Is Coaching Salespeople Different Than Managing Them?

In sales, the terms “manager” and “coach” are common titles. Indeed, the two are often used interchangeably. Afterall, for each, their primary objective is supporting sales teams to boost performance and achieve success. In actual practice, however, sales managers and coaches may or may not be the same person. Also, they often focus on different aspects of support.

Regardless of how your organization delineates the two (if at all), let’s examine the responsibilities of each. This can help organizations get the most from their sales managers, sales coaches, and, ultimately, their sales teams.

What Is Sales Management?

Sales management is the day-to-day activity of managing a sales team. From trends in business and industry to individual KPIs, managers must see the big picture. In this way, managing is the macro-view of an organization’s sales operation. This includes where a sales team has been, where they are, and where they’re going.

Responsibilities of Sales Managers:

  • Forecasting short- and long-term goals and objectives
  • Staffing, hiring, and onboarding
  • Setting goals, quotas, and other measurements
  • Developing sales plans
  • Tracking individual and group performance metrics
  • Coordinating with other managers and the C-suite
  • Communicating the organization’s vision to the sales team
  • Seeking and enlisting sales training partners

Of course, much of this depends upon numbers. Hence, sales managers should be data-centric, with the ability to analyze key metrics. They must understand how these metrics translate to their sales team. In this way, they are the intersection between management’s long-range plans and their sales team’s daily activities.

In addition to the numbers, sales managers must be effective communicators. As such, number crunchers, who lack people skills, might make weak sales managers. After all, numbers are only half of the equation. The other half is communicating the meaning and implications of these numbers to their team.

In addition, sales managers seek outside sales partners. In this, they themselves must be familiar with current industry trends and developments. Also, to match trainers to the teams, they must know their seller’s strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.  

More than what they do, sales managers are defined by who they are. This includes the qualities needed for success.

Qualities of Effective Sales Managers:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Integrity
  • Forecasting
  • Analytics
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability

As middle managers between the C-suite and the sales team, sales managers must translate C-speak into sales-speak. Like prophets of old, they carry the company’s vision from the suites to the cubicles. In sales, this includes methodology and process.

In the way of great sellers with clients, managers must communicate with their team. Beyond words, this requires nuance, like tone and body language. After all, a message is only as effective as the delivery. In this, managers walk the line between assessment and motivation. 

Further, this communication must be a two-way street. Managers must listen to and understand their team members. This makes the same active listening skills that make great sellers a necessity for managers. Also, like sellers with prospects, managers must relate to and connect with their team members. This means understanding who they are, what they need, and treating them as individuals. Though salespeople are often maligned and stereotyped, managers know they are varied and complex. As managers adapt to changing sales cycles, they must also empathize with and adapt to their sellers.   

Top sales leaders and managers know their success is their team’s success. As leaders, a manager’s greatest strength is who they are. They lead by example in how they carry themselves. Their confidence inspires confidence. If they’re motivated and excited, day in and day out, their teams will model these qualities.

Ultimately, to be effective, managers must encourage their team’s buy-in to the company vision and mission. From this, team members must believe in their products and process. And they must trust their organization to value and enable their success. This is where coaching enters the picture.

What Is Sales Coaching?

Sales coaching starts with challenging and supporting groups and individuals to achieve more. In some ways, it’s more personal than sales management. If managers deal with the macro-level of sales enablement and performance, a coach’s primary concern is micro. They focus on the sales team and the individual’s day-to-day behaviors, activities, metrics, and results.

Responsibilities of Sales Coaches:

  • Setting and leading regular group and individual coaching sessions
  • Defining and communicating goals and strategies
  • Monitoring sales calls and other tasks
  • Developing and executing effective habits and skills
  • Advising tips, tricks, and best practices
  • Implementing role play and other activities
  • Motivating and inspiring
  • Attending, mastering, and reinforcing sales training    

Like their counterparts in sports, sales coaches need knowledge, experience, and expertise in their field. They often have a demonstrated track record as successful sales professionals. Of course, it’s one thing to acquire the skills needed to succeed. But it’s another thing to instill a winning mindset. As a sales coach, they must use their accumulated knowledge to help others.

A big part of coaching is teaching. Though you can’t teach talent, you can teach the fundamentals to maximize it. For hall of fame basketball coach Phil Jackson, this included meditation and Zen Buddhism. To build teamwork, legendary coach Gregg Popovich utilized a documentary on the communal activities of penguins.

Similarly, great sales coaches must devise creative ways for sellers to think outside the box. This often includes role playing real-world sales scenarios and other team activities. Today, this must include adapting to a rapidly changing sales environment.

As salespeople build relationships with clients, sales coaches must relate to and bond with team members. This means understanding their individual goals in relation to the larger goals of the organization. Coaches must understand sellers are motivated by different things. For some, it’s money. For others, it’s culture, remote opportunities, or life/work balance. Coaches must work with their reps to determine the best mix of compensation and incentives to drive their success.

Today, with so many sales reps working remotely or in hybrid modalities, sales coaches must be tech proficient. As sales reps had to adapt their selling methods to virtual, coaches must adapt their coaching to today’s technology. This means leveraging the necessary tech, such as whiteboarding and breakout rooms, to reach reps wherever they may be.

Also, sales coaches must determine the time and attention reps need or want. Some reps need to be pushed harder than others. Often, these sellers thrive with highly structured coaching. Others, including some top performers, know what they need to do. These reps might prefer to work at their own pace and may resent feeling micromanaged.    

To lead, motivate, and inspire, sales coaches must also possess the traits and attributes that allow them to connect.

Qualities of Effective Sales Coaches:

  • Positivity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Supportive
  • Trustworthy
  • Focused
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Observant
  • Empathetic

To inspire others, sales coaches must believe in their team members. Often, this goes beyond what one says to how one says it.

On sales calls, this means striking a balance between criticism and support. Instead of a prescriptive “Don’t rush the close,” contrast the drawbacks of one action with the benefits of another. For example, “Rather than jumping to your close, seek further confirmation. While you got their agreement, there was still hesitancy. Give the buyer the chance to conclude on their own that this is the right solution.”

Of course, sales is a result-oriented profession. Coaches must set realistic and achievable goals for their reps. And to measure progress, they must be data driven. However, effective sales coaches know numbers do not exist in a vacuum. Sales metrics are achieved by people. Sales coaches must track the performance metrics for reps before and after coaching and, when applicable, training. And, like sales reps, they must adapt their coaching methods to the individuals.

Today, with the titles manager and coach used interchangeably, it can be difficult to differentiate. Indeed, there can be significant overlap. For example, both deal with sales enablement, and both seek to develop their sales teams. However, in actual practice, there are key differences in focus, tactics, and result.

One major difference is semantics. There’s an important distinction between being “managed” and being “coached.” This can affect how reps view these roles and how they respond. It can also affect hiring, advancement, and even retention. No matter how these titles are used, understanding the differences has several benefits. These extend from organizations to the managers/coaches themselves and, ultimately, to the reps they develop.