February 16th, 2015

Three Missteps in Sales Coaching

Sales Coaching

Three Missteps in Sales Coaching

A sales manager’s most important job is coaching. An effective sales coach can accelerate learning, change behavior, and boost the performance of both individuals and the entire sales team.

The sales coaching process we use at Richardson is both simple and effective. When followed, the results are clear. The problem is, sales coaching only works if managers do it properly.

These are three common missteps we see in sales coaching:

Telling vs. asking

The key to effective sales coaching can be captured in three words: they talk first.

Our coaching model is all about asking specific, neutral, open-ended questions — and then, drilling down further with more questions.

Coaching by asking allows coaches to learn about their sales teams and the situations that they face. It builds commitment and buy-in and helps sales professionals take responsibility for their own learning.

There are times when coaching by telling is appropriate, such as an urgent situation in which there is no time to do anything but quickly tell and when moving toward disciplinary action. But, this is always the exception, never the rule.

Directing vs. collaborating

If coaches remember to ask instead of tell, they often do not ask enough questions. They might start with, “What are your thoughts?” or, “How do you feel the call went?” but tend to slowly put on their manager hats and start formulating solutions and giving their opinions. In three words: they take over.

Instead, coaches need to probe more to gain greater insights. Ask questions, such as, “What ideas do you have?” “What do you think the issue is?” “What is getting in the way?” “What steps will you take?”

No clear and measurable objective for the sales coaching session

If you do not know specifically what you want to get out of the coaching session, the conversation will be too long, ineffective, and confusing.

Too often, a coach will say: “My objective is for John to increase sales by 20%.”

That is certainly a measurable objective, but it is not SMART.

In a 20- to 30-minute coaching session, there should be a desired outcome based on a SMART behavioral objective. This means it should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Time-bound.

So, if you want John to increase sales by 20%, what behaviors does he need to work on? What is getting in the way of his achieving this goal? Maybe he is not making enough prospecting calls, or he is not talking to the decision maker. Once these areas are pinpointed by the team member, the conversation can focus on developmental actions. Maybe John works on identifying the decision makers at targeted accounts and schedules phone calls with them over the next three weeks. That is a behavior that the coach can measure and follow up on three weeks later.

By remembering these three simple things — asking instead of telling, collaborating instead of directing, and focusing on SMART objectives for each sales coaching session — sales managers and their teams can improve their performance and be more successful.

Learn more about Richardson’s

Developmental Sales Coaching Programs


About The Author: Karen Klein

Karen Klein is a Senior Training Consultant and Executive Coach with Richardson. She has worked with global clients in the US, South America, Europe and Asia, spanning different industries. Prior to working with Richardson, she was an Account Manager and then District Sales Manager for a telecommunications company, where she was in charge, among other things, of improving the employee job performance. As a consultant, Karen has worked in conjunction with the Puerto Rico State Department, researching and conceiving innovative market strategies and cost-effective measures for improving its economic activities with sister states. She collaborated with Microsoft Mexico to help increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the company’s call center; and she analyzed and assessed the effectiveness of General Motor's operations in Hungary, and developed a case study that was distributed to international executives attending business school at Georgetown University. She is bilingual in Spanish and English and fluent in French and has lived in Europe and the US.

Karen Klein

3 Responses to “Three Missteps in Sales Coaching”

  1. February 19, 2015 at 8:56 am, Mike Kunkle (@Mike_Kunkle) said:

    Hey Karen! Nice to see your name in lights on the blog. Well done! Few organizations teach developmental sales coaching as well as Richardson and I think you picked 3 big pieces that I often see flubbed with developmental coaching efforts.

    I also respect the Situation Leadership approach, where you give the employee what they need at the time, based on their confidence/comfort level and their competence, with any given task (it’s a 2-by-2 matrix). Sometimes, you do need to be directive (we might be more apt to think of this as “training”), and other times, you can coach, facilitate, or even delegate.

    What’s your opinion on that, and how do you see developmental coaching fitting into the larger, holistic picture of what reps need from managers? What percent of the time, in your experience, should managers be in “Developmental Coaching” mode?


    • Karen Klein

      February 19, 2015 at 6:37 pm, Karen said:

      Hi Mike, glad to see you on the blog page, the internet definitely makes our world a little smaller!! Thank you so much for your insightful questions. So let’s look at the instances where it merits to either wear your coaching hat or directive hat.

      Coaching by asking, when to use it? 1) At times to accelerate learning and help identify and overcome obstacles, 2) to build commitment and buy in, and 3) to help team members take responsibility for their own development and achieve their objectives.

      Coaching by telling should be used in very specific situations such as: 1) In the action or during an emergency situation, and 2) when moving to disciplinary action (where you see an ongoing performance problem and have exhausted your developmental coaching efforts).

      It is difficult to generalize the percentage of time you should spend doing one versus the other since it varies from case to case, a good rule of thumb would be to spend 80% on coaching and 20% in a directing mode (based on the guidelines above). Good sales coaching looks a lot like good selling. You want to be team member-focused and have individuals intrinsically involved in their own growth.

      As you already are aware, you get your biggest bang for your buck coaching and a myriad of benefits when using a Socratic method to building your teams. So work/tell less and ask more!!! So keep asking questions….:)


      • February 20, 2015 at 10:16 am, Mike Kunkle (@Mike_Kunkle) said:

        Thanks Karen, great to have your perspective on that, and we’re right in alignment. Interesting that you note that “good coaching looks like good selling.” I’ve been saying that for years. Makes you wonder why reps who become managers, often drop the Socratic approach in their new role. Thanks again – stay the course.


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