Cycling Competition

3 Things Sales Managers Must Do Well

One weekend not long ago, I was reminded how useful competition is in helping us get an objective view of our effectiveness. So, there I was on a lazy weekend bike ride when a few random cyclists pulled up near me. I didn’t think much about the extra company at first, but the next thing I knew, we organically started pushing each other competitively. There isn’t anything quite like a little friendly competition to show how strong and effective you can still be (or perhaps how strong you used to be). Naturally, this got me thinking about sales managers and the difference between selling and many other jobs.

Selling is unique in that it is both a production and performance profession. (Click here for more information on the production part of selling). Unlike engineers and accountants, salespeople constantly compete directly with each other. And while winning more frequently might be related to their environment and variables such as the solution they represent, the economy and their competition (in the same way my bike and the weather could impact my cycling success), nothing exposes opportunities to improve one’s selling skills like competition. And nearly every competitor knows the immense value of an effective coach in helping them achieve their full potential.

The good news is that nearly every sales professional has paid for and is probably still paying for performance coaching – the sales manager. But are managers really doing all they can to help their sellers compete more effectively?

In many cases, the evidence is clear that they aren’t. However, this because sales managers don’t want to be good coaches, they generally do. Unfortunately, the difference between being an effective player and an effective coach is significant. And being a great player doesn’t necessarily make you a great coach – see Michael Jordan.

3 Critical Behaviors For Effective Sales Managers

The fact that sales managers are often falling short as coaches isn’t because no one cares about sales coaching. In fact, there is a growing sense of urgency among sales organizations to transform their sales managers into effective coaches. In one study, sales coaching was rated as the single most important effectiveness initiative.

Several more studies suggest that effective sales coaching improves average team performance by as much as 20%, and coaching solutions have been among the top requested apps for users for several years.

So why is quality sales coaching so elusive? For starters, many companies and their sales leaders seem unclear about the role of the sales coach. So, in this blog, let’s focus on just the high-level, the three things every performance coach must do well.

Before you read further, it may be helpful at this point to pause for a moment and think about your own experience outside any sales role. If you’ve ever played team sports, taken lessons for a musical instrument, had golf or tennis lessons, or even had a personal trainer, then you have likely experienced first-hand the three critical coaching behaviors:

1. Expert Analysis and Advice

While the average weekend warrior may not need a personal trainer in order to enjoy her sport of choice, consistently winning against a field in any competition requires more expertise than the average competitor possesses. Not just because they don’t study the behavior as thoroughly as the typical coach, but also because few of us are able to evaluate our own performance as objectively as an unbiased third party.

The role the coach plays here is essential to comparing the seller’s performance against an ideal selling model. This implies that there is an agreed upon ideal model, because without one, the seller and coach will likely spend more time debating the optimum selling behaviors rather than evaluating the effectiveness with which the seller is executing on them. In this area, the coach’s job is not only to identify opportunities for improvement, but to evaluate the seller’s performance in a manner that identifies the root cause of performance and behavior gaps. Once these are identified, the coach must be able to recommend specific activities that can be completed in order to improve skill, knowledge and selling behaviors – ultimately leading to better business results.

2. Inspiration and Motivation

While expert advice and counsel are critical technical skills for the effective sales coach, motivation and accountability are no less important to overall effectiveness. If you have ever worked with a sports coach or trainer, you personally know the power of encouragement when, just as you think you’ve hit your limit, your coach shouts out, “one more set, you can do it!” It would be an oversimplification though, to suggest that positive reinforcement and encouragement is all that’s necessary for a manager to inspire and motivate her team to better sales performance. The ability to motivate doesn’t simply reveal itself when someone is pushing through a perceived wall. It starts well before, in the earliest planning and introductory stages of the relationship.

By taking the time to understand the underlying motivation of the person being coached, the manager can determine exactly what drives them and use this to help motivate and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.

Unfortunately, many organizations drive nearly the opposite type of interaction. Managers are given their goals, which they pass down to their sellers. Just imagine hiring a personal trainer and rather than trying to understand what you want to accomplish, they give you the objective, “I need you to be able to run a 6-minute mile!” Crazy as it sounds, that is essentially what we are doing in sales, and it doesn’t have to be this way. 

In fact, the vast majority of salespeople we have worked with have personal goals that are higher than their quota. We can gain more leverage and inspire better performance by understanding our people first and showing them how to achieve their goals. 

3. Accountability with a Purpose

Shifting the goal-setting conversation is the key to our third required behavior. Effective coaches become critical accountability partners. Whether you want to lose weight, ride faster on a bike, play better golf, or sell more, chances are it will require effort beyond what you are presently putting forth. This is the nature of improvement in a competitive environment. You are either moving forward or falling backward relative to your competition.

Many of us have experienced that conflict between getting the long-term results we want and the near-term pain of putting in extra effort. This is where the coach’s role becomes indispensable. Effective coaches understand our underlying motivation, know exactly where we need to improve, and are able to leverage this knowledge and their personal relationship with us to hold us accountable for doing things we may not want to do in the moment. 

In fact, the great Tom Landry, former head coach for the Dallas Cowboys phrased it this way, “Leadership is the ability to get a person to do what he doesn’t want to do in order to achieve what he wants to achieve…it’s getting the best out of people.” Great sales coaches go beyond holding people accountable for results. They hold their people accountable for the behaviors that produce results including learning and practicing. 

Most sales leaders agree, sales coaching is the pivot point for driving all sales effectiveness initiatives. Most sales managers want to be great coaches, and most salespeople, like most professional athletes, want to work for great coaches. To be sure, there are obstacles to putting these ideas into practice, but there is enormous opportunity for scalable, sustainable differentiation when you develop and enable a truly effective coaching culture.

Want more detail on what it takes to become an exceptional sales coach? Click here to download our free Guide to Sales Coaching, which includes an overview of our 5-step GUIDE coaching model and a coaching readiness assessment for sales enablement leaders.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at

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