3 Obstacles to Installing a Sales Coaching Culture

With the Great Resignation happening in today’s business, where many people have quit their sales jobs, sales organizations have to hire more salespeople and often accept candidates with less experience than past hires. New salespeople, especially those with only a year or two of experience, need more guidance and structure as they try to learn both the essentials of effective selling and your company’s specific processes.

To cope with this onslaught of undeveloped talent, sales organizations need to embrace a sales coaching culture, which I define as each manager’s mindset to proactively apply leadership skills to develop each salesperson to his or her maximum potential. A sales coaching culture is sustained when coaching  becomes a key part of your company’s identity.

If you think your organization already has a sales coaching culture, let me challenge you. How many of your salespeople are at or above sales quota? How many appointments do your sales managers have in their calendar each week to coach salespeople one-on-one? The answer to both questions is “not many.”

To install a sales coaching culture, you’ll need to overcome three obstacles.

Obstacle #1: Senior management is preoccupied with sales results

Many companies take great pride in being “results-oriented” and everybody from the top down is under extreme pressure to achieve results. But there are two problems with this myopic approach:

First, results are a by-product of the skills and activities that achieved those results—so you can never improve by focusing on results only! You have to improve what salespeople do and how well they do it if you want to see better results.

Second, sales managers and executives can become preoccupied with deals that are approaching the “close” stage—which causes salespeople to do the same. Salespeople take shortcuts so they can push deals to the close more quickly. They don’t ask enough questions so they don’t fully understand the prospect’s needs. They don’t get to the second (or third) decision-maker, so they’re stuck dealing with buyers who are more interested in price than in value and capabilities. Salespeople sell too fast, which is a sure prescription for smaller deal-sizes and bigger price-wars.

Obstacle #2: No clear company expectations for sales coaching

Take a look at your company’s job description for the sales manager position. Chances are there is nothing in writing about the amount of time that should be spent coaching or the types and frequency of coaching conversations expected. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Obstacle #3: Sales managers think they don’t have the time to coach

It’s true that sales managers are putting in a lot of hours. The trouble is that the tasks they are working on are so often of the lowest priority. They are reacting to what they perceive as urgent requests, rather than being proactive in doing the important work of developing salespeople’s knowledge and skills.

One reason sales managers waste so much time on low-priority tasks is that they often see themselves as the problem-solver for the team. Instead of teaching salespeople how to solve their own problems, the sales manager agrees to solve those problems (“Let me look into this”)—which is the reaction of a subordinate not a leader. 

Another huge timewaster is e-mail, texts, instant messaging, etc. The typical sales manager I talk to spends upwards of two hours every day on email. That’s the equivalent of 60 days a year sending or receiving messages.

If your sales managers could reduce that time spent by just 1/3, they would suddenly have an additional 20 days a year for coaching salespeople. (It’s not surprising that in my online sales management training program the module titled “Take Control of Your Time and Priorities” gets the most attention!)

Sales managers need to reevaluate their priorities. Here is a complimentary 8-minute video lesson from my Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness online course, “Who’s priority is it?” that provides helpful suggestions:

Improve performance by creating a sales coaching culture

Developing a strong sales coaching culture offers a great ROI and great leverage. Each sales manager is then empowered to improve the win rates of every sales rep on their team.

Here are three steps you can take to overcome the obstacles and lay the groundwork for an effective sales coaching culture:

  1. Have your executives get everybody to re-focus on the earlier stages of the sales cycle. Develop a set of questions that your salespeople should know the answer to during the earlier stages of a sales cycle, then instruct your sales managers to ask salespeople those questions. Expect your sales managers to commit to daily and proactive sales coaching.
  2. Have your sales managers develop standards for coaching: both topics that need to be discussed and how often those conversations should take place with each salesperson. To start, I recommend you set a realistic goal. Don’t try to begin an initiative that you can’t sustain.
  3. To help your sales managers start to control their time, teach them how to help salespeople learn to solve their own problems. My favorite technique is to ask two magic questions whenever a salesperson comes to me with a problem: First, “What have you done about it so far?,” and second, “What do you think ought be done next?”

If you take these steps, your company will see improved sales results once the additional coaching and guidance takes place. And better still, those results will be sustained because sales managers will have the time to teach your salespeople the skills that they can apply to all stages of a deal, not just the close.

Kevin F. Davis, president of TopLine Leadership, is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatnessbook and online training program for sales managers.

Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.