The Irony in Sales Coaching


By Allen Bessel, VP Client Solutions, Optimé International Inc. 

Successful sales managers know they have a significant effect on their teams’ results with individual coaching that develops capabilities. The challenge for many sales managers – and especially those new to coaching – is striking the balance between asking/coaching and telling/managing.  While both approaches have their place and time, coaching is the one that best builds capabilities and results. 

The Sales Executive Council (SEC) spoke to thousands of salespeople in a research study. What they learned was not surprising. Respondents indicated that receiving quality coaching helped them improve long-term performance by upwards of 19%. A separate study from CSO Insights, also revealed a correlation between quota attainment and coaching. When a leader’s coaching skills exceeded expectations, 94.8% of their reps meet quota. When a leader’s coaching skills needed improvement, only 84.5% hit their targets.


Knowing this correlation, most sales managers make it a priority to provide coaching to their teams. They schedule a regular touch-base meeting with them and meet as scheduled. In my experience, this is where the program can take a wrong turn. 

Sales reps, who might only have 1:1 attention from their leader during this scheduled time, come armed with a list of issues; challenges they have faced with a client or with others inside the organization.  Their often time-starved leader goes through the list with them, helping them solve problems and ‘put out fires’ until their meeting time is up. Both parties feel that the time was productive and go back to their roles feeling they’ve accomplished something.

And while they may have solved some problems, the manager did little to support the growth and development of the rep. What just happened was not coaching. It was good old-fashioned problem solving. And chances are, when the next session rolls around, the sales rep will come back with a new set of issues and problems, where the manager will once again help to solve them.

Good coaching – the kind that develops sales capabilities and helps salespeople meet quota – would require the manager to lead the conversation in a way that helps the rep find their own way forward. The manager would work to help the rep form a broader perspective and, potentially, see the issue-at-hand through the eyes of others. Good coaches help others build self-awareness about their role in the issues they may be facing. And a strong coach/manager would hold the rep accountable for an action plan that would produce results. Or at least produce some learning. 

This common format of a coaching conversation – designed to help leaders develop their team members to be productive and self-sufficient producers – does just that. It creates independence where the sales rep becomes capable and confident in resolving the challenging duties of their roles. Over time, it boosts their self-esteem, resilience and, importantly, their ability to meet their quota. 


When we, as managers, provide the answers, put out fires or provide a check-list of the things our employees need to do, it’s easy to feel like we’ve helped them be productive. And, in our busy work worlds, it might even feel like we’ve saved time for everyone. The irony, though, is that, when the issue invariably rises again in a sales reps’ day-to-day activities, they are ill-equipped to work through them without bringing us into the situation for advice and support. The end result is that both manager and rep are not as productive as they need to be in their respective roles. Managers spends too much time putting out fires that their reps don’t have the skills to manage on their own. All in the name of, purportedly, coaching.

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Good luck and good selling!