How To Approach Sales Coaching Like a Pro {Part 1 of 5} – The Coaching Mentality

This is part 1 of a five-part series to help you develop the sales coaching approach that’s guaranteed to make you an unstoppable sales leader!

In the past, all you had to do was chase down your number.  Now you must worry about things like % hitting quota, onboarding, cycle time, and turnover, just to name a few.

Add the new administrative duties, board reporting, and forecasting responsibilities and you may find yourself scratching your head wondering why you accepted that promotion.  

4 Steps to Approach Sales Coaching Carefully and Tactically:

  1. Use role perception to improve your sales coaching model.
  2. Commit to the 4 non-negotiables in sales coaching.
  3. Commit to Being Relevant to the Entire Team.
  4. Understand your rep’s goals and work backward.

Following these 4 steps will improve your ability to help others succeed.

This is, in turn, a driver for your success and your ability to keep your job! With the average tenure of a VP of Sales, dwindling, this coaching series is bound to give you a competitive edge. 

Step 1: Use Role Perception to Improve Your Sales Coaching Model

Successful sales organizations are built on a performance model fueled by four levers:

1) The aptitudes of who you hire.

Aptitude is defined as the natural gifts of a member of the team.  

Ask yourself: Would you rather have people more naturally inclined for the tasks sales requires or someone that is less naturally gifted?

2) The team member’s level of motivation.  

Motivation is defined as a team member’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win—no shortcuts.

Ask yourself: Would you rather have a team of self-starters, or a team you must jump-start every single day?

3) The skills the team members possess.  

A skill is defined as something a person can become proficient at (not expert) in 6 months or less.  

Ask yourself: Would you rather have a team highly skilled in the tasks fueling your process or a team still figuring things out?

4) A clear understanding of a person’s role.  

Role is defined as a person’s understanding of what they are expected to do, and why the company hired them.  

Ask yourself: Would you rather have a team with clearly defined roles or a team that was unsure every day?  

Which of these are most important to drive the quickest wins?

The driver of the most immediate impact and the one that provides the best source of sustainability is Role Perception.

Successful sales organizations must have all four of these elements working well in order to have both short term and sustained success. However, some sales leaders also choose Motivation or Skill as the one that provides the most immediate gains.

Why is Role Perception a key lever?


The simple fact is that the time of each member of the team (including the sales leader) is the scarcest resource in the company.

Role Perception drives how someone spends their time and the tools they choose to use. As a result, it’s the first place every sales leader must turn to when building a performance-driven organization.  

Unfortunately, most sales orgs are riddled with role conflict and role ambiguity. It isn’t unusual for a salesperson to identify seven or ten different roles.

When you allocate time across multiple perceived roles, it’s easy to understand why so many studies are showing that salespeople use less than 1/3 of their time actually selling.

How does this impact your approach to sales coaching?

Most sales leaders identify coaching as one of the top three priorities for how they do their job. Unfortunately, the percentage of time a sales leader spends coaching generally doesn’t even crack the top 10 categories on how time is spent.

Role Perception for a salesperson is easy to define: Produce.  

Depending on your role and your sales model, this could include producing more:

  • Leads.
  • Customers.
  • Sales.
  • Renewals.
  • Expansions.  

As a sales leader, you need to coach the activities and skills that reinforce this role.

If the role of the salesperson is to produce, then the role of their sales leader is to reproduce. You need to reproduce the skills and sequence that lead to the salesperson’s role to produce.

This “reproduce” mindset will help you create a consistent coaching model that defines high-value or low-value activities for a member of your sales team or for yourself or your leaders.

[Summary] Action points on how to include Role Clarity into your sales coaching: 

  • Understand what each rep wants to accomplish.
  • Paint that target and help them create a model of what success looks like.
  • Commit to doing all you can to help reproduce the skills in each rep necessary for them to achieve their own goals.

Step 2: Commit to the 4 Non-Negotiables in Sales Coaching

Sales coaching will never be successful if you dabble in it. Sales coaching pros have four non-negotiables:

1) Consistency 

The top reason you may fail is lack of consistency.

Here’s the reality: If you don’t have consistency, you don’t have coaching. Consistency takes two forms:


When an organization initiates a coaching program, a common response from the team is “This too shall pass.”

There are a lot of reasons why sales leaders are inconsistent in their 1:1 meetings with reps, but all the reasons for hit-and-miss frequency stem back to Role Perception.

“I don’t have time” has often been referred to as the adult version of “The dog ate my homework.” Inconsistent 1:1s send a strong message to your team members that they aren’t your priority.


A salesperson should never wonder what you’re going to discuss in your 1:1.

They should know that this won’t be about having a conversation. Too many organizations engineer conversations and mistake it for coaching. 

Coaching is about engineering moments of commitment.  Prepare for your 1:1 with these questions:

  1. What is the rep’s personal goal?
  2. How responsive were they to their previous commitments to change and improve?
  3. What commitments to change will accelerate their journey to their desired destination?
  4. How can you help them make these changes?
  5. How will they be measured?

You know you have achieved strong consistency when your reps come to a 1:1 having conducted a self-assessment. They have a clear game plan, they know how to self-assess, not self-destruct, and lean on you for high-level direction.

2) Predictability

Deal chasing is not coaching.  

The only way to create predictability in the sales organization is to coach to the process.  If the process is strong, success is inevitable.  If the process is weak, success is unsustainable.  

Consistency in the process leads to consistency in outcomes.  The separate process from outcomes and coach to the process (Part 3 of this blueprint is a primer on how to coach to process).

You want your coaching sessions to give a rep the confidence to call their shot! Pressure may turn coal into a diamond, but it can push a rep to find a new gig too. The process creates predictability that creates a swagger in a salesperson.

3) A level-up mentality

Coaching is not just for the under-performers.

Reps hitting their number need coaching too! As a sales leader, your job is to help each rep find their next gear. Coaching is not about who is good or who is bad. Coaching is about what’s next.

Ask yourself:  “If I can’t help this member of my team get to their goals at least as fast as they could have on their own, what value am I?”

Search for what’s next with your reps and they will connect to your authenticity in the commitment to help them in their journey.

4) Collaboration 

 Collaborative leaders don’t tell reps what to do, they help them do it.

You need to create “Observable Moments.” There are a lot of ways for you to observe your reps in action. But don’t just watch it! Find ways to help them learn by participating in the process.

Remember, your job is to reproduce, not read about what happened.

Get in the game with each member of your team. Not only does this help you stay current to what’s happening in your market, you’ll learn more about how to help them find what’s next.

Step 3: Commit to Being Relevant to the Entire Team (Your stars AND non-performers)

The sales world has depended on the 80/20 rule for far too long.

The 80/20 rule is simple: 20% of your team is responsible for 80% of the business. That means 80% of your team is doing only 20% of the business! 

But, what’s working today is chasing the 80/80 principles. Where 80% of the team is responsible for 80% of the business. One of the reasons this has proven so challenging to accomplish is the way sales leaders evaluate where to spend coaching time.

Most look at the performance of their team in a binary light: people either hit their goal, or they don’t. It is a zero-sum game.

If you operate with this mindset, you’re making a dangerous assumption that there are only two types of reps: those that are hitting goals and those that aren’t.

This makes it difficult to connect to the journey of a rep.

Segmented vs. binary leadership

The best sales coaches adopt a segmented view of their team and each member rather than the binary one. A good example of a segmented approach is to create five segments:

In this case, a Core performer is at 100% of the goal. From here, reps can go to High Core or Star. Reps can also go down to Low Core and Poor.

By segmenting these performance levels, you have a tool to help engineer moments of commitment, model success in terms of Activities, Skills, Competencies, or Productivity, and can instantly be relevant to each rep.

Diving deeper with an example

One of the most strategic sales teams for a large financial institution beat their 2017 sales goal by 20%.  

This was a record year and was driven by the team doing 247% more sales process activities than their predictive process model called for. When the EVP got her new goal for 2018, she got a bigger surprise than expected.  

The company had invested more for new FTE in her team than any other team. While they hit the division goal, they did it on only 22% quota attainment from the sales team.  

She hit her goal based on 8 rainmakers!

The president explained the need to get better returns from the other 78% and based the 2018 goal on achieving 50% quota attainment. The sales goal was nearly double that of the 2017 year.

This sales leader adopted a segment-driven coaching strategy where each rep made goals on how to move from Poor to Core, Low Core to High core, Core to Star, and so on.

After just 60 days, the results were impressive. They went from 22% attainment to 38% attainment. Instead of being 20% above goal, the EVP’s team was 240% above goal!

Reps respond to leaders who choose to be relevant to their unique journey.

A compelling case to coach your stars

Some sales leaders believe that coaching their stars is a waste of time.

Now replace the word “coach” or “coaching” with “relevant”. You would transform “How do I coach my stars?” to “How do I stay relevant to my stars?” 

Here are two reasons why you should spend time coaching your stars:

  • A 5% increase with the stars is generally greater than a 15% increase in the core group. This is some of the most important math you will use as a sales leader. Stay relevant to your stars and ask the “How good can you get” question and the answer will be a fun one to calculate!
  • Star performers are 57% more likely to stay with an organization if they say they receive great coaching. Those same reps are 27% more likely to leave if coaching is sub-par. If you want to improve the retention of your top reps, stay relevant to them and help them achieve their goals at least as fast as they could on their own, if not faster.

Step 4: Understand Your Rep’s Goals and Work Backwards 

The only difference between conversation and coaching is commitment.

Too many people have interesting conversations but don’t have anything more than some suggestions. Sales coaching pros engineer moments of commitment. The best way to engineer these moments of commitment is to adopt a “Tour Guide” mentality.

Tour guide: Has unique first-hand information about destinations and makes travel exciting.

Travel agent: Has a handful of brochures and anecdotal information about destinations.

To engineer a moment of commitment with a sales rep, you must be a tour guide. The first step is to ask the rep where they want to land on the segmented distribution. Once they tell you their goal, learn why it matters.

There may be commissions that are meaningful. Maybe this person wants to earn President’s Club. Perhaps this person needs a strong year to earn a promotion.

Regardless of the reason, understand where the rep wants to land and discuss the reasons why.

[Summary] Action points on how to set a roadmap based on your rep’s goals: 

  1. Identify activity sequences that will move the rep from the current state to the future state.
  2. Define the target competency levels that will direct these sequences to desired outcomes.
  3. Identify and allocate resources to help your rep achieve the goal. 

Parting Thoughts and What’s Coming Up Next

This was part one of a five-part series on how to develop a coaching mentality in sales. Sales coaching does many things for a sales organization including:

  • 30% improvement in production.
  • 20% improvement in productivity (% of reps hitting goal).
  • 95% improvement in CRM utilization.
  • 30% improvement in salesperson retention.
  • 25% improvement in win rate.

With the stakes being as high as they are, watch out for the rest of this series:

#2:  Data-Driven Sales Coaching — The Right Use of Data

#3:  Sales Performance Coaching

#4:  Setting the Right Goals for Sales Reps

#5:  Why Follow-Ups Matter in Sales Coaching

Rob helps develop world-class sales leaders so they can develop world-class sales teams. He loves moving the Sales Needle & is a high-energy dealmaker with an emphasis in technology & financial services sectors. He has worked for & consulted with many organizations & has expertise in sales, sales process, leadership development & the commercialization of new products and services.

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