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5 Sales Coaching Myths

5 Sales Coaching Myths We Can All Safely Ignore

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Written by Ago Cluytens
Practice Director - EMEA, RAIN Group

Sales coaching—working one-on-one or in small groups with firms and individuals in a highly focused manner to help them increase effectiveness, revenues, and sales—is a large part of what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Done right, it’s one of the most powerful, impactful ways to increase revenue and boost individual or group performance.

I love the work. It allows me to make a real difference, work with driven, motivated professionals, and see them grow and expand their abilities in the process. I also love it because it is one of the most direct ways in which I can demonstrate the full impact of what I do to a new (or existing) client.

Clients are often surprised by the effect of sales coaching, both in terms of “hard numbers,” as well as the changes they see in the people being coached.

Before the start of virtually every engagement, I find there are five common myths about sales coaching I need to clear up. In spite of the increasing use of coaching as a method for improving individual and organizational performance, when it comes to sales coaching, I find these same things come up in conversations over and over again.

Debunking 5 Sales Coaching Myths

1. “Sales coaching is just like every other type of coaching.”

In addition to training and consulting with clients on how to improve across-the-board sales performance, sales coaching is a big part of what I do.

My sales experience plays a major role when I do sales coaching. Unlike other forms of coaching—such as executive coaching—sales coaching is about producing both long-term behavioral change, as well as short-term measurable and quantifiable increases in sales.

In order to do that, the coach must have a track record, experience, and credibility in sales.

In our first few sessions, I help coaching clients set individuals goals and develop a connection from their sales efforts to the achievement of their personal objectives. After that, sales coaching is highly operational, focused on results and designed to improve individual performance. Nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff.

2. "Sales coaching is expensive.”

My dad used to say, “Son, one day you will learn that it takes money to make money.” And when clients inquire about the investment required for one-on-one sales coaching, they sometimes feel that investment is “on the high side” (as one client diplomatically put it).

And it’s an arguable point—until we start looking at the numbers. According to the ICF, the vast majority of companies (86%) indicate that their company has at least made their investment back. In fact, almost one-fifth (19%) indicate an ROI of at least 50 times the initial investment, while a further 28% see an ROI of 10 to 49 times the investment. The median company return is 700%, indicating that a company can typically expect a return of 7 times the initial investment in coaching.*

Our own clients report between a 25% to 40% increase in sales activity, leads generated, average deal size, and close ratio—and successes such as:

  • A human resources firm increased the number of prospect meetings set by just over 500% a short time after starting coaching.
  • A major engineering firm increased the size of one of its strategic accounts from $250,000 to $3.5 million in a several-year period, and it grew its strategic accounts 110% overall. During the same period, the rest of its accounts (whose account managers did not participate in a coaching and training process) grew at only 4%.
  • A municipal contractor was being terminated from a multi-year contract because a new city director wanted to take a different path. Our client was ready to accept the loss without a fight. During our coaching discussion, we strategized how to save the contract. Our client then successfully engaged the new director and communicated the return on investment realized by his work. The RFP was rescinded, and the client retained a revenue stream that will yield over $2,500,000 in the coming years.

3. “Sales coaching is a cure-all for everyone.”

Sales coaching is a scalpel, not a hack saw, which means that it’s best used with specific individuals, in specific situations, and with specific outcomes in mind.

Sales coaching will not help you overcome problems related to employee engagement. It will not help you correct the wrong rewards policy. It will not make up for having a faulty or sub-par product.

Sales coaching is not a magic bullet.

Sometimes prospects ask me to draft a proposal to “coach 75 of my salespeople.” And my response is always the same: “Why would you want to coach 75 of your salespeople?” In situations like this, I always recommend doing an assessment first (to lay a solid foundation for sales coaching), selecting a small “pilot” group (to produce results and build the business case on a small scale first), and making it a self-elected process (to make sure we’re focusing on the individuals who are most likely to produce exceptional results for themselves and their firm).

Like most things in business (and life), 80% of the results from sales coaching are derived from 20% of the investment/people/issues/clients. Think scalpel, not hack saw.

4. “Sales coaching is about asking great questions and listening.”

As a sales coach, I am hired by firms and individuals to accomplish one simple goal: to increase sales and revenue as much as possible in as short a timeframe as possible. That’s it.

Which means that if—based on my experience, track record, results, and the research we do at RAIN Group—I see a better, faster, more effective way of doing things, I have an obligation to speak up and point my coachees in the right direction.

Because, truth is, if I let my clients “discover their own true path,” sales opportunities will disappear, clients will be lost, and the competition will have moved in.

This doesn’t mean I don’t listen. It doesn’t mean I don’t ask enlightening, exploratory questions designed to help my clients deepen their understanding and insight. It doesn’t mean I am disrespectful or dogmatic.

It simply means that I will recommend, I will suggest, and I will (sometimes) insist if I know there is a better way.

5. “Sales coaching is (pretty much) deal coaching.”

While it is certainly true that a lot of sales coaching revolves around—and involves—deal coaching, that’s not the full story.

A sales coach will help coachees:

  • Define goals and build an action plan to achieve them
  • Develop a deeper understanding of what intrinsically and extrinsically motivates them
  • Build their resilience in the face of resistance, and help them maintain courage when (inevitable) momentary setbacks occur
  • Grow their knowledge, skills, and insight in the process

Sales coaching is a specific form of intervention suitable for specific situations, goals, organizations, and people. When all these elements align, I know of no more powerful, impactful and gainful way of increasing short-term revenue and sales.

You can also watch Ago discuss these sales coaching myths in this short video.

* ICF, Association Resource Centre Inc. and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, ICF Global Coaching Client Study, 2009, http://icf.files.cms-plus.com/includes/media/docs/ExecutiveSummary.pdf.

Last Updated August 16, 2023

Topics: Sales Management