6 Sales Coaching Mistakes to Avoid

As a sales manager, coaching team members is one of your most important responsibilities. Good coaching gives sales representatives confidence and pushes them to gain new skills and yet, many managers struggle to provide effective coaching. Here are some sales coaching mistakes and how to rectify them.

1) Not blocking off regular time for coaching

With all of the responsibilities sales managers hold, it’s easy for coaching activities to slip down the order on the to-do list. Unlike other tasks, there’s no time limit to coaching. However, consistently neglecting to devote time to coaching will have compounding negative effects on your team’s performance.

Some sales managers focus the bulk of their coaching time on representatives who are under-performing. This is a mistake. Quality coaching can turn average-performing representatives into stars and help star performers get even better.

Another common error is failing to provide coaching throughout the entire sales cycle. Although it’s important to help sales representatives close the deal, coaching representatives on prospecting and nurturing prospects can be just as impactful in terms of results.

What to do instead:

Effective sales coaching is iterative. Make sure you set a coaching schedule that is regular and non-negotiable. For each representative, alter your approach in accordance with their needs. It’s generally more effective to focus only on one or two skills at a time. In the long-term, aim to cover the entire gamut of sales skills.

2) Giving team members goals without providing a clear plan for how to accomplish the goal

Managers often give sales representatives goals. While this is a necessary first step, goal setting isn’t particularly helpful if you just give the representative a goal without a plan. Without clear guidance from you, many team members will flounder when it comes to figuring out how to meet their goals. They might try to take actions that are unproductive or even counter-productive and some people might ignore the goal altogether.

What to do instead:

Whenever giving a team member a new goal, sit down with them to discuss a game plan for achieving that goal. It should be a conversation. Invite them to ask questions and provide suggestions for what actions might help them to achieve the goal. Point them towards resources that will be helpful in achieving the goal.

Then, ask the sales representative to write up the plan for achieving the goal. The plan should include a clear timetable and intermediary steps. Check-in on the plan periodically.

3) Providing vague and generic feedback

There’s an art to giving good feedback. Unfortunately, many sales managers falter when it comes to this critical component of coaching. One common mistake is jumping right into critical feedback before providing praise. This oftentimes makes sales representatives feel defensive and makes critical feedback—however legitimate—harder for them to process.

Another mistake is to remain overly focused on the numbers when giving feedback. Although quantitative indicators are often a good springboard for discussion, sales representatives also need qualitative feedback. This is particularly critical to help them understand what they need to do next.

What to do instead:

Begin your feedback by acknowledging what the sales representative has done well. Then, offer both quantitative and qualitative feedback about their performance. Ideally, the numbers should be used to illustrate your larger points. Conclude by offering concrete steps for how the sales representative can improve. When possible, offer opportunities for self-assessment.

4) Failing to communicate team and organization goals to your team

It’s great to track a wide range of KPIs. But many managers trip up by failing to prioritize metrics. The end result is that sales representatives end up prioritizing less important metrics, or they simply end up confused. Sometimes overwhelmed representatives end up de-prioritizing metrics altogether because it’s easier than trying to juggle ten different KPIs.

What do instead:

Select a few metrics that are really critical for driving sales. Instill the importance of tracking these metrics to your team. You can do this by frequently referring to the metrics in your team meetings and one-on-one sessions with sales representatives. Make sure that everyone understands the concrete actions behind the metric.

If you decide to shift course, clearly communicate this to the entire team. Explain the reasoning behind the change and how they need to change their process to be in line with the new strategy.

5) Not setting clear follow-ups and next steps

Some managers do a great job in coaching meetings—and then completely fail to follow up with the sales representative afterwards. Repetition and follow-up are critical for helping representatives to really internalize your feedback and improve your skills. If you’re not following up, a lot of your work is going to waste.

What to do instead:

Take notes for every coaching meeting, clearly recording what you’ve discussed. Either you or the sales representative should write a plan for improvement. Both you and the representative should save copies of the plan and your meeting summary. Use these documents to guide any future meetings and evaluations.

6) Trying to teach advanced selling skills before a sales representative has mastered the fundamentals

Many sales managers assume that their team members already know the basics. In fact, that may not be the case. Even sales representatives with some experience may have incomplete knowledge of sales fundamentals—or worse, they’ve been taught to use a flawed and outdated method. Trying to teach more advanced techniques only confuses them further.

What to do instead:

Evaluate how well your team members understand basic sales skills. Provide training sessions that allow them to practice these skills before moving on to more advanced concepts. Even experienced representatives can often benefit from reviewing the fundamentals. Wait to move on until they’ve demonstrated mastery.

Good sales coaching requires consistency and intimate knowledge of your sales representatives as individuals. By using these strategies, you can help team members achieve their potential.

James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.