Are You a Sales Boss or a Sales Coach?

November 23, 2015


This is the first post in a series based on the book Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach by Linda Richardson. This series summarizes the key themes of the books and highlights best practices.

Sales leaders can play a pivotal role in the success of their teams. However, some sales managers are simply bosses, overseeing the work of their sales reps and tracking performance – but doing little to impact it. Another breed of sales leaders coaches their reps to success – in other words, they teach and train their reps to perform at their best.

Why coaching matters

As the book explains, most managers tell their teams what to do rather than work with them to develop problem-solving skills. He goes on to proclaim that the goal of sales coaching is much like the goal of parenting: to foster independence. It’s similar to the adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This ties in well with a Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.” In other words, by coaching their sales reps, sales leaders can enable self-sufficiency.

According to the book, training and coaching go hand-in-hand. While sales coaching builds on training, unlike training, coaching occurs everyday. The book author found that salespeople receiving three or more hours of sales coaching per month on average reached 107% of their quota.

Getting to the heart of coaching

So what separates a coach from a boss? It all comes down to the approach and mindset. As the book outlines, while bosses use statements like “sink or swim,” survival of the fittest,” or “shape up or ship out,” coaches use expressions like “grow yourself” and “grow your team.” The stark contrast in these mantras underscores the difference between a hands-off approach to one intent on cultivating a culture of success.

Aligning with the sales team

All that said, before manager can effectively coach their sales reps, they must understand where their sales rep feel most comfortable in terms of the following five zones:

1. The Dead Zone. In this zone, reps are not actively interested in improving or changing – they are content with the status quo.
2. The Comfort Zone. While sales reps in this zone want to be effective, they stick with what has worked to date. Though they are willing to fine-tune their approach, they don’t see any reason to proactively and dramatically change.
3. The Panic Zone. Unfortunately, lots of sales reps get stuck in this zone, making it difficult to learn or sell well.
4. The Depression Zone. Those that remain too long in the Panic Zone often move next into this zone.
5. The Stretch Zone. Reps in this zone are interested in and committed to developing their full potential, actively seeking ways to do so. The one drawback to this zone is that it’s challenging to be in this zone continually and nearly impossible to be in this zone without support.

The ideal zone is the Stretch Zone, but it takes a coach, not a boss, to get salespeople into and staying in this zone. The lynchpin to success is that sales reps trust that their manager is intent on helping them succeed, rather than out to simply critique and nab them doing something wrong.

Check in soon for the next post in this series, in which we will share details on the coaching methodology that smooths the path to sales success. In the meantime, sign up for our blog to stay in the know on this and other sales-related topics.