Sales Coaching vs Sports Coaching

Sales Coaching

Harsh Words From Your Coach

How can sales coaching relate to traditional sports coaching? Imagine being a professional athlete in the heat of battle and not performing your best. To make matters worse, the scoreboard reflects your failure. You fall significantly behind your competition. As you walk to the sideline, you anxiously await insightful coaching to pull you out of your slump. You need encouragement to turn the game around. Unfortunately, what you receive are harsh words from the coach. He humiliates you with a directive. What’s more, you’re offered nothing more insightful than, “You better score more points or you’re gonna lose!”

Sounds crazy, huh? It probably wouldn’t happen that way in reality. This is because professional coaches are acutely aware that behavior produces results. Furthermore, patience, capacity, commitment, skill, and knowledge drive behavior. They know this and provide feedback accordingly.

Unfortunately, this singular focus on end results constantly occurs during one-on-one meetings between sales reps and managers. Most of the sessions I’ve observed begin with the sales manager reviewing, in great detail, the rep’s monthly sales performance. Managers tell reps they are missing their sales numbers. Moreover, they demand that the rep focus on producing more sales. Managers seem to feel this is the only way for sellers to achieve their targets. This is done as if the salesperson didn’t realize that was the objective.

sales coaching

Encourage Sellers, Don’t Insult Them

To be fair, some sales managers also review the rep’s sales funnel. This is often done in painstaking detail. They ask questions about each forecasted opportunity. Even then, the sales manager is likely to point out any deficiency. However, they do little if anything to determine WHY there is a performance gap. By encouraging or requiring the sales rep to “do better” we are essentially sending the same person, into the same environment, armed with the same skill and knowledge. But we’re EXPECTING that person to produce a different result. This is the definition of insanity.

Professional coaches understand the futility of this approach. If an athlete is performing poorly, the coach doesn’t just look at the scoreboard and order the player to score more points. The coach gives very specific instructions that hopefully improve the athlete’s behavior. Coaching might include specific instructions on how to read a defense in certain situations. They might explain how to shift their weight against an incoming knuckleball. Or maybe the coach will describe a never-before-seen defense. Let’s assume the athlete isn’t proficient with their skills. In this case, effective coaches will give weekly assignments to prepare the athlete for the next competition.

coach yelling

Sales Coaching: A Performance Profession

As it is for athletes, sales coaching (and selling in general) are “performance professions”. We must compete against other companies in a game. The buyers ultimately decide the score. Unfortunately, many sales managers do nothing more than demand a better result. And then they wonder why sales don’t improve. Sales managers should step back from the daily grind and examine what they do. In so doing, most would realize the error in this approach.

Salespeople with all the innate talent and drive for success often fail. This happens because they receive little or no effective coaching. Can you imagine ANY professional sports team recruiting top talent, then employing a coach that did nothing but keep score? Wouldn’t happen in sports and shouldn’t happen in sales. Often as a result of poor coaching, Sales Reps fail miserably.

Sales Leaders blame poor production on sellers. They replace them with a new crop only to continue having the same unproductive conversations. Call it the bad coaching turnstile. Poor sales coaching produces poor performers. These sellers produce poor results. This produces a new crop of players, and the cycle repeats itself.

Sales Coaching 101: Always Find a Way to Win

Ever notice how the best professional coaches find a way to win even when they lose star talent? There is no secret to effective coaching. Define the ideal behavior and the skill needed to execute it. Measure results, but analyze how they are produced to uncover the gaps in behavior that are leading to the gaps in performance.

Then, identify the root cause of the behavior gap, with special emphasis on skill and knowledge deficiencies, before assigning developmental tasks that will improve the player’s skill and knowledge. This is the model followed by effective coaches in a wide range of competitive endeavors. If we learn to apply it to sales management we have an opportunity to develop a team that wins significantly more often and does so with dramatically lower turnover.

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