Move Ahead by Becoming a Sales Coach Superstar

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

Steve Johnson and Adam Shaivitz, coauthors of the new book Selling Is Everyone's Business—Including Yours: Six Tips for Becoming a Super Sales Coach and a Truly Valuable Employee (Wiley, 2006), assert that true career security (not just job security) awaits those who have the ability to develop the skills of the men and women who add the most to the bottom line. Their thesis is that nothing is more important to a company than bringing in revenue, and no one helps bring in the bucks like a good sales coach. Become the best sales coach you can possibly be, they advise, and you'll always have a place in 21st-century corporate America. 

Following are some of Johnson and Shaivitz’s sales coaching tips:

Understand the difference between a boss and a coach.  Which best describes your management style?

  • A boss drives his people; a coach leads them. 
  • A boss depends on authority; a coach depends on goodwill.
  • A boss inspires fear; a coach inspires enthusiasm.
  • A boss uses people; a coach develops them.
  • A boss lets his people know where he stands; a coach lets his people know where they stand.
  • A boss takes the credit; a coach gives it.

Cultivate good habits in your salespeople—don’t just measure by the numbers. Yes, good sales numbers are an indicator that a salesperson is following proven procedures and completing the action steps you've given them. But numbers could also simply indicate a streak of good luck. Make sure you hold regular one-on-one goal-setting meetings (“GSMs”) during which you review performance from the previous period and commit to a game plan and short-term action plan for the upcoming period. These meetings will help you keep an eye on what your salespeople are doing consistently. You’ll be able to identify problems as they arise and reinforce the good habits that will carry your people through both difficult and easy times.

Demonstrate "street cred."  This is step two in the recommended five-step training process (explain, demonstrate, practice, observe, feedback). A strong demonstration is a great opportunity for the coach to build credibility with her people. Establishing this "street cred" is essential to opening the lines of communication and successfully teeing up future training opportunities. If salespeople see their coach in action and think, "She's really good at this stuff. I'd like to be as good as her one day," they become open to feedback and training from the coach moving forward.

Regularly follow up with three magic words: "How's it going?" The best coaches spontaneously and regularly check in with their people to find out the status of goals, action steps and skill areas. This approach works best when a coach asks very specific questions, like, “How's it going so far on achieving X?” The next two questions are also quite helpful: “What's working for you so far?” and “What's not working for you?” This basic three-question, open-ended approach will yield plenty of useful data.

Coach top performers, too. There is a myth in many sales organizations that coaches should leave top performers alone and just let them do their thing. However, often "their thing" may mean performing only until a sales coach from a competitor or a headhunter contacts them and shows them greener pastures. Obviously a coach's approach with a top performer will differ from the method used with a mediocre performer or a newbie, but remember, everyone needs love and attention. Often top performing salespeople are the ones who are most open to sincere, constructive feedback because they know how hard it is to perform. And since they probably already have a solid sales process, they can easily incorporate new ideas into their existing approach.

Keep a public scoreboard. A scoreboard that keeps track of your sales team's performance, updated weekly during your sales meeting, can be a terrific motivator. The top 20 percent likes being in the top spot and wants to stay there. The middle 60 percent aspires to copy top performers' aggressive goals and best practices. The bottom 20 percent quickly decides whether they are going to move up—or out.

In our consulting work with the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team's sales organization, we see the salespeople play out the same dynamics as those that occur during the games. The fans are just like the salespeople at a meeting. When one person puts his numbers on the board, the team members will either cheer with praise or respond less positively if the numbers are not great, in the same way that the fans boo. The coach on the court plays the same role as the sales coach in the meeting. As she looks at the results on the scoreboard, she develops strategies for the entire team as well as for individual participants.

Concluding thoughts
Admittedly, becoming an effective sales coach isn’t easy. Even if you're already the best salesperson in the world, moving from selling to coaching is a challenge that requires developing a whole new set of skills. But it's one that's well worth the effort.

Polish up your own sales coaching skills—and implement a sales coaching program in your company—and you'll see your company's economic picture brighten. Additionally, you'll develop an unshakeable sense of confidence and you'll almost certainly notice your work life becoming a lot more rewarding. You’ll find that it is possible to go to work every day and not feel anxious about your future employment. Mastering the art and science of sales coaching is a pathway not only to prosperity but to peace of mind. And there is no substitute for that.

Steve Johnson and Adam Shaivitz are colleagues at the consulting firm The Next Level. For more information about Selling Is Everyone's Business please visit