The Reason You Don’t Have Time to Coach Your Sales Reps

Simply put, you are coaching the wrong sales reps.

Maybe this sounds a little assumptive, but I’m basing this bold statement on 25 years of sales training and consulting experience. Without fail, when asking managers who they coach, the answer is always the same: everyone. And that, my friend, is a mistake.

It is not a mistake to care about everyone on your sales team. It is not a mistake to buy everyone a birthday present. It is not a mistake to consistently meet with each one of your sales reps. But it is a mistake to coach every team member.

Before I unpack this seemingly harsh statement, it might help if we get on the same page about the definition of coaching.


What is Sales Coaching?

Sales coaching, in my opinion, is working one-on-one with an individual to practice and eventually develop a new sales skill. The coach helps diagnose the performance gap, prescribes the developmental activities, supports the practice, encourages the sales rep, and holds the rep accountable to complete the process until the new skill is formed.

There is only one thing required from the rep before deciding to invest your very limited time in their development: Desire.

Change is hard. Unfortunately, many sales coaches are far more committed to change than their sales reps are. They show up for “practice,” dragging their reps along with them — like a mother or father forcing their child to do homework. But if a sales rep doesn’t bring desire to the coaching session, the results are disappointing. 

Why? Because you can’t do it for them. If they don’t want to improve their ability to present your solution, learn to qualify more effectively, or work on whatever skill they’re lacking, you are wasting your time. Coaching can only help a rep achieve something they want to achieve. 


How do you know if a rep has the desire to change?

I can think of no better way than to focus on what they do and not what they say. The mouth can fool you, but the feet can’t. If you assign a developmental activity to shore up a performance gap, one of two things will happen: your sales reps will either do the “homework,” or they won’t. If they do it, they possess the desire to change. If not, they don’t. It’s that simple.


What’s a sales manager to do?

Don’t give up after one failed attempt to coach your sales rep. Just let them know that you’re ready when they are. If things go quiet, their motive is clear. They are not ready to be coached. 

If that’s the case, it’s time to switch hats from “coach” to “leader.” A sales manager has three different roles: lead, manage, and coach:

  • Lead for desire.
  • Manage for productivity. 
  • Coach for capability. 


Wearing your “leader hat,” you should determine the barriers to change with that particular sales rep. Find the connection between developing a new sales skill and something the rep wants. What matters to them? Is it providing for their family? Reaching a certain salary? Buying a home? You need to find a way to tie that in to your rep’s desire to want to do their job. As a leader, you should always have your rep’s desire on your radar. This can be tough to measure and/or manage, but desire is all about attitude and aptitude, but most importantly, willingness to do the work. 

Perhaps an honest discussion about below par results would be useful. 

As a sales manager, you lead and manage each of your sales reps. But coaching — that’s by invitation only.

If you adopt this filter for determining who to coach, you will see a chunk of time added back to your schedule. You’ll find hours, if not days, that can be invested in motivated team members waiting for you at the “practice field.”

And the unmotivated reps? The spark of desire might ignite when the weight of improving their performance rests squarely on their shoulders — where it should be.


What Next?

As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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