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The Coaching Mistakes You're Definitely Making

Believe it or not, the most intuitive coaching methods are usually the worst. Here are the top five mistakes managers make when coaching a sales rookie.

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In business, a manager is expected to prepare employees to succeed by providing the resources, tools, and development they need to achieve their objectives.  Unfortunately, many managers have little or no idea how to coach effectively.

I will soon cover exactly how to coach salespeople (based on inputs from best-selling author and sales training firm founder Linda Richardson), but, first, check out the five most common coaching mistakes.

  • Mistake #1: Confusing Coaching with Performance Evaluations. Some managers think that the best time to provide coaching is during the employee's yearly performance evaluation.  However, evaluation and coaching are dramatically different animals. Evaluations happen every year or every quarter, while coaching, to be effective, must be an ongoing daily or weekly process. Similarly, evaluations focus on what happened in the past, while coaching focuses on what could happen in the future. Finally, evaluations mean paperwork and bureaucracy, while coaching is, by its very nature, informal and personal.
  • Mistake #2: Treating Coaching as Low Priority. Managers have many demands on their time, and they're often forced to focus on the numbers, or their own manager, simply to survive.  As a result, it's all too easy to treat coaching as something that can be postponed indefinitely. Unfortunately, without coaching, sales numbers are likely to suffer and, sooner or later, will gather negative attention from top management, investors, and (worst of all) the customers themselves.
  • Mistake #3: Finding an Excuse Not to Coach. Managers who have sold, and were good at it, may realize that the skills to succeed in sales are not the same as those needed to succeed as a coach. Managers who haven't sold for a living may wrongly believe that they can't possibly coach somebody who already knows how to sell. (In fact, anyone who has been sold to can provide valuable sales coaching.)  Finally, some companies just don't have much of a "coaching culture", which means most managers don't get coached and are not rewarded for coaching.
  • Mistake #4: Providing Feedback and Suggestions. Many managers coach by telling the person what he or she did wrong, and what to do to fix it.  While this process is time-efficient, most people respond to this kind of coaching by becoming passive-aggressive (quietly accepting but seething inside) or completely defensive (arguing the point). The manager typically fails to get buy-in from the employee and misses a chance to see where the employee is on the learning curve. Worst case, feedback/suggestion coaching damages the relationship.
  • Mistake #5: Coaching By Example. This is the worst mistake of all. The manager and the rep go on a sales call together and, the moment it seems as if something is going awry or not according to the manager’s expectations, the manager jumps into the situation and "shows how it’s done."  This type of coaching destroys the sales person's credibility with the customer and, worse, can easily backfire, because the manager may not know the entire situation with that customer.

I hope that nobody recognizes themselves in the mistakes described above. If so, don’t take it to heart. Such mistakes are so common that most sales reps don’t expect anything better. Fortunately, coaching more effectively is easy to learn, as you’ll find out soon.

Last updated: Nov 3, 2011

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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