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Why Sales Managers Fail at Coaching

By Robin Green

August 1, 2017


In working with sales teams, I’ve found that managers typically spend less than 10 percent of their time coaching. Much of their time is spent managing sales metrics. Often, they view the formal performance review process as their No. 1 form of coaching. They supplement this once- or twice-a-year meeting with casual conversations. Coaching, unfortunately, is seen as an added burden to an already overwhelming workload, so managers focus their time on problem-​solving activities.

Coaching does add to the manager’s workload in the beginning. It takes time to gain traction with the process. However, in the long term, coaching greatly reduces the managerial workload. It has a significant impact on sales force development and leads to greater performance from your team.

The biggest challenge is how managers view their role. Too many salespeople see their manager as the CPS: chief problem solver. This focus on problem-solving prevents sales managers from fulfilling their true mission of developing the sales team. Unfortunately, managers usually accept this role and consider it a part of their job description. They spend their time focused on the “problem of the day” and leave little time for the development of the individual team members. This creates an environment of “learned helplessness.” If managers were to ask the question “How would you solve the problem if I weren’t here?” they’d find the salespeople usually have the answers and could act on their own.

Why Do Managers Fail at Coaching?

Every manager can develop the skills needed to be a great coach. But many lack the willingness to commit to the action plan necessary to help their salespeople grow and develop. I’ve found that most managers have little formal training for their role. They were the best salesperson, and one day they were asked to lead the team and “teach them to do what you do.” Sometimes, they are simply overwhelmed with the operational, day-to-day troubleshooting environment that they have created.

Being a great sales manager is more than tackling the “problem of the day.”It’s more than using authority as a club and pushing people toward success.This approach leads to creating a mentality where people do what they are told when they are told to do it—and they underperform.

By spending more time in a coaching role and less in a supervisory role, managers can have a significant impact on the results their team achieves. But it takes a strong commitment, and it’s not without challenges.

Common Pitfalls to Being a Better Coach

To propel salespeople past self-imposed barriers and to help them be more self-sufficient, there are some traps to watch out for.

Unclear Objectives for the Coaching Session

Each coaching session must have a solid, meaningful agenda that both parties agree to achieve. There needs to be an apparent benefit to the salesperson. They must see how completing the agenda will have a positive impact on them.

Poor Follow-Up on the Session

Unless the manager and the salesperson commit to the necessary follow-up, the session will not be successful. The commitment should be unconditional. It should have immediate review points to make sure the salesperson stays on track.

Lack of Trust

Meaningful growth cannot happen in the absence of trust. If there is not a high level of trust between the manager and the salesperson at the end of the first meeting, the manager should explore why this is the case.

Too Much Time Spent Fixing

Managers who habitually respond with “Here’s what I’d do if I were you,” or some variation, are not coaching. They are not helping the salesperson grow, and it creates an environment that lacks self-sufficiency and accountability. In such situations, the salesperson proceeds to do what the manager tells them to do, and if it doesn’t work, the accountability lies more on the manager. Salespeople cannot grow in this environment.

Too Much Time Spent Telling

Managers, by virtue of their position or experience, often feel as though they must have all the answers. They spend most of their time telling people what they should do. Instead, managers should learn to ask strategic questions that are designed to help the salesperson uncover the answers on their own, think differently, and become more self-sufficient.

Coaching All Salespeople the Same Way

Each salesperson is unique. They have different experiences and filters that impact the way they go about their selling interactions. Coaching is not a “one-size-fits-all” world; it requires a customized approach.

width=150Robin Green is the president and owner of Ascend Performance Inc., an award-winning Sandler Training center in Richmond, Va. After a long and successful career leading sales teams for large organizations, he now works with a variety of companies to help them implement proven, reliable systems in the areas of sales, management, leadership, and customer service.