June 12th, 2013

Don’t Be a Jerk – Coaching and Mentoring Sales Reps Leads to More Effective Knowledge Transfer


Don’t Be a Jerk – Coaching and Mentoring Sales Reps Leads to More Effective Knowledge Transfer

We see it so often that it’s almost cliché. There is the bad guy (“the jerk”) who demands results by endlessly belittling, berating, and badgering his people. We instantly recognize this negative behavior and more readily gravitate toward the good guy – the nurturing coach and mentor who takes a genuine interest in teaching and supporting his people. Cliché or not, managers that wear the white hat of coach and mentor are more likely to get their people to perform better over time.

A recent study conducted by Training Industry Quarterly found that learning leaders from effective organizations reported using coaching and mentor networks almost twice as often as ineffective organizations in facilitating knowledge transfer among their employees. This seems to indicate that good ol’ fashioned dialogue can mean the difference between meeting or falling short of your objectives.


That’s not to say that the other methods of knowledge transfer are useless. Other tools and practices measured in the study included work shadowing, paired work, short-form content (e.g., quick reference guides), knowledge libraries, and e-learning modules. Used in concert, these each have a place in the development of sales reps, especially as references following some form of training.

Training is about teaching new knowledge and skills and changing existing behaviors to fulfill an objective. The training program itself is certainly important, but what you do beyond the training event can have a tremendous impact toward achieving the desired objectives sooner and sustain them longer over time.

Beware of Negative Competition

Sales has a reputation for being a fast-paced, high-pressure, and results-oriented environment. And that’s not without reason. Many sales reps are well-compensated with generous incentives to perform. Those who don’t hit their numbers are dragging the team down and risk being cast aside for the next crop of sales trainees.

Another common element among sales forces is competition. Healthy competition can be good and, let’s face it, most sales reps are competitive by nature. However, negative competition usually fits well with the bad behavior cited at the start of this post. Watch for it and stifle it before it gets out of control.

Yes, cracking the whip is sometimes necessary and might help some reps to achieve short-term results, but that’s not a long-term strategy for success. Repeatedly hounding and badgering certain reps will eventually take its toll. If a rep consistently misses his numbers, then maybe he is just not cut out for sales and should move on. Perhaps something else is going on that’s distracting the rep or preventing him from reaching his goals. This is where a healthy dialogue comes into play and enables sales managers to identify problems and come up with solutions to help get their reps over the hump.

If you only “drop in” when numbers are down, then you’re not getting to know your reps, including their nuances, strengths, and weaknesses (which will help direct your training efforts).

(Of course, don’t be a pushover either and allow reps to take advantage of your goodwill and nurturing tactics. If there’s cause for concern, then take the necessary steps to ensure that the underperforming reps get back on track and document your actions along the way in case more drastic decisions are required down the road.)

Foster a Coaching Culture

Coaching reps with a focus on and intent to not only help them hit their numbers, but also to grow and develop their selling skills has many benefits. In these cases, managers send a clear signal that “I want you on my team, and I want to see you do well.” Other research shows that employees leave bad bosses, not their company. If a sales manager can build trust with his reps, that should in turn increase employee satisfaction and thus engagement and performance.

Heads of sales trying to encourage a culture of coaching among their sales managers may find it difficult to achieve if it runs counter to the culture of the broader organization. When senior leaders believe in the power and effectiveness of coaching and mentoring, their actions and words will trickle down throughout the organization to drive that behavior.

Mentor networks not only help to maintain a coaching culture, but also provide stellar reps with the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise with those who need it. It empowers the mentors, gives them a taste of what it would be like to become a sales manager, and establishes a mechanism for unlocking their wisdom and imparting it throughout the organization. Just be careful to rein in rogue reps’ philosophies and ideas before unleashing them on innocent learners – be sure you can trust the mentors to teach and reinforce the right behaviors.

Do your managers know how and when to coach? Do you encourage sales managers to coach their reps? Do you assume that they coach reps? Or do you just worry about other things as long as everyone makes their numbers?

About The Author: Dario Priolo

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dario Priolo is responsible for driving Richardson’s market, product, and corporate strategy and planning — sharing critical insights with clients to help them win in today’s changing market place. Dario gathers intelligence and market and customer knowledge to: drive Richardson’s innovation; ensure that Richardson offers the best and most relevant solutions for clients that exceed client satisfaction; and raise awareness of Richardson’s extensive capabilities with sales and business leaders.

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6 Responses to “Don’t Be a Jerk – Coaching and Mentoring Sales Reps Leads to More Effective Knowledge Transfer”

  1. June 12, 2013 at 11:23 am, Dave Stein said:

    This is an important post, Dario. Well done.
    Two comments:
    1. The most effective coaching takes place when the manager coaches using a process–a coaching process. That’s a skill that must be learned. And the rep gets coached on the effective and efficient use of a process as well–generally a sales process. So, no more seat-of-the-pants “guidance” on what the sales manager used to do 10 years ago when they carried a bag…
    2. I really like what you wrote about mentoring, especially, “It empowers the mentors, gives them a taste of what it would be like to become a sales manager..” A big problem is promoting good or great sales reps to sales management positions (85% of them fail within the first year). Mentoring allows those stronger reps to build at least some of the skills they’ll require when they do become managers down the road.


    • Dario Priolo

      June 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm, Dario Priolo said:

      Hi Dave,

      I really appreciate your perspective. I completely agree with you on your point about coaching to a process. Have you come across any data in your travels that quantifies the benefit? We certainly see it anecdotally and it makes a lot of intuitive sense, but it would be great to have some hard numbers to help drive the point home.


      • June 14, 2013 at 6:54 am, Dave Stein said:

        No, Dario, we haven’t quantified the benefits. I wonder whether Jim or Barry at CSO Insights have looked at this.


  2. June 13, 2013 at 7:42 am, Greg Blackwell said:

    Bravo, Dario!
    You nailed it on two points:
    1. almost every sales rep has worked for a Jerk and leaders who become effective Coaches will never fall into the “bad boss” camp and get better business results while retaining key talent. Remember – people don’t leave bad job but instead, bad bosses.
    2. Enabling mentors allows you to test drive a sales performer before making what could be a bad promotion decision.

    Most of the time, great sales people do not transform into great managers. Two different skill sets.


    • Dario Priolo

      June 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm, Dario Priolo said:

      Thanks for weighing-in Greg. You are so right about people leaving people and not jobs. In this day and age, we’re all part of an ecosystem of providers and competitors that customers look to for solutions. Companies know the high and even above average reps at their competitors and in companies that sell related products and services. Good reps will always be in demand and have opportunities to take their talents elsewhere. It pays to treat people as you would want to be treated. It doesn’t mean that your managers need to be soft, but they need to be aware of the jerk-line and not cross that line.


      • January 05, 2015 at 12:23 pm, Jim O'Hare said:


        Can I ask a question? Do you find that companies are interested in hiring “mentors” or what I would call sales management “men Fridays” to supplement the efforts of first line sales management develop their younger, inexperienced sales representatives? Thanks in advance should you find the time to respond.

        Jim O’Hare


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