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The Sales Coaching Dilemma

In common with training and management, coaching is unregulated, and therefore anyone can call himself/ herself a coach, and they do.

There are four distinct levels of coach and as you move from one level to the other, the need for skill and experience increases commensurate with the complexity of the coaching process.


Level 1 coaching is typified by the coaching process being in the hands of the person being coached, which means that they drive the agenda rather than the coach. This is where most of the coaches in existence (up to 80% of the coaching population) operate. The focus of the coaching effort tends to be on life skills and career coaching. There is a significant gap in experience, knowledge and skills between coaches operating at this and the other levels.


Life Skills Coaches will have arrived in the coaching role from a variety of routes; some from training; some from a period of redundancy; in fact – just about anyone, from just about anywhere. They do not need any specialist knowledge, or experience. Some will have been trained; a few will hold a qualification; most will have picked up their coaching knowledge and skills from books or from attending a short course.

Some are very dangerous. They will be self-taught psychoanalysts and can often be found exploring people’s deep routed emotional problems without the ability or experience to know when to stop. They seek to advise people how to be healthy, wealthy, and happy. Most will certainly not be wealthy. Others might be healthy. Significant numbers are blissfully happy to have anyone to listen to them.

Some will have bought an expensive franchise offering untold wealth; most will be earning below average incomes. Some will be advertising themselves as Executive Coaches (Level 4); most will never actually engage in anything close to Executive Coaching.

They represent 90% of the coaching population at Level 1. You will encounter them at each and every networking event, in increasing numbers.

The coaching process is open-ended, meaning that providing the person being coached is able to pay the fees involved, it will go on indefinitely. There is rarely a definable, measurable goal.


Career Coaches are usually to be found in-company; sometimes employed from external sources; often they are in the HR Department. In the same way as the Personnel Department became the HR Department, ‘Jack and Jill from personnel’ – became ‘Jack and Jill, the Career Coaches’.

Career Coaches will be probably be annoyed that I have placed them at Level 1, implying that they don’t need specialist knowledge or experience. Nevertheless, it is true. That said, many internal Career Coaches will have undergone various levels of formal training; some via the CIPD route; some will use career preference inventories to help them add a pseudo form of credibility to their efforts.

As with life skills coaching, career coaching is often disguised as executive coaching although it bears little resemblance to the executive coaching process described at Level 4 here. Career coaching offered to senior managers is usually a precursor to sending them on an expensive study programme in a European Business School which for many has no outcome other than an attendance certificate. No one fails. The only time career coaching is offered to lower levels of employees is when redundancy follows and the expense of providing career coaching is seen as an unavoidable cost in order to mitigate industrial disruption and employment appeals.


Level 2 coaching is where Sales Coaches operate – in theory.

The coaching process at Level 2 is focussed on business outcomes and is driven by the coach. This is why a significant number of coaching initiatives in companies have failed, and continue to fail. The reason being that the people involved in being a Level 2 Coach are either only being trained at Level 1 – which is not a lot; or not trained at all.

A lot of companies who they say their managers have been trained as coaches, have invested at best two days, and at worst half a day in training their managers as coaches. In addition, the coaching models being used begin with the employee’s agenda, not the manager’s, and not the organisation. A classic example would be the use of the GROW model, which begins with either

– What is the Goal?

– What are you trying to achieve?

– What is your Goal?

– What are we trying to do?

The last type of question is meant to show inclusivity – i.e. we are all in this together.

Beginning with the salesperson’s agenda is an abdication of the Sales Coach’s role in ensuring that the organisation’s aims are placed firmly at the front of the queue.

Sales Coaches should have some experience of sales. Not from the perspective of specific knowledge of the product and/ or service being sold, but of the emotional pressures associated with being in a sales role. Salespeople are very sceptical of coaches who do not have sales experience. Whether this is right or wrong is immaterial. The reality is that you will tend to get on better with the target audience if you understand about selling from experience. And getting on with the salesperson is important. Sales coaching in this form works because the coaching relationship is built on trust. Trust from the salesperson of the coach; that performance short-falls and experimentation to improve will not be criticised, even though any lack of effort might. Trust from the coach of the salesperson that the latter is trying to improve and not just pretending.

The Sales Coach does not need a significant amount of knowledge about the product and/ or service the salesperson is selling, but it could reduce the amount of time needed to help the salesperson focus on improvement solutions. On the other hand, often, prior in-depth knowledge of the product and significant experience of the actual sales role can often be a barrier to effective sales coaching. Quite often, the less you know, the better the coaching questions are.

In sales coaching there has to be a clearly defined sales process – the Game Plan. Without a clearly defined game plan, the Coach will be working at Level 1. A game plan focuses both the Sales Coach and the salesperson on what has to be done, and how it to be done, in order to elicit an outcome – the performance. If performance is low, then either the game plan doesn’t work and needs to be changed or the salesperson is not following the game plan – and might have to be changed. Once you have a game plan, it can be enhanced in order to enhance performance but not in one day and not all at once. This brings me to the last point in Level 2 Sales Coaching – timescale.

Many people, when asked the question, is sales coaching short-term or long-term, will opt for long-term. The correct answer is short-term. By this I mean that the focus of each coaching session is on a short-term activity. In football, you often hear the cliché – ‘we take it one game at a time’; and so it is with sales coaching. The football coach may have a long-term goal to win the league, but slavish focus on winning the league is fraught with failure, without the focussed activity of working out what it will take to win the next game. In this way Sales Coaches work on one thing at a time. Taking one piece out of the total sales process and working with it until it is improved. It is called whole-part-whole. By taking a small part of the whole process and improving it, the knock-on effect is to improve the whole.

The Sales Coach should be the line manager.


The MetaCoach is the Coach of the Coach. In a sales or a business environment this should be the line manager but it can also work by using either internal trainers as the MetaCoach or external MetaCoaches provided there is a significant level of interaction between the MetaCoach and senior management. If the MetaCoach is not the line manager, then the MetaCoach needs to have direct and regular access to the senior line manager, and preferably to the manager above them.

The agenda is driven by the organisation. The MetaCoach should have management experience. As with the Sales Coach, there should be clearly defined sales management process, but there rarely is. One of the main reasons why MetaCoaching fails to materialise in most companies is the lack of a detailed management process. Just as it’s vital to have a game plan for the sales process the same should apply to the management process. We already know that the greatest influence on sales success is management. In the same way, the greatest influence on the success of sales managers is the senior manager they report to.

The MetaCoach does not need either product knowledge of the products and services being sold, or specific experience of the sales or sales management role, and the lack of these is often an advantage. Some management experience however is desirable in order to have empathy with the difficulties of line and senior management.

The timescales involved in MetaCoaching is medium to long-term improvement in management performance and behaviour.

MetaCoaching should be provided by senior management, but rarely is, and therefore external coaches are often used, when the budget allows, to provide coaching to line sales managers. The difficulty is that external coaches have little or no authority and surprisingly (given the cost) minimal interaction with senior management. MetaCoaching by external coaches tends only to work effectively if it is combined with Executive Coaching for the senior manager.


Executive Coaching is almost exclusively provided by external coaches to senior management as either a development tool, a career advancement process, or sometimes simply as a way of spending an allocated budget without any particular end game in mind. It should lead to the provision of an opportunity to engender some blue-sky thinking on the part of the senior manager being coached and in some environments it does work. It depends on how experienced the Executive Coach is, why they were engaged in the first place, and where the outcomes of the coaching sessions are reported.

Executive Coaches should have some senior management experience and should be able to use this experience to be upfront in declaring whether the coaching provided is having any effect or not. True Executive Coaches should be charging enough not to be concerned about telling the truth when it is needed, whether palatable or not. Unfortunately there are a number of people who call themselves Executive Coaches who should really be working at Level 1, not Level 4.

Executive Coaches work with senior managers helping them develop leadership skills and behaviours. The instance of executive coaching being provided by internal coaches is rare. In any event, the best coaches are often frustrated by the manner in which coaching is viewed by the organisation and the constant introduction of the latest training fad; and they leave to set up their own coaching consultancies.


The most effective type of coaching in business is sales coaching. However, the budget for developing line sales managers as true Sales Coaches has to be agreed by senior managers, and senior managers have to become involved in regularly supporting their Sales Coaches by the provision of MetaCoaching. Unfortunately because of the proliferation of Life Skills Coaches operating at Level 1, many budget holders believe that coaching exists at only two ends of the spectrum – Level 1 which is generally ineffective as a business tool, and Level 4 which is expensive and reserved for senior management. Regrettably that belief means that many sales organisations miss out on the significant positive impact that sales coaching can have on revenue improvement.


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10 Career Change Myths You Must Confront

Career Myth #1: You can’t make a living doing something you love. This is the grand-daddy of career myths, the belief that you can’t have a “practical” career doing something that you were passionate about. It has to be one or the other. This myth is rooted in fear. Fear that we have to sacrifice our happiness to make a living. Don’t buy the myth that you can’t earn a living by doing what you love. When I first started trading, I heard from plenty of people that it would be very difficult to make a living doing this work. I just decided to find traders who were successful, and to learn from them (simple, eh?). If you find yourself buying into this myth, consider this question – As you look back on your life, what will you regret more? Following your passion or following your fears? Continue reading

Skills for Career Success

What do employers look for in potential employees? That was the question that was posted recently on a career discussion forum online. Naturally, for each different position, the particular answers to that question would be different. However, there are some common skills that employers look for in all employees, irrespective of the industry or seniority. Following are 6 skills for success:

1. BASIC SKILLS: Reading, writing and arithmetic. Employers are seeking employees who can read well, can write coherently, and who can calculate mathematics in a business environment (fractions, percentages, etc.) Add to that basic computer knowledge (e.g. spreadsheet, word processing, etc.) to complete the basic skills needed for employment success.

2. PERSONAL SKILLS: Can a potential employee speak well? Can he/she answer questions in a positive, informative manner? Can the prospect provide good customer service? While not everyone has an outgoing personality, successful employees can communicate in a non-confrontational, positive manner with their team members, subordinates, management, and customers. Being able to work well with others is a vital skill for success in all jobs. Continue reading

How to Improve Sales: Top Sales Strategy Tips From a Business to Business Sales Coach

If you sell value-add or business critical solutions or services B2B, these top sales strategy tips could be the catalyst to help improve sales performance. Find out how a coach that constructively challenges your strategy and approach could be a key factor for success.

Sales Coach Tip #1

Eliminate Comfort Zone Selling to Improve Sales Performance

Many salespeople and often the companies they work for are slaves of comfort zone selling. They go through the same old “hit and hope” sales routine, hoping for the best but winning too little profitable business. This is the best place to start looking when considering ways to improve sales performance.

A prospective customer requests a presentation, proposal, demonstration or trial and most salespeople are keen to oblige. That’s a lot of commitment from a supplier. Effective salespeople qualify well and work to ensure they gain enough commitment in return, before they agree to dedicate time and effort.

Few companies stop to calculate the cost of each failed sales attempt, whether a formal tender or a less formal proposal. Consider the total hours lost in meetings and response preparation for a bid that fails. A skilled sales coach will ensure valuable time is spent wisely and only on winnable opportunities.

Sales Coach Tip #2

Profit is Sanity So Keep the Focus on a Margin Rich Sales Strategy

Now think how many of the bids you win are “margin compromised” as opposed to margin rich? Being the price leader in an attempt to improve sales performance may work for the budget shop, but it’s a very poor sales strategy if you sell value-add or critical solutions or services business to business.

Business critical purchases tend to be far less price sensitive than prospective customers would ever like to admit. The risk of a poor buying decision is too high for false economies. Yet supplier nerves often trigger unnecessary discount just to get the deal done and thus the margin is often compromised.

Before you weigh up the merits of using an external coach, think just how much you might be losing by pandering to false price pressures. A good sales coach is a catalyst for the behaviour changes needed to improve margin rich sales performance and any investment here should produce healthy returns.

Sales Coach Tip #3

Why Let Purchasing Departments Determine Your Sales Strategy?

The market too often expects suppliers to jump at any opportunity to bid. Many suppliers conform without really considering how well positioned they are to win or the business viability if they did. Suppliers that professionally hold their ground can gain significant credibility with prospective customers.

Too many salespeople just look for a solution match. Ticking the boxes against a specification, RFP or ITT is only one aspect to consider. Any good sales coach will ensure that the primary focus is on access to the key influencers and decision makers – the people who can make things happen.

Assuming the project is real and they will actually spend money with someone soon, there is always a danger you may only be making up the numbers. A smarter B2B sales strategy helps you weed out the false opportunities from the real ones to avoid situations where the odds are stacked against you.

Left to their own devices, most salespeople can become habitual and even if they work hard, they may not work smart. A skilled external sales coach will help them identify and avoid the false opportunities they might otherwise chase, whilst honing their ability to qualify, develop and win the true ones.

Sales Coach Tip #4

Serious Buying Decisions Demand Deep Consideration

Imagine your career relied on selecting the right supplier of a business critical service. How much would you be influenced by a likable salesperson and how much by their ability to correctly set and meet your expectations? Suppliers failing to grasp this will find it hard to improve sales performance.

We often hear that “people buy from people they like.” This is just too simplistic when it comes to value-add or business critical solutions or services. In such situations people will buy from people they hold credible to deliver to expectations. Anything else would put their careers seriously at risk.

And if people make serious buying decisions based on how confident they feel in a company’s ability to meet expectations, then why do so many suppliers waste time pitching their solutions instead of asking constructive questions and listening well in order to build strong relationships with the key players?

If you lack confidence it’s often tempting to slip into pitching mode rather than really engage your prospective customer. You may feel on safe ground talking about the features and benefits of a solution you know like the back of your hand. Your prospective customer may well be more bored than engaged.

If you can convince a genuine prospect they are in safe hands with your company, that you clearly understand their requirements and will deliver to the expectations that you set, then why would they not select you? Ironically, many salespeople only scrape the surface of sales opportunities and thus fail.

Sales Coach Tip #5

Specialist Niche Player Supplier or Large Generalist Supplier?

Small companies often have an inferiority complex, however with the right B2B sales strategy, a specialist niche player can often beat larger well known bidders. The key is to determine early on whether a prospect is prepared to break from the herd to go with a lesser known company with a better offering.

Prospective customers may operate within their own comfort zones and some will turn away from the better solution in order to ensure the safety of their own derriere. A good sales coach will help you separate prospects that will only ever play safe from those that are prepared to back the best solution.

And Finally, Back to Sales Coach Tip #1

When you think about it, comfort zone selling is in many ways at the root of all of the above issues. It is habitual, even self-satisfying in the short-term to be working so hard on so many opportunities. However it is far less rewarding in the medium to long-term when too little of any real value comes to fruit.

To eradicate comfort zone selling means raising the bar across the board. A business to business sales strategy evolution is more viable than a potentially disruptive revolution. It can be a mistake to try to change too much too soon. An experienced sales coach can help you move towards your goal step by step.

More sales and business articles by Harry Hayden [http://www.performbusinesscoaching.com/resource/]

About the Author

Harry Hayden is an experienced sales coach [http://www.performbusinesscoaching.com/sales-coaching/] based in the UK. In his previous career he led multinational sales groups across Europe for several large and medium sized corporates. He now helps SME business leaders and salespeople with the development and execution of their sales strategy.

Harry is MD of Perform Business Coaching and can be reached directly at harry@pbc-hh.com or through the website above.

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Sales Coaching – An Executive’s Guide

When Am I Coaching?

Corporate climate surveys and interviews repeatedly indicate that employees feel they are not coached enough, that they are not clear enough about expectations, that they get too little feedback. Consultants, academics, human resources professionals, some senior managers, and almost all corporate training departments press continually for managers to dedicate more time to coaching. Yet neither managers nor their direct reports can reliably tell you when “coaching” is taking place and whether anyone has been coached.

Why? There is no shared definition. Sales managers, sales people, and trainers describe coaching based on what they’ve experienced, in terms of activities, among them:


  • Expectation setting
  • Coaching disciplines
  • Feedback about results
  • Pushing for skills to improve
  • Lots of short interval feedback and management


The resulting gumbo mixes old athletic coach models with new-age mumbo jumbo, academic research, and training program models to produce frustration and confusion. Since business leaders and sales managers have precious little time for any task, we need definitions of “what’s a sales coach” and “what’s sales coaching” that experienced managers can use.

Define the Coaching Context

To begin, coaching is a process, not a thing, not an event, not a single type of discussion. The coaching process serves a purpose; you coach to reach an objective. The coaches we’ve met begin thinking about coaching by answering three questions:


  • Why am I coaching? What’s the objective?
  • What are the circumstances? How much damage is done if we don’t achieve the goal?
  • Who am I coaching? What do they need from me in order to fulfill the purpose?


Their answers to these three questions help them set priorities in terms of their commitment of time to coaching, the frequency and extent of coaching conversations, and their coaching focus.

Specify Your System

Successful sales coaches have developed “systems” that work and that they can teach so that other people can successfully reach meaningful goals. The primary responsibility of executive-level sales managers is to define (or have others define) the “success path” or “system” which will enable their reps to be successful.

Watch any successful team manager, from sales to symphonies to soccer fields, and you’ll see a system. Dig into any successful franchise operation; you’ll find a system that enables ordinary people to produce extraordinary results repeatedly. The system defines performance in detail:


  • The correct activities,
  • Done at the correct time,
  • At the correct frequency,
  • In the correct manner.


People who are serious about reaching a particular objective flock to good coaches because they know the coaches have systems to get the job done and that, if they use the coaches’ systems, they’ll be successful.

In sales, this means having a “pilot’s manual” that describes how your company and your team, and everybody on it, does business. The manual documents your business development and sales management process in detail – the correct activities, the correct timing, the proper frequency, and specific methods.

For example: When do you meet with your sales reps for coaching? What topics do you cover? What does an acceptable proposal look like, how many of them should someone submit in a year to be successful?

If you can’t define the optimal performance system for your sales team, you’re not well positioned to coach.

Work the System on Three Levels

When developing and implementing their systems, coaches work on three levels:

Strategic – the game plan. In sales, this includes establishing a mission for the team, profiling target customers, choosing products or services to emphasize, and deploying sales resources to customers.

Statistical – the relationships between activities and results. This means connecting data about sales process (i.e. steps activities) to sales results so you can prioritize activities and predict results.

Behavioral – what people do and how. This includes sales call behaviors, internal and external communications, and personal management.

The more senior the sales executives, the more attention they should pay to the “strategic” and “statistical” aspects of the system and implementation of sales team strategies.

When executive sales managers meet with their direct reports (regional, district, or sales team sales managers), they should coach at all three levels:


  • Observe performance at all three levels (strategic, statistical, behavioral).
  • Note gaps between what you see and what your system says you should see.
  • Communicate observations to sales managers.
  • Where necessary, instruct sales managers as to what to do, when to do, or how to do strategy implementation, activity management, or specific sales behaviors.


Executive sales managers’ expectations, coupled with feedback and consequences, change sales management behaviors. The changed sales management behaviors drive sales activities and sales results. Sales managers who are directly coaching individual sales people should work through the same three levels of coaching with their sales reps.

Do You Get Style Points

Style is important. As a coach, you have to connect with your team members to communicate. You have to enroll them in your vision of what is possible for the team and why it’s worth getting up in the morning.

At the same time, remember what they want from you. They want to know you can help them be successful. If you can demonstrate that your system works, you’ll tend to attract people who want to work for you… and the people who work for you already will be more willing to adapt their styles to yours because they know, in the end, they’ll reach their goals if they follow your coaching.

Nicholas T. Miller, president of Clarity Advantage, helps banks generate more profitable relationships faster with small and medium-sized companies, their owners, and employees. Clarity consulting, communications, sales tools and training help banks recruit and deploy sales team members, choose their best business and consumer prospects and clients, then approach, engage, sell, expand, and retain relationships. Clarity also assists banks with consumer sales and cash management sales. Clarity clients have posted increases in household penetration, cross-sells, deposit volume, and loan volume. Visit Clarity’s website at http://www.clarityadvantage.com where you can subscribe to “The Weekly Sales Thought,” a free eNewsletter and podcast focused on business-to-business selling and sales management.

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