Most Sales Managers Don’t Coach!

Staff Writer

There’s a significant amount of evidence to suggest that coaching sales people really does produce improved sales performance. Some research from the USA suggests a 20-35% increase in sales just by coaching.

Neil Rackham, probably one of the truly great authorities on selling, has this to say about coaching, “no other activity has so positive an impact.”

Working one on one with a salesperson is generally considered coaching.

Here’s a typical example of what some sales managers call coaching:

A salesperson requests help because they feel that they need some assistance with a big deal. They may have set up a meeting with a senior prospect and want the manager along. Maybe for help or maybe to cover their butt if it all goes wrong!

Who handles the meeting? The sales manager!! How much learning takes place? Not much. Maybe the sales person learns from what the manager does but it’s not coaching (and it’s not training either).

Renowned media trainer Chris Lytle says, “what most managers consider coaching is really one on one teaching or telling.”

It’s generally accepted that here are two types of sales coaching; Strategy Coaching and Skills or Tactics Coaching:

  • Strategy coaching might take place in the office. Discussing what needs to happen to close a sale or work on the expected outcomes or format of a meeting. Even if the salesperson might think it’s a way of catching them out, this type of coaching is valuable.
  • Skills & Tactics coaching is probably the more vital of the two. The one on one time together when the coach and “coachee” work on improving skills or addressing key tactics to assist the sales person to move to the next level of performance. Many sales managers neglect this area because they think they have hired salespeople who know how to sell!!


Now let’s return to the sales manager on a call with one of his sales people. Mostly no preparation gets done. Maybe a few words over coffee or driving to the call or perhaps in the lift on the way up to the meeting!

But here’s the crunch. How often does the sales manager assume the running of the accompanied meeting? Often 90-95% of the time. The sales manager is there for a purpose and as they see it, controlling the meeting.

If it’s an important deal the manager doesn’t want to see the call go wrong, but once the sales manager takes over the conversation, the prospect’s focus switches away from the salesperson – they are side lined; their authority disintegrates. Meantime the sales manager imagines that he has coached the salesperson in how to do it.

Whatever the outcome of the meeting, doing the call for the salesperson isn’t developmental coaching any more than the rugby league coach playing packing into a scrum would be coaching.

There is a better way. Better for the manager and certainly better for the sales person.

The sales manager should sit with the salesperson to plan the call. Careful preparation is never time wasted.

  • What’s the background to the call?
  • Who is the prospect?
  • What are the objectives for the call?
  • How is she going to handle it?
  • What issues is the prospect likely to have? Objections to be raised?
  • Is there any skill that the salesperson wants to improve and practise in the call?


Coaching Hint: During a sales coaching session the coach should be doing only around 30% of the talking and the sales person should be talking around 70% of the time.

When you get to the meeting with the client or prospect it should then be run by the salesperson with the sales manager saying as little as possible. After the call, a formal debrief occurs. The sales manager asks the salesperson about whether the call objectives have been achieved. What does the salesperson think he/she could have been done better? The outcomes form the agenda for the next coaching session.

The relentless pressure to hit monthly budgets can cause coaching to be overlooked but no sales manager can sell everything personally. The more he can develop and enhance the skills of his people the greater will be the improvement in their performance overall – remember the percentages? Around a 20-35% increase in sales.

The sales manager is in reality the only person to improve individual and team selling effectiveness. Coaching is the best vehicle for him or her to accomplish this.


Stephen Pead is a media industry sales and marketing veteran of 30 years with significant experience in sales, sales management and general management. He is based in Sydney and specialises in providing training and coaching for salespeople and sales managers.
He can be contacted at [email protected]

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