What if Dean Smith Didn’t Have Time to Coach?

basketball-89829_640Where would countless basketball players (and coaches) be today if one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history hadn’t found time to coach?  

You don’t have to love basketball, or any other sport, to appreciate the value and influence of a great coach. They all have one thing in common: They made the choice to influence. They made the time to coach.

What about in your oganization?

Sales coaching is an essential ingredient for improving a sales organization. But it takes time. Most sales managers don’t have the time to effectively manage, let alone coach.

So what if you could cut the time it takes to effectively coach in half and get better results?

In nearly 20 years of working with organizations, we’ve identified the top two mistakes that hinder effective sales coaching – mistakes that if avoided, will greatly simplify the sales coaching process and minimize the time it takes to effectively develop your reps.

The following is an excerpt from the ASLAN Training whitepaper: Is It Possible That What You Learned About Coaching is Wrong? where we cover the two mistakes that can hinder effective sales coaching. For a copy of the full paper, please see the link at the end of this post.

Mistake #1 – Developing the Wrong People

Who is responsible to improve sales effectiveness – you or your rep? Obviously you are responsible for the overall results of your team – but are you responsible for a rep’s willingness to improve? Absolutely not. Here’s a critical principle for effective sales coaching. If you grasp this, it will not only shift the primary burden of change to your reps but will ultimately save you countless hours of wasted time spent trying to develop the wrong people:

Desire determines development.

Change is difficult – it takes work. When a rep doesn’t have the desire to do the difficult work required to reach a new level of performance, sales coaching is futile. Desire, not talent or skill, is the only ticket required to enter a coaching session. The responsibility of the sales coach/manager is to be prepared and available – but if the rep is unwilling to put in the effort to improve, what’s the point? And that means more than just going through the motions. If that’s all that happens, change will never occur.

They Seemed Like They Wanted to Change

But you may be asking, “How do I know if the rep is really willing to change?” This is an important question and highlights a gap in most sales coaching sessions. It’s not unlike a common gap we observe in sales conversations between reps and prospects. Think about this . . . why do most reps fail to surface a prospect’s true objection or their barrier to moving forward? It’s because they never create a clear “fork in the road.”

They never attempt to gain a commitment that would cause the decision-maker to reveal his or her true intentions. The same is true for a coaching session.

In a coaching session, the “fork in the road” is the assignment at the end of the coaching session – the step that should be the conclusion of any coaching session – a clear action plan that ensures the reps has a specific assignment to address a knowledge or skill gap.

Unfortunately, most coaching sessions are little more than discussions about the previous call – with the manager offering a few tips and reminders on how to improve. While it is always helpful to review critical information, “talking” has very little impact on developing new skills and habits. For reps (or anyone for that matter) to change, they have to “do.” To learn to swing a golf club, I have to practice swinging a golf club. Talking about it simply won’t help. It may help me choose the right club but it won’t change the quality of my swing.

Therefore, every coaching session should end with a clear plan to improve – a developmental activity – with an agreed upon completion date and a specific goal. By drawing a line in the sand – what is required to improve, a rep’s desire is determined. Attitude is irrelevant; their true willingness is exposed by their engagement in the assignment.

This approach opens the door to a whole new way of thinking about where to invest your time. Assessing a rep’s desire and embracing the idea that desire is a requirement for coaching, allows you to categorize your team members and develop an effective development strategy for each role. Let’s look at the categories we recommend.

Four Categories – Becoming a Strategic Coach

whitepapergraphic-learnedaboutcoachingwrongTo develop the most effective coaching strategy, we need to not only look at a rep’s Desire to Change but also at another key component – Results. Determining Results for our reps is fairly simple . . . based on the last six months (this number can change dramatically based on complexity of solution and sales cycle), where is your rep in relationship to their quota or sales goals? When these two measures – Results and Desire to Change – are combined, you will see that every rep on your team will fall into one of four Strategic Coaching Categories:

» Independents – reps meeting or exceeding the required performance levels who show little or no desire to change.

» Detractors – reps who have substandard performance and who lack the willingness to change.

» Strivers – reps who have a strong desire to improve and grow, but are not meeting the required performance levels.

» Achievers – reps who have a strong desire to improve and grow and are meeting or exceeding the required performance levels.

Once the team is categorized into the four quadrants, you now can implement the appropriate strategy and determine where to spend your time.


Since Independents are unwilling to follow a development plan, very little coaching time is required. They are meeting their performance requirements and don’t want to change the way they go about selling, so your approach should be to shift your focus from “developing” (Coaching) to “leading” – instilling a desire to achieve a higher level of performance. The agenda for your meetings should be to expose their need to change by discovering their desire to achieve more and connecting that desire with the skills needed to reach THEIR goal. Your approach is to clearly communicate your desire to work with them – but until they exhibit a willingness to make the investment, why waste the time?

(Additionally, by focusing on the reps who are motivated to grow (Strivers & Achievers), you may be able to raise the average level of performance for the entire team, upping the minimum acceptable level of performance for everyone. And by “raising the bar”, more will be required of the Independent to stay afloat (i.e., “High tide raises all boats.”).


This is a puzzling category of rep – and probably the greatest drain on the manager’s time and emotions – they aren’t hitting their numbers and they don’t want to change. Therefore, the time invested in the Detractor should be minimal (~5%). Like the Independent, your strategy is not to roll up your sleeves and work on skills but to focus on the barriers to change (Leading).

Secondly, it is important to be clear about the required level of performance (Managing). We simply communicate what needs to be achieved, the specific time frame, and the clear consequences if results don’t rise to an acceptable level. Again, no coaching is offered until initiated by the rep.

It is important to note that when a manager shifts the responsibility of development to the rep and the rep feels the full weight of ownership, that alone may spark the desire to change. When the tug-of-war ends and the manager Drops-the-Rope®, the rep is left with a clear decision – to grow or admit they are unwilling to change and remain stagnate. Faced with that realization, many will make the right decisions. But whether or not the desire to change ignites, you just freed up a tremendous amount of time to focus on reps who are enthusiastically open to help.


This category of reps is where you will see the greatest return on your coaching investment and the greatest opportunity to enhance the overall performance of your team. They embrace the idea that they need to improve and are open to input and ideas for improvement. Therefore, this is where you spend the majority of your coaching efforts. Of course you still need to be clear about performance requirements, but a bit more grace should be granted if they are committed to the prescribed development plan.


Second only to the Striver, managers should invest a considerable amount of time with the Achievers. These are the stars of the team who also have a desire to continually improve. Here the strategy should be to grow, challenge, and retain. They may not need the same amount of one-on-one development but unless you offer a path to growth, whether through you or another mentor, you will likely lose the Achiever.

Aren’t You Playing Favorites?

Coaches that take this approach are often accused of inequitable treatment – by reps and their superiors. Your response is simple. The decision not to work together was made by the rep and not you, the manager. You simply communicate, “You are ready, willing, and able to meet at the ‘driving range.’ Just let me know what time and I will be there.” Do not be sucked back into to believing you own the development process. Remember only the rep holds the key to a coaching session.

Secondly, you should still be willing to meet with the rep on a regular basis. Again, you just have a different focus. Instead of playing the role as a coach, your role is to manage and lead – to communicate the outcomes that need to be achieved and to double down on your efforts to ignite the desire to change.

As VP of Solutions, Sean’s passion is developing and creating a learning experience that emotionally taps into each learner, matches ASLAN’s commitment to excellence, and exceeds our client’s wildest expectations. Find him on: LinkedIn.

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