April 20th, 2016

Do you intend to provide developmental sales coaching, but tend not to?


Frontline sales management can be one of the most difficult jobs within a sales organization. It can also be one of the most rewarding.

The eternal struggle for most sales leaders is being caught in the sales coaching versus managing conundrum. They intend to coach their people, but tend not to because of time constraints and the demands of managing within their organization.

Leaders can have the best intentions of developing the skills and talents of their direct reports through developmental sales coaching. But the information chaos swirling around them can get in the way. Those in management positions are pulled in several directions. Reviewing and commenting on data, running analyses and forecasts, conducting meetings,  and putting out fires are just a few of the demands of today’s sales leaders. The ability to deliver pure coaching is on the back burner far too often. Unfortunately, these time-pressed leaders end up just mailing it in and miss real opportunities to provide developmental sales coaching.

To attempt to compensate for the time-management crunch, frontline leaders will fall into the trap of surface coaching, which are conversations that are purely output- and result-focused. A forecast and pipeline are analyzed, and a typical conversation can center on the current state of those numbers without much dialogue around how change can be accomplished. Sales leaders often don’t dive into the developmental conversation they should be having. It takes real focus to resist the urge to go right to the numbers.

In an ideal world, leaders should spend 70% of the time coaching their team, and 30% managing operations. This puts a greater emphasis on developing talent and improving all aspects of each person’s performance. Realistically, it can be near impossible to meet that percentage in today’s fast-paced, information-rich sales environment. Even in my own organization, I find the demands of the job can get in the way of my best intentions. If it’s been a tough week, with multiple conference calls, my interactions with my team can end up being more surface-oriented: What’s the latest with this client? Are we confirmed for that meeting? What’s the next step? Are we having a challenge with the contract?  

Because we are all running at such breakneck speeds these days, it is essential to think ahead about what is to be achieved in coaching conversations. If a one-hour coaching call is scheduled, make sure to share the agenda ahead of time with that person. Without a plan for how to spend the time, it is more likely the call will devolve into surface coaching and talking about numbers.

Planning for coaching calls may sound like a basic strategy, but it is often overlooked. Too many leaders run from one call to the next. They may know they have an 11:00 coaching call with Joe, but after an early morning operations call and a client call at 10:00, they just wing it with Joe.

What leaders miss when substituting surface coaching for substance is the potential to:

  • Improve performance and achieve revenue growth
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Accelerate learning and support change
  • Help each sales professional become responsible for their own development

Developmental sales coaching is the secret to sales success, improving the performance of your sales team, yourself, and your organization. It is the most important job of every sales manager and leader – and well worth the time. Make it a regular cadence and resist the urge to surface coach. Over time the results will take root and the coaching relationship with your people will reach new heights.


About The Author: James Barnett

Jim Barnett is Vice President, Sales, Central and West Regions with Richardson. He leads a team of senior sales professionals and is responsible for the business development efforts for the team and for ensuring the highest level of quality in the management of Richardson's client relationships. Jim is a member of Richardson's Operating Committee and plays a role in shaping Richardson's go-to-market strategy as well as in the development of the sales organizations' structures and processes.

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James Barnett

One Response to “Do you intend to provide developmental sales coaching, but tend not to?”

  1. April 28, 2016 at 2:00 am, Mohit Garg said:

    James, there’s certainly a need for regular cadence in coaching. This can be facilitated by using technology to codify some of the practice, leaving greater capacity for managers to focus on the rest. I’ve found in this day and age there’s two main areas to coaching; 1. Ensuring reps convey the right message at the right time; and 2. Ensuring they are customer ready. Technology can be used to help reps convey the right message, leaving managers to add value and insights as they coach reps on tactical ways to be customer ready. You can find a useful outline of this coaching framework here: http://www.mindtickle.com/blog/how-the-best-companies-create-an-agile-sales-coaching-model/


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