Therapy Session for Sales Reps and Managers

Let’s have you “lay on the couch” and talk about your feelings. You have a relationship problem and we’re here to help. Building and strengthening the relationship between B2B sales reps/ account managers and their sales leaders is absolutely vital to a productive and happy sales organization. We hope to improve that communication by sharing what we’re hearing from both sales reps and sales managers, and by adding some of our own insight as well. 

There are 3 main reasons that sales managers are not coaching sales reps (even virtually) as much as they should, or as often as reps would like, and we’ll address each one here today. 

If you prefer to listen to our conversation about this topic on the go, feel free to check out sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 73:


The Research on Rep and Coaching Behavior

In 2019, even before the pandemic hit industries across the world and affected everything from in-person selling to employee engagement, Gallup encouraged leadership within sales organizations to focus on developing coaching practices above all else. This insight was based on extensive research within many different organizations. 

Based on research by Allego, a survey of nearly 300 reps, managers, and sales professionals found the following:

*Image from Allego’s report “The State of Sales Coaching,” available free for download here.

It’s clear, sales reps and managers disagree on the value of sales coaching, or at least with how it has been conducted in the past. Our goal here isn’t to determine who is right and who is wrong, it’s simply to close that gap and try to help everyone feel that coaching sessions are a beneficial collaboration between sales rep and manager.


3 Pitfalls & Solutions for Sales Coaching

For sales teams, real change happens 1:1 so coaching is a must. There are three main “complaints” that we hear from managers that contribute to the difficulty of establishing a good, productive sales coaching practice:


#1 – No Time 

This may be the number one hindrance to coaching. Managers have so much on their plates with meetings, projects, and reports, as well as leading, managing, and coaching their sales teams. 

How frequently that coaching occurs depends on many factors.

Coaching means sit down and observe sales calls, do ride-alongs (in the good ol days), observe Zoom calls, etc. This is actually one huge perk of the virtual sales coaching world, it’s a whole lot more efficient, reducing time and travel commitments for already busy managers. You can even have your reps record their Zoom (or Teams or Webex) calls/ meetings, and send them to you for review when it fits into your schedule.  Even better, they can critique themselves first.

In a perfect world, leadership sees the importance of coaching and helps to trim down some of those other responsibilities that eat into a manager’s coaching time. But what managers can do to optimize their coaching time is this: do not try to coach everybody. Let me explain.

Desire should determine development. Better said: a rep’s demonstrated desire to improve should determine how much time you spend coaching them. You need to focus on who responds to coaching. Sales coaching is all about skill development – if someone does not want to improve their skills, coaching them is a waste of your time (and theirs), when measured against spending that time with a rep who is motivated to improve. 

It’s like that old adage: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

ASLAN has developed the Quadrant Coaching Method to help you filter through which team members you should be spending your sales coaching time with. Note: this does not mean you do not manage them or lead them. It simply means, in an effort to get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to sales coaching and the time you invest, you need to be strategic.

Check out our two blogs on Quadrant Coaching (Part 1 and Part 2) here, and plot your team members accordingly. 


# 2 – No Change

One of the more frustrating parts of coaching is when a rep shows up to a coaching session without having done the development work that was agreed upon. This could be asking more questions in Discovery, or any other development plan that was created by the manager and rep in previous sessions. Not seeing progress/ improvement is frustrating to both parties. 

There are 2 critical mistakes that managers make when coaching sales reps that contribute to this:

  1. Focusing on too many things at once
  2. Don’t have a clear action plan for development

Managers observe calls or meetings, take their notes, and then get ready to debrief with the rep. The problem I often see is managers make sure to relay every single thing that they jotted down throughout the observation to the rep. This is overwhelming, and even counterproductive to the rep’s progress. When a rep hears 12 pieces of feedback, they may agree with your assessment of each thing, but they cannot possibly focus on improving all of them at once. 

Instead, pick one area to improve and create a development plan that you both agree on. Focus on their results, the outcome – because that is ultimately why you are coaching sales reps on improving their skills: to see better sales results. 

So, the 2 step solution to the “No Change” problem is this:

  1. Pick one area to focus on
  2. Create a clear development plan together

Step two is a fancy way of saying “assign homework.” This is important. When you both land on that one area of improvement (open-ended questions for example), decide on specific exercises or tangible action steps that the rep will take towards improving the specific skill set. 

Don’t just say “Work on your open-ended questions.” You need to have something verifiable and observable to show for the “homework” when you meet again. A few ideas:

  • Write it down – A lot of what we do in sales is verbal, so have them write out their open-ended questions, key statements, or introduction, etc.
  • Self-assessment – Have your rep assess their performance on a number of calls and write down how they did on or evaluate themselves with a number score. 
  • Ask an expert – Have the rep talk with another team member who excels at that particular skill.

The point is, have a specific action step for them to take that has a tangible result for them to “turn in” at the next coaching session, and this is how you can determine their level of desire. 

If they “did their homework,” they will improve. If they’ve improved enough, you can move on to another skill gap. If not, keep working on that skill. 

If the rep continuously fails to put in the work, pull back on your coaching time spent with them (see #1).


# 3 – No Tools (to Measure Success)

You need to have a way to organize what you discussed in your coaching session and what you assigned for “homework” as part of the development plan for your team member. It’s essential for measuring progress and success. 

Sales reps and account managers, imagine your CRM platform just disappeared. You’d be at a loss for how to track your prospects’ and customers’ account status. 

Sales managers have multiple team members to coach and track progress for. A system for measurement and organization is essential. ASLAN has developed and launched a free, easy-to-use, online tool called Catalyst Core that helps managers diagnose and develop their team.   

Try it out as a team of sales manager and sales rep. Now you can start holding one another accountable for development.  That is your therapy session for the day.


What Next?

As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.

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The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.