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

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

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.

Training Sales Managers to Coach

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.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Training sales managers to coach – the good, the bad, and the ugly – An STC Classic

  1. Ken Schmitt says:

    As the Founder and President of an executive career management and recruiting firm that focuses on Sales & Marketing, I offer a hearty “Bravo!” for this article! So often I see wonderful sales leaders brought on to a company as Sales Managers. Unfortunately, being a sales leader and being a sales manager are NOT the same thing; primarily for the reason you mentioned: sales managers should be coaching their sales teams. And just because someone can sell, does NOT mean they can coach someone else on how to sell. This does not mean they can’t learn though. If the right programs and training are put in place (such as the one you highlighted) the success of these managers is much more probable. There is nothing more frustrating than to find that a lack of onboarding and proper training leads to a new-hire’s dissatisfaction with and possible failure at a new position. Sales Leadership and Managers wear many hats and it is imperative that they receive the help to make them successful with each of them. Here in San Diego a colleague of mine and I founded the Sales Leadership Alliance with this idea in mind: connecting executive level sales people to offer not only peer networking, but also sales leadership/management career development. We have found it to be extremely successful because these managers want to be successful in their jobs and give their sales teams the tools necessary to be successful in the field.
    Thank you for highlighting this excellent example!
    Ken Schmitt
    Sales Leadership Alliance

  2. Dick Ruff says:


    Thanks for the interest and comment. this is one of those things that is a big deal. It is surprise sing that more attention is not given to really getting serious about front-line sales managers coaching.

    As an aside you picked a great city – we too live in San Diego.

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