sales team coach

Imagine having a sales team coach who sees the potential in you that you don’t even see in yourself—and then is committed to helping you help live up to that potential.

Most leaders agree that the role of sales team coach play a key role in helping salespeople achieve their goals. However, there’s a big gap between this recognition of the importance of coaching and the amount of coaching that’s actually being done. In one survey we conducted, three­ quarters of sales leaders said coaching is important, and yet 76% of them still said they don’t coach much or at all.

Their instinct is right. A great sales team coach does make a big difference. According to our research, when organizations are effective at coaching, it pays off in a host of different ways. Significantly, these organizations enjoy an increase in sales of 15% over the organizations that don’t do any coaching.

So we know coaching is pivotal to sales success. We also know many sales managers aren’t doing it, or at least aren’t doing it as effectively or as frequently as they should. Why the disconnect?

Sales leadership coaching is important

If you’re a sales leader who falls into the 76% who aren’t coaching much or even at all, you might argue, like many of the respondents in our survey, that you simply don’t have the time. But as with those respondents, if we were to dig a little deeper, I’d bet we’d find that there’s more to the story.

What Does it Mean to Be a Sales Team Coach?

One of the interesting things we’ve discovered, not just in our formal research studies but regularly throughout the years in our work with sales leaders and organizations, is that if you ask ten different people to define what coaching entails in their organization, you’ll get ten different answers. It’s hard to get people energized around something when no one knows exactly what you’re talking about. It’s even harder to make it a priority and hold people accountable to doing it.

We assume leaders know what coaching is and how to do it, but all too often, that’s not the case. Being skilled as a sales manager doesn’t automatically make someone a great sales team coach. Coaching is not the same as performance management and it certainly isn’t about micromanagement. It’s also not going on sales calls and critiquing what the rep is doing wrong, or reviewing pipeline activity with the rep and suggesting ways they can increase sales.

Stripped down to its very essence, sales coaching is about having conversations. It’s about going beyond the numbers and getting to the inner beliefs, the challenges & emotions and fear of failure that influence someone’s confidence, ability and motivation to do what needs to be done, day in and day out, to achieve their goals. These inner factors can impede a salesperson’s progress, or, with an effective coach by their side, unleash more success than they ever thought was possible for them to achieve.

At its core, sales coaching uses conversation to develop a person’s awareness and clarity around what they are doing and why. It’s not necessarily about correcting or fixing. It’s about listening and helping people transform any mindsets and beliefs that could be holding back their success. This can only be done through a process that applies techniques common to all coaching:

  • Questions that draw out what needs to change or be adjusted
  • Active listening to understand rather than assume or advise

Great sales team coaches help their reps see through a different lens by asking open-ended questions that get the conversation going: “What do you think you should do, and how do you think you should solve the problem?” The coach and the rep then work together to set the goal, plan how to get there and put in place the best process to make progress and stay accountable.

How Great Sales Team Coaches Unlock Potential

Have you ever had a team member who holds so much promise, has so much potential, but just can’t seem to break through? They’ve aced the sales skills training, they take advantage of the performance management tools to track their productivity and set new goals, they know what they need to do to achieve their goals, and you’ve repeatedly reminded them of what it takes—and yet, they keep hitting a brick wall. In fact, they seem to be losing ground rather than gaining.

Maybe this is a new salesperson, but it might even be one of your star players, someone who never even hit your radar because you knew they could handle whatever came their way. But now they’re slipping and it seems like nothing can get them back on track.

This is a common issue in sales teams that’s becoming even more common as the sales ecosystem has evolved in recent years. More virtual sales, longer buying cycles, larger buying groups with diverse stakeholders and needs, and the increased role of technology are just a few of the obstacles today’s salespeople are encountering on the way to closing a deal. In this kind of environment, even the most experienced professionals are wondering if they have what it takes to be successful. That doubt can throw them into a demotivating and self-defeating cycle that will further drag down their performance.

The simple truth is, each salesperson will sell what they believe is possible for them to sell. In other words, their sales will match their unconscious beliefs. If they’re not convinced they have the ability to sell virtually, or they’re not confident they can be credible with decision-makers who are higher up the chain in an organization, for example, they will become their own biggest obstacle to their success.

The bottom line is this: Sales tools and techniques only make a difference if salespeople are coached to think differently about their abilities. A great sales team coach sees the potential in their people and works with their team members to help them think differently about their abilities and move past self-limiting behaviors so they can fulfill that potential.

Similarly, if a salesperson is not willing to do the activities that are necessary to long-term sales success, it doesn’t matter that they know what the activities are. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them what they need to do. Their inner beliefs will keep getting in their way. It takes a coaching conversation to help them understand why they’re avoiding the results-producing work and to resolve the conflict so they can shift their mindset and get on a more productive track.

Finding The Motivation to Coach

We’ve found that many sales leaders who aren’t committed to a regular coaching practice will say they don’t have the time for it, but in reality, that’s just an excuse. Often, the real reason they’re avoiding it or putting it on the back burner is that they don’t have the skills and confidence, and they don’t have the mindset and drive to do it—which, as we just noted, makes all the difference. Purpose and belief are what stoke the fires.

If you’re struggling with what it means to be a sales team coach and, most importantly, what it means to you personally, consider this story from another profession where coaching is pivotal to success: sports.

Of the many great events I’ve been able to attend as part of my football career, one that sticks out is a roast that was held in 2016 to honor long-time NFL coach Wade Phillips. This wasn’t exactly your typical roast. Superstar defensive end J.J. Watt spent a lot less time roasting and much more time honoring his former coach. It was truly touching. Phillips had been the defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans for Watt’s first three seasons and went on to the Denver Broncos, where he won a Super Bowl, and then the Los Angeles Rams, where he coached in another.

Watt shared that Phillips was the Texans coach who “stood up on the table” to advocate taking him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. In fact, I remember that moment well—I’d been there too. The debate had narrowed to taking Watt, a self-described “big white kid from Wisconsin,” or Cameron Jordon, a fine defensive end from California (who ultimately went on to make six Pro Bowls playing for the New Orleans Saints). Wade won the debate, and the Texans took Watt with the 11th overall pick.

“Wade saw something in me that nobody else did, and that I might not even have seen in myself,” Watt said. “But that’s the type of man that Wade Phillips is. He leads you to be what you can be, not what you are.”

Wow. Can you imagine having someone speak of you in that way? What greater honor can a coach receive than to have a team member say, “And here I am today, thankful for everything that I’ve been able to accomplish in my career so far, because of Wade Phillips.”

Watt, who went on to the Arizona Cardinals in 2021 and then retired after the 2022 season, left the game as one of just three players ever to be named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) three times in his career (along with New York Giants’ legend Lawrence Taylor and the L.A. Rams’ Aaron Donald). Watt has been mentioned as among the best defensive linemen of all time.

I don’t know that even Phillips believed that this would be Watt’s career path. How could he? But he did see something that others missed. He saw the potential in Watt, coached him to where he could be and watched the result. Obviously, Watt had the talent to play well in the NFL, but would he have had the measure of success he has now without the belief of his coach? I don’t think so.

Imagine if we all had a person in our lives like Phillips, someone who sees the potential in us that we don’t even see in ourselves and then is committed to supporting us all along the way to live up to that potential. Now imagine being that person for someone else. That’s what sales team coaching is all about. That’s the opportunity that’s ahead of you. All you have to do is commit to it.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Sales Coaching

I have been fortunate enough over the years to have several people like Wade Phillips in my corner. In fact, my life story is full of people who believed in me. Any success I might have enjoyed in life I like to call “the story of others.” Gerry Browne, Lou Tepper, Bernie Reid and Joe Collier are all names that mean nothing to you but they mean everything to me. They led me to where I could be.

Perhaps you do, or did, have someone like that in your life. I hope so. What did they see? What did they say to cause you to discover this potential? What happened as a result? What impact did it have on you?

It’s easy to think that one person can’t make a difference, but as we have discovered, that’s not true. Coaching is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility. It allows you to leave your fingerprints on people’s lives.

Coaching isn’t just for the fields and in the gyms across the country. It’s for offices, hospitals, banks, factories and any place that work occurs. In a selling environment that’s more complex and filled with more obstacles to overcome than ever, the role of the sales team coach has never been more valuable.

You have an opportunity to elevate your players to new heights, and to savor the accomplishments that they might never have achieved without you. What a gift. It’s the very definition of a win-win.

What can great sales coaching do for your team? See what Integrity Coaching has done for so many salespeople around the world. Contact us to learn more.

About the Author
headshot of Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan

As a valued Business Affiliate of Integrity Solutions, Jim is certified to deliver multiple Integrity Solutions training programs and is consistently sought after by our clients to conduct their training workshops. He uses the congruence of knowledge, skills, and experiences to bring a unique perspective to the world of sales training, sales coaching, and leadership development. Jim has also been a keynote speaker and had a 10-year career as an NFL linebacker for the Denver Broncos before also having several professional football coaching roles. He lives in the Nashville, TN area.
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