Training sales managers to coach – the good, the bad, and the ugly


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We’ve written several blogs on sales coaching. Reviewing the comments, a couple of things pop out. First it is a topic of widespread interest. Second, most people agree that coaching is a must-do for developing a superior sales team.

Given the responses we thought it would be good to shift the focus of the discussion from “how to coach” to “how do you train sales managers to coach”.

If you were tasked with developing a sales coaching program for your company, what would be the design specifications? What are some of the traps that need to be avoided? What are some of the must do’s? In general – what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Over the last 30 years we have designed numerous coaching programs for companies engaged in large B2B sales. From those experiences we have a sense about the answers to those questions – we have met all three of the “good-bad-ugly” trio.

Let’s start with the ugly.

Some companies just don’t do it. Some don’t do it because they think their sales managers are experienced so they know how to coach. Others pass because their sales managers are busy, so coaching training is not viewed as a good use of time. And, of course there is always the budget constraint.

Staying with the ugly, other companies do it, but it more closely resembles an injection than a training experience. Sales leadership commits four hours before lunch on the last day of the National Sales meeting for a sales coaching program.

There are other configurations of the ugly, but no need to linger on the dark side. Failure to implement coaching training, whatever the reasons, constitutes a strategic error. Sales coaching is necessary for maintaining a superior sales team; it is difficult to learn and almost no one is inherently accomplished – so teaching your managers how to coach should be a priority.

Some companies are getting it right. To highlight the good, let’s take a look at what one company did that we think deserves a five-star rating for designing a sales coaching initiative.

First, a little context. The company was about to launch a sales training program on the fundamentals of consultative selling for their entire sales force of around 150 reps. In preparation for that effort they designed and implemented a sales coaching experience for their sales managers. Here were the major components:

  • Step 1. They put their front-line sales managers through the consultative selling program so that the sales managers were up-to-speed on the content of the training their sales reps would be receiving.
  • Step 2. After about three weeks, during which time the sales managers spent time in the field just observing what the sales reps were doing, they went to a 2-day sales coaching program designed specifically for sales managers. The program was customized to their organization. The first day addressed the how-to’s of coaching. The second day was a customized coaching simulation where the sales managers moved through a series of coaching scenarios to practice and get feedback on the application of the sales coaching models addressed in day one.
  • Step 3. A sub-set of sales managers was then assigned to attend each of the consultative selling training programs for the sales reps where they served as table leaders. This sales training program provided the opportunity to practice their coaching with sales reps. This configuration benefited both the sales managers and the sales reps.
  • Step 4. Each sales manager then designed a coaching effort in the real world with their respective sales teams.

Granted this was a substantial effort. It was time consuming – it required a lot of commitment from many different players and it involved management time trade-offs. On the other hand, if you really believe sales coaching is important – and it does have a significant payoff, then maybe it is time and effort well spent.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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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