How to Turn Sales Managers Into Great Sales Coaches

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” 

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s quote sheds light on the importance of effective coaching, and it certainly translates well to the world of sales coaching today. Indeed, it can be a delicate task to guide and coach sales reps effectively, especially if the sales manager him or herself has been promoted from within the ranks and thus may not yet possess the required skills to coach and lead effectively.

Most importantly, sales managers must invest the time and effort in getting to know their team. Understanding who these reps are as individuals, as sales professionals and their internal motivators will make it possible for the manager to evaluate and assess each rep. This information can then be used to design and customize a well-working sales coaching program.

In order to accomplish this task, there are a few basic guidelines sales managers should consider:

Listen and Engage
Listening to and engaging with sales staff throughout the sales coaching process builds trust and fosters stronger collaborative relationships. Active listening isn’t only a trait that should be mastered by sales reps when they engage with customers — it is also a trait that should be employed by effective sales managers when they engage with their staff. It is how sales managers learn more about their employees, including what their strengths and weaknesses are. Active listening entails engaging sales reps in a two-way conversation, with eye contact, and statements that reiterate what they say. This translates into the sales team feeling appreciated, heard, and buying-in.

Use Self-Discovery Tactics
At some point in our careers, we’ve probably all witnessed or experienced a meeting between manager and sales rep, where the sales rep has that look of a puppy being reprimanded. The manager runs through a list of mistakes, missed opportunities, and other errors from the sales reps’ last call. With each account, you can almost see the rep sinking deeper into their seat.

There is a better approach and it is all about coaching through self-discovery. Instead of citing every misstep of the conversation, ask the sales rep questions. Help them discover where they went wrong, what they could do better, and how to improve. Pose questions that make them listen and think, for example:

  • What did you think of the customer’s answer?
  • What did you notice about the customer’s reaction?
  • What do you think went well during your call?
  • Where do you think you could’ve done better?

Sales reps will remember and more importantly learn from these types of sessions opposed to a meeting in which the only person talking is the sales manager. Once the sales reps work through the call review and identify their own issues, ask a few follow-up questions to come up with solutions to reinforce these lessons. These could sound like:

  • What would you do differently next time when you encounter a similar situation?
  • What steps should you have taken to bring the customer on your side or to find a common ground?

The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Sales coaching should never feel like a punishment for poor performance. Even lower-performing sales reps or call reviews that were less than stellar can still have some positive points to focus on and affirm.

A sales manager’s primary responsibilities are coaching, training, and helping. When sales reps understand this, they will embrace the idea of being coached.

A Mutual and Open Coaching Culture
When we stop learning and growing, we cease to improve. That sentiment should be ingrained in sales managers who themselves need to have a desire to receive coaching from their direct reports in order to help them grow and advance their skills. A culture of coaching shouldn’t be reserved for the “boots on the ground” reps who actively engage with customers; but should also benefit the sales managers who guide their team along the way.

Bottomline: When sales managers follow these four guidelines, they will not only see sales habits change and results improve, they will also bring about long-term change to the sales culture within their organization. The benefits of fostering a culture of mutual and open coaching are far-reaching and will be critical for the success of the sales organization.