3 Ways to Tell If You’re a Sales Coach or Just a Critic

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I’ve discovered in recent years that it’s not enough for me to ask sales managers if they are coaching their team. Everyone answers “yes”— though most admit they’d like to have time to do more! But then when I probe further, I find that their understanding of “coaching” and my understanding are vastly different.

In my mind, what most sales managers do is more like criticism than coaching. Think about it. A movie critic waits until after a film is finished then tells the actors and directors and script writers everything they did wrong. Too late to fix any mistakes then!

A coach, in contrast, works along side a player, helping them develop their skills and acumen, so the player can be better tomorrow than they are today.

If you want to be perceived by your team as a helpful coach rather than a judgmental critic, you should be doing the following three things.

1. Discuss rep development frequently

Sales managers who fall into the critic category spend most of their one-on-one time with reps talking about deals and opportunities. While those discussions may help a rep close a particular deal, they don’t contribute to the rep’s skill development.

As I’ve reported before (here and here), sales coaching that leads to revenue growth requires the manager to identify each rep’s development needs—both their sales skills and their attitudes (or “wills”).

2. Observe reps before giving feedback

I understand why sales managers too often make judgments based on insufficient information. They’re so pressed for time that they end up forming opinions based solely on a reps’ results. But you can’t provide specific, developmental feedback unless you have spent one-on-one time with reps on sales calls. If you re-diagnosing a rep’s issue without observation, you might be guilty of sales management malpractice.

3. Your actions demonstrate that your reps are your #1 priority

If I looked at your calendar, what would I see? Would you have regular one-on-on coaching sessions hardwired into every day? Or would I see meetings with people not on your team? Or open time where you get sucked into fighting the fire-du-jour?

If I were to secretly poll your team members, would they say that you behave as if they are your #1 priority? Or would they describe for me instance after instance where something or someone else had your attention? Do you answer calls or texts when you’re with a rep?

A true coach is someone who puts the needs of the team first. I know that’s not always easy, but remember that your greatest contribution to your organization is developing a winning sales team. It’s that simple.

Be a coach, not a critic

The more you identify with these criteria—focusing on sales rep development, providing feedback after observation, treating your reps as your #1 priority—the more likely it is that you will be perceived as a true coach by your team. Find out more tips on effective coaching.


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!”.

1 thought on “3 Ways to Tell If You’re a Sales Coach or Just a Critic”

  1. There is a fine line between a coach and a critic. Critics simply point out what’s wrong, but coaches empower and help sales professionals build their skills. It’s important to become a coach so your team can grow.

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