their opinion on what a rep should or shouldn’t do regarding a sale. But does that feedback really translate into the rep building and growing their own skill set, or does it stop short at simply exposing the gaps?

Answers to questions like, “Are we really at power?” or, “What happens if they miss that implementation date?” can ultimately leave us frustrated as to why the rep hasn’t instinctively taken these steps already. They can also create the nagging feeling that there are even more things missing or being handled incorrectly with other deals.

If you think dropping by every now and then and giving your opinion is coaching, you’re mistaken. Truly effective coaching inspires behavioral change. What you’re doing is creating and sustaining a dependency on the manager to inspect, analyze, and even act for the rep, leaving them disempowered to succeed without that kind of hands-on direction.

I suggest that we start thinking about coaching and feedback as two separate conversations.

Conversation #1 – Coaching: Inspiring a change in behavior.

1) Make it conversational (click to tweet)

Reps are not children. They are adults. If you are going to coach an adult, you need to have their agreement. Always take a collaborative approach. Ask for permission to coach.

2) Focus on strengths (click to tweet)

Reps may want to improve and be up for changing their approach, but if you’re asking them to address a weakness you’re likely asking them to focus on something they would simply rather not do.

For example, you may have a rep who would rather email than make phone calls to new prospects. Conversely, he may excel at building strong relationships with existing customers. Instead of telling him to make more cold calls, try something like this: “You have great relationships with these 10 clients. Could you call them and conduct this phone interview for product feedback?”

This allows the rep to focus on calling people he’s comfortable talking to, unaware that he is simultaneously exercising his phone skills at the same time.

3) Assign a short-term goals they can achieve within 30 days (click to tweet)

The gating factor to changing behavior isn’t time. It’s frequency. Managers should pick reasonable goals that can be achieved within a short timeframe. It is better to have a rep enjoy small bursts of activity throughout the day than attempt the long term, “get 100 referrals by the end of year” type of goal.

4) Reward activity regardless of results (click to tweet)

“Selling more” is not a goal. It is a result. Asking for five appointments with procurement this month is a goal. Help your reps create specific, activity-based goals that can be easily measured. And when they achieve those goals, reward them, even if they don’t yield the best possible result every time.

Going back to the example above, if your rep asks for five appointments she should be rewarded, regardless of whether it results in an appointment or a deal. The goal was to ask for them.

Rewarding reps this way will boost productivity by encouraging the right actions and behaviors, and, ultimately, that will lead to quota achievement.

Conversation #2 – Feedback: Your opportunity to offer your opinion.

So how does coaching differ from feedback? Coaching is about them. Feedback should be about you. This is your opportunity to offer an opinion instead of guidance. You can give feedback to a rep on anything from behavior to performance.

  • Morning feedback: “Hey Jerry. I just heard you ‘step on your close’ on that last call. You seemed to ask a question, and then immediately asked another. I don’t like that.”
  • (Later that day) “Hey Jerry. I just heard you ask a question, and then hold in silence. I liked that.“

Wow. Short and sweet. And easily understood.

The rep can now choose to either embrace your opinion, or reject it. Since they are adults, they can decide how they want to accept your feedback. And the manager may never know what the rep chooses to do.

Sales managment workshop imageYou Need to Have Both Conversations — Separately

When a manager coaches it has nothing to do with the manager’s opinion. It has everything to do with the manager helping the rep make their own decisions and determine ways they can improve.

In the end, coaching is about fostering the rep’s desire to be better. Feedback is about the manager’s desire to be heard. Each have their place. Use them both as separate conversations throughout the day, and watch your reps change in ways you can hardly imagine.

Want more sales coaching tips from Jeff? Join him on May 11th at the Seaport Hotel in Boston for his ½ Day Your SalesMBA™ Coaching Seminar.

Photo by: Bradjward

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Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman
Founder & CEO

Jeff Hoffman is President at M.J. Hoffman and Associates, LLC and creator of YourSalesMBA. A renowned sales executive and entrepreneur, Hoffman has consulted with industry leaders throughout the world on the topics of sales, sales management, and sales operations.
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