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10 Steps to a Better Sales Rep

If you're feeling a little lost when it comes to managing a sales rep, you're not alone. Check out the most effective step-by-step method for better coaching.



Yesterday, I described the common mistakes that managers make when they’re trying to coach sales pros.  Probably the most controversial "mistake" is the common approach idea of providing "here’s what you did wrong" and "here’s how to do better" feedback.

Here’s how this kind of coaching plays itself out:

Manager:  How do you think it went?
Sales Pro:  Pretty well.  (Internal dialog: Uh oh.  What did I do wrong this time?)
Manager:  Here’s what I think: You should have handled the following things differently … blah, blah, blah …
Sales Pro: (nodding at each suggestion):  OK.  OK.  OK. (Internal dialog:  My manager thinks I’m stupid.  I’m going to get fired.  I’d better work on my resume as soon as I get home…)
Manager:  Got it?
Sales Pro:  Sure.  (Internal dialog:  How in God’s name am I going to remember all those suggestions?)

It doesn’t work. The raw "tell it like it is" feedback doesn't develop the strategies and skills that will help the sales pro get to the next level or allow the sales pro to independently develop better judgment and self-coaching skills.

To really coach effectively, you must take a different approach. Rather than blurting out your opinion, you solicit input from the sales pro, and then guide the conversation so that the answer occurs naturally to the sales pro.  Here’s how this is done:

STEP #1: Ask and Listen. Ask the sales pro’s opinion of how the call went.  Don’t accept a pat response.  Instead, ask additional questions that help lead the pro to discover both the strengths and where the call could have gone better.  If the pro replies, "You’re the manager, what do you think?" respond with, "I want you think this through, then I’ll give my ideas."
STEP #2: Give Balanced Feedback. Start with honest praise for the pro’s strengths and your perspective on how those strengths were an asset during the call.  Then identify one or two key areas where you feel improvement would have helped the pro’s performance.
STEP #3: Check for Agreement (#1).  Resolve any differences between your perception of the call (step 2) and the sales pro’s perception of the call (step 1).  Gain agreement on the area where there was a gap between how the pro handled the weak aspect of call and how the pro would have liked to handle that aspect of the call. 
STEP #4: Resolve Any Obstacles.  Ask the pro to identify the obstacle that he/she feels is keeping him/her from performing in that area.  Ask what he/she suggests to remove the obstacle, and what might be done to address that aspect.
STEP #5: Provide Your Perspective.  Provide your viewpoint on the obstacle and your ideas to address that obstacle. 
STEP #6: Check for Agreement (#2).  Decide together what needs to be done in order to improve the reps performance in similar situations.
STEP #7: Practice.  Immediately work with the sales pro by role-playing or by providing a demonstration so that the pro feels comfortable carrying out the agreed-upon strategy or approach.
STEP #8: Commit. Establish an action step with a time frame for follow-up. For example, "the sales pro will prepare questions for the customer prior to the sales call."
STEP #9: Encourage.  Provide positive input and express confidence in the sales pro’s ability to succeed.
STEP #10: Follow-up.  Revisit the issue with the sales pro in the agreed-upon time frame.

The above is slightly simplified from a system described to me by Linda Richardson, founder of the sales training firm Richardson.

Last updated: Nov 4, 2011


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, 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.

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