How a Good Sales Coach Gets Better

Often times, I have conversations with sales managers who are looking in the mirror. They feel comfortable that they can help their reps improve, but wonder how they do the same thing for themselves. What can they do to improve themselves? Here are three tips:

Check your commitment

Think about a great coach in your past. Got that special person in mind? What did he or she do that was so great?

I’ve heard many different answers to this question, including “she cared about my success”…  “he made me feel important” … “she had high expectations of me” … “he was a great listener” … “she inspired me to get better” … “he was a great teacher.”

In other words, people don’t remember their best coach so much for the step-by-step coaching process (though the coach probably had one). Rather, they remember coaches more for how they interacted and communicated, how they truly connected with them.

The kinds of things that people recall demonstrate that their favorite coach was truly committed to their reps’ success. And by “committed,” I mean that the manager’s behavior was consistent with their intent. They wanted their reps to succeed and made the time to do it. Sales managers have so many demands on their time that they can often become distracted by minor issues that seem urgent, and overlook responsibilities (like sales rep development) that are truly important. Check your calendar for the past month. Think about how you’ve spent your time. Did you devote as much time to coaching as you wanted? If not, what do you need to do differently so your commitment to the development of your sales team is reflected in how you spend your time?

Catch the “Right”

In their book Managing Major Sales, Neil Rackham and Richard Ruff describe an experiment they once conducted with a group of sales managers. They made a video of a sales call that was specially designed to have an even balance of both good and bad points. They then asked experienced sales managers to watch the video and pick out any points about selling that struck them as worthy of comment, pointing out that they could pick out either good and bad points.

After the experiment, Rackham and Ruff found that 82% of the sales managers’ comments were about bad points!

Lesson: We sales managers focus a lot more on what’s going wrong than what’s going right. Our proficiency at pointing out what’s ineffective can play out into a coaching style that can be perceived by salespeople as negative and condescending.

The solution is to follow the advice of Ken Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager who says, “Catch them doing something right.” So post a sticky note in your workspace or an alert on an electronic device that reminds you to “look for the right.”

Be focused about the “wrong”

Last week I took a golf lesson from my favorite instructor. He’s my favorite pro – and I keep paying him big bucks – because when I take a swing he sees at least a half-dozen flaws. But then he gives me just one suggestion, and that one suggestion solves many of my flaws.

This is a great model for coaching, one that I advise for any sales manager.

Most of us only have the capacity to improve one or two things at any given time. Learning—and especially skill development—occurs little by little over time, not all at once. What typically happens, however, is that a sales manager will give a sales rep a laundry list of things they need to improve. The rep feels overwhelmed, which undermines their self-confidence. And no meaningful change occurs.

So the next time you have a development discussion with a rep, think like my golf pro. Pick out the one or two most important things you want that salesperson to work on, and focus there.

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!”.