Coach your sales team from good to great

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Most of us remember Alabama’s famous football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Someone once said, “The Bear could beat your team on one Saturday, and then take your team and turn around and beat his team the next Saturday!” He knew how to coach players, knew their strengths and weaknesses and how to get their best effort. He knew how to win.

How can you coach your sales team like Bear Bryant: from good to great? How can you do this with different personalities and age groups? How do you get salespeople engaged with their best efforts and able to handle rejection with dogged persistence until they achieve their goals?

In every field of endeavor, a coaching philosophy, or set of values and beliefs, drives the performance system. This philosophy affects the hearts of its listeners. As we accept certain values and beliefs, attitudes emerge about coaching or leading people. The resulting behaviors turn into habits, which then produce consistent results. For example, one group of sales coaches believes that people cannot be trusted and so they micromanage people and their outputs like machines. Others do not believe in the coaching role at all and believe that people will succeed or fail despite their intervention - so they tell them what’s expected and then stay away. Some sales managers believe that people do better when they are afraid. As a result, they brow beat their salespeople and work to create an atmosphere of fear and control.

The cultural effects are obvious: some sales teams operate out of a fearful spirit while others are courageous. Some are honest and some are not. Some believe in serving others - some do not. Some are creative and innovative while others wait for orders from the manager. Salespeople make confident and winning moves in the heat of the moment or we see them quit early and leave in defeat. 

What are the most important values and beliefs that define great coaching in sports or in sales?

Great sales coaches care about their people. They demonstrate this by paying attention to each salesperson’s motivational needs plans and progress. To understand their needs, they ask questions like, “What do you want?” “What are the three things that motivate you the most?” “What goals do you have in those areas?” From these questions, they discover the motivating center for each of their sales reps: competition, recognition or possibly a specific need to make a certain amount of money. Then, they help the rep put together a personalized sales plan to reach their objectives and get their payoff. They also demonstrate concern when they notice progress, praise effort and show appreciation for a person’s performance. Finally, they individualize their approach by understanding the rep’s temperament – their need to socialize, get tasks accomplished, or think through each step.

Great sales coaches believe that their people have what it takes to achieve their goals. They demonstrate this faith by how they communicate when an individual or a team falls behind the pace necessary for goal achievement or misses hitting an objective. They teach sales teams the steps and skills within the sales process that lead to results by focusing on coaching 1-2 skills at a time until they become habits. They talk about specific points of progress. With various words and actions, great coaches help their team get better and reach personal objectives. They may even say, “I believe you can get this done, accomplish this task, or master this skill.’ They go with them on calls, listen to their concerns, watch their behaviors and habits, and remove sales process hindrances within their control. Great coaches sacrifice personal time for the improvement, encouragement, and correction of a person’s performance. Then, they do this for as long as they have confidence in a rep’s ability to achieve minimum performance or higher.

Great sales coaches expect their people to improve and get better. And, those expectancies are specific and communicated. Specific plans, processes and skills, lead to specific habits and objectives. Sales leaders help their reps develop personalized sales plans and development objectives. They help reps find better ways to prospect or to set appointments, how to ask questions and identify a prospect’s needs, or to weave needs and recommended products into a solution that helps a new customer or turns into a profitable sale.

Coaching a team to greatness begins with a belief that greatness is possible. As Paul Bear Bryant or as a sales manager, the values and beliefs remain the same. Never accept mediocre effort. Care about the reps. Let them know you believe they have what it takes. Expect them to get better. 

People live into and up to the expectations of the culture around them and leaders define the culture. Make it a challenging, fun, and purposeful experience for those you coach and they will rise to your expectations.

Lance Cooper is a keynote speaker and author of "Selling BEYOND Survival: The Essential System for High-Activity Sales Professionals." Cooper is president of SalesManage Solutions, a company that teaches sales leaders how to recruit sales superstars and coach teams to greatness. For more information, visit or e-mail him at

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