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What Makes for Successful Sales Coaching

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime."

This is a popular axiom in the coaching world.

You'll find it everywhere. Here it is in a CBS News story:

"Myth 8: Professional coaches tell their clients what to do and give them advice.

Fact: Bad or inexperienced coaches tell their clients what to do and are constantly giving advice. Good coaches do not…Instead, coaches help their clients explore and come up with the best choices for them based on where they are and the client's vision for their future. Coaches are experts at the process of changing behavior, which is much more valuable than giving instructions."

While sometimes it's a good idea to let sellers work out their own problems and make mistakes, it isn't wise to lose a deal just to teach a seller a lesson.

Sellers lose plenty of deals on their own and learn as they go.

Successful sales coaches make sure sellers are armed with the best ideas—even if they have to hand them the ideas—to win the sale. Indeed, the best sales coaches balance teaching the man how to fish and giving them the darn fish!

What Makes for a Successful Sales Coach 

A great sales coach:

  1. Knows sales well enough to give advice
  2. Is willing to give direct advice
  3. Knows the appropriate way to deliver advice
  4. Knows when to share advice and when to let sellers work out their own solutions

To this point, a coach may have all the right skills on paper, but keep in mind, it still might not be enough to successfully coach the sellers at your organization. The sales approaches at companies differ tremendously. None of them are universal, so an effective approach for one situation may not be right for another.

Individual sales coaches introduce their point of view on what success in sales looks like. Make sure their sales philosophies will work best at your company and with your culture.

When to Facilitate and When to be Directive

While the learn-and-take-lumps approach might be fine in executive coaching, the help and advice from a sales coach must have a significantly more immediate impact.

Don't get the wrong idea: there's nothing wrong with asking coachees questions and encouraging them to find their own answers. Doing so promotes ownership of the process and solution, gains commitment to finding the solution versus compliance in merely using an existing one, and promotes learning of both sales tactics and concepts.

It also motivates coachees to apply the learning because they found the solution themselves.

In fact, "advise" is one of the roles in 5 Roles of High-Performing Sales Coaches.

Sometimes, however, sellers need direct advice and ideas to create an opportunity, move a sale forward, and win.

And they need advice now.

They either can't work it out for themselves because they don't have the context or experience or taking the time could cause them to lose the opportunity.

When a seller has less experience and a lower skill level, the sales coach should be directive, giving the seller every chance to succeed with each sales opportunity. When a seller has more experience and skill, they're able to take a lighter touch approach and be more facilitative in the approach.

An easy way to think about it:

  • Lower-Skilled Seller: Use a directive approach. They can still be asked questions, but ultimately, these sellers require a firmer guiding hand, specific advice, and to be dissuaded from taking ill-advised paths.
  • Highly-Skilled Seller: Use a facilitative approach. The sales coach should play a supportive role, allowing coachees to define possible actions. They can lend ideas, but firm direction should be used more sparingly.

The average company that invests in coaching sees a return of 700%. It's essential for helping sellers maximize sales to big accounts, fill their pipeline, improve productivity, and increase motivation. But not all coaching is created equal. Make sure you're guiding sellers in the most effective way—with successful sales coaching that aligns with your sales approach and culture, and balances giving direct advice with being facilitative. 

White Paper: The 5 Roles of High-Performing Sales Coaches White Paper

Topics: Sales Management