Five tips to become a better sales coach

Denver-Based Sales Leadership Development Available Nationwide

Posted: March 19, 2010

Colleen Stanley

Sales managers are responsible for executing several roles: manager, trainer and coach. This creates challenges: Where should they invest their time? Internal meetings? Analyzing reports? Training and coaching the sales team?

If you want to hit revenue goals for 2010, invest your time in training and coaching your sales team. It makes analyzing reports a whole lot more fun when the numbers are in the black.

Sales managers have attended training courses, learning the art and science of sales. But how many sales managers have attended training and coaching courses to learn how to transfer the skills that made them top producers? In the words of Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."

Here are five tips to help you grow your sales team.

Know when to train and when to coach

Training is telling and imparting knowledge. Coaching is asking questions to make sure the knowledge lands in the salesperson's gray matter.

When a sales manager identifies a performance issue, they usually go into training mode - teaching the salesperson the technique or concept one more time. The problem may not be selling skills; it might be a buy-in issue. They don't execute the skill because they don't believe it works or it's uncomfortable.

It's time to stop training and start coaching by asking questions that change paradigms. Presumptive questions are a great coaching tool, i.e., "When you asked the prospect how much the problem was costing, what did she say? When you shared with the prospect that you couldn't put together a recommendation until you met with the CFO, what did he say?" The answer from the salesperson is usually, "I can't ask that question" or "I forgot."

Good coaching questions are: 
(1) What makes you believe that? Is that perception or real data? 
(2) What is the reason is that you keep forgetting? Is it knowledge or comfort zone? 
(3) What will you do differently the next time?

If you want better answers, ask better questions.

Document your sales process.

If you don't have a defined sales process, you don't have anything to train, coach or inspect. Many companies state they have a defined sales process, but there's no written documentation such as key questions, value propositions or handling objections.

Some sales managers respond, "I hire people with 10 years experience. They know how to sell." Guess what? The NFL hires players with experience, but they still give them a playbook to follow. The playbook helps a football team to review game films, and see where they executed well and where they fell short. The players have the ability to debrief the game because they have a process to compare, analyze and improve. Without a defined sales process, the sales manager attempts to debrief 10 different playbooks.

Eliminate fire hose training.

Training often is an immersion process, such as two days or two weeks of nonstop classes - and after enrollees return to work, nobody reinforces what they learned. Effective sales managers understand the adult learning model and apply it during sales training. They grow their sales team members by taking them from unconscious incompetent (don't know what they don't know) to conscious incompetent (they know they don't know) to conscious competent (they know how) to unconscious competent (they are masterful).

Reinforcement is the key to mastery. Think about how you learned in grade school. Remember multiplication tables? Flash cards were held up and you repeated the formulas over and over until they landed in long-term memory. Sales managers need to hold flash-card sessions with their sales team about critical selling skills such as overcoming objections, value propositions for various buyers and quantifying the cost of the problem or opportunity

Prioritize your time.

There are corporate meetings to attend, reports to analyze and investing time in the team. If you want to grow revenue in 2010, make training and coaching your No. 1 priority.

A successful sales manager in Denver invested one hour each week with his 16 direct reports. Was it difficult to find the time with all the other responsibilities on his plate? Yes. Did his sales team grow revenue 20 percent in a flat market and a competitive market? Yes. Time is a limited asset. Choose to invest it wisely.

Stretch your team.

You signed up for leadership, and part of that responsibility is stretching your sales team. Push salespeople out of comfort zones and by following Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Call on that prospect you've been avoiding. Ask the tough questions during a sales call. Insist on excellence and don't allow your sales team to settle for being average.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, "If you settle for nothing less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your life."

About the Author

Colleen Stanley is founder and president of SalesLeadership Inc., a sales development firm specializing in sales and sales management training. The company provides programs in prospecting, consultative sales training, emotional intelligence training. and leadership training for sales managers. She is the author of Growing Great Sales Teams and Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success. Reach Colleen at 303-708-1128 or visit

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Colleen Stanley is president of SalesLeadership Inc. in Denver. Reach her at or 303-708-1128 .

We practice what we preach and don't make recommendations without a face-to-face appointment or phone consultation.

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