Less Talk, More Dialogue - How to be More Effective as a Sales Coach

Posted on 11/04/2013 in Sales Coaching

We’ve recently finished some coaching workshops that included the opportunity to film each sales manager conducting a coaching session with one of his/her salespeople.  When asked to self-critique these filmed role plays, each manager said one area for improvement as a coach would have been that he/she should have talked less TO the salesperson and asked more questions instead. 

Each manager felt that the coaching sessions would have been more effective if there had been more dialogue. For example, a typical comment was "I wish that I had talked less to the salesperson and made it more of a conversation.” 

Based on what we’ve seen consistently over the years with sales managers who attend our Coaching for Sales Success workshop, as well as the sales managers we work with during one-on-one sales coaching sessions, it is very common for managers to spend too much time talking and not enough time at questioning and listening. 

If you agree that you’d like to improve in this area, here are a roadmap and some questions that you can use when coaching a salesperson. 

GETTING STARTED: Keep it Positive and Open-Ended

Many managers like to begin with an open-ended question such as, "How do you feel the sales call went?” This question is good but can unintentionally get the conversation off on a negative because many salespeople will initially answer with something that they felt was done poorly on the sales call. 

To minimize the tendency of a salesperson to be too critical or negative of himself/herself, a better way to phrase this initial question is to say instead something like:  "I thought you did many things well during the sales call, which I’ll share with you, but I’d like to begin by hearing from you.  What do you think went well during the sales call?” 

Then, ask some Follow-Up Questions to the answers that they salesperson provides.  For example, if the salesperson gives a general answer such as "I thought that I did well at getting the customer to tell us a lot about their needs,”  you can ask additional questions such as "Tell me about what you did to make this happen well” or "Can you give some examples?” 

By focusing initially on the positive aspects of the sales call, it allows you as the manager to then coach the salesperson to develop and use these strengths on subsequent sales calls. 

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Two Ways to Make This Constructive

After you finish the positive portion of the coaching conversation, you can then transition to any areas for improvement that you observed during the joint sales call.  There are two ways to go about this.

First, begin with an open-ended question such as, "What do you think could have been done better during the sales call?” Depending on the salesperson’s answers, you then coach accordingly.  Your responses can range from "I agree and here are some suggestions on how to do that differently”  to "I think that you’re being too harsh on yourself and felt that you actually did that better than you think.”

Second, after you’ve completed the open-ended questioning, you can then transition to something specific that you observed during the sales call. Say something like, "In addition to what you just said, I noticed one or two things that could have been done differently.  (You then cite those items)  How did you feel about it?” 

To ensure that the salesperson knows that you are there to help him/her rather than to be critical, also emphasize and say something like, "You do so many things well. If we can just fine tune and help you on this (specific skill/topic), it would make you even more effective.  What can I do to help you to improve in this area?” Then, the two of you can mutually agree on a development plan. 

This blog is not intended as a script but as a general resource. We’d love to hear from you, specifically questions that you feel are effective for sales managers to use when coaching salespeople.