Dispatching with three myths of sales coaching


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Many, including me, agree that sales coaching is a critical piece of the puzzle in developing a world-class sales team. Yet, there is less agreement on how to best go about it. Many great companies start sales coaching initiatives with commitment and vigor. Far fewer exit the other end of the tunnel having succeeded. Why? One reason that usually comes up early is the lack of time. A lack of well-defined incentives for sales coaching usually makes the list, too.

Although individual managers can’t alter some of the institutional issues that frequently get in the way of successful sales coaching, let me share three common hobgoblins of sales coaching that can be dispatched.

Myth 1 – Sales coaching is about teaching sales people skills to improve their performance. This may sound right initially, but it turns out that effective coaching is not so much about teaching people, as it is about helping them to learn. This is not a play on words; these two statements say very different things. The traditional sales coaching model says, “I’m the manager – I’ll diagnose what’s wrong and suggest what you should do to improve your performance. Your job is to practice – my job is to give you feedback.” This model is about teaching people how to fix a performance problem. It often doesn’t work because its objective is to teach something to someone, rather than help someone learn something.

Newer coaching models, however, say, “You’re the one responsible for the learning. As your sales manager, “I’m responsible for helping you become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and helping you expand your alternatives for improving your performance.” These models are based on the notion that performance change is more likely to be achieved when the sales person being coached takes responsibility for change. The sales manager’s job is to facilitate, provide direction, and hold individuals accountable vs. telling them what they should or should not do. This alternative model helps explain why top coaches ask more than tell – and listen more than talk.

Myth 2 – Most people can accurately assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, this is not true. Most people struggle when attempting to construct an accurate self-assessment of their abilities and have difficulty pinpointing the true nature of their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, most people seek out evidence that confirms their positive opinions about themselves and often ignore contrary evidence. This often results in people holding onto a positive self-assessment even after their coach has provided them feedback that contradicts that assessment. It is very difficult to travel the performance improvement road unless everyone agrees on where the journey begins.

Recognizing the myth – so a shared vision of capabilities can be developed – is one of the opportunities for improving the sales coaching process. Some ideas are: First, the coach can change the standard against which team members self-judge. For example, shifting to a best practice standard vs. “what everyone else is doing” will help neutralize explanations for performance weaknesses. Second, the coach can be specific when describing behaviors such as “selling value” or “developing customer relationships.” Third, the coach can respond to unlikely explanations for certain behaviors or lack of performance by pointing out how others facing the same challenge are able to achieve the desired results. Fourth, the coach can help people depersonalize negative information to make it easier to confront and handle.

Myth 3 – Results must be reinforced for performance to change. This is more a half-myth than a full-blown myth. More accurately, for performance to change, progress – not just results – must be rewarded. Somewhere along the path to achieving real change, most people need some help when trying out new behaviors and instituting new practices. The performance change journey can be frustrating, tedious, and sometimes, even a little scary. After all, it’s not easy to try new things, particularly when a sales person is trying them out in front of customers. Everyone needs recognition and acknowledgement of their efforts along the way to results. Top-performing coaches understand this, and they not only help their sales people get off to a good start in their change process, they continue to stand by to help them deal with the risks of fear of failure.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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