Your Reps Think You’re Wasting Their Time (This is Why)

This article originally appeared here on the Sales Hacker blog.

If you’re like most sales managers, you recognize the value of sales coaching. Rather than draw a pretty picture of the ideal coaching interaction, I thought it might be interesting to instead give you examples of what bad sales coaching looks like.

When we observe the coaching that takes place in most sales forces, it’s a scary sight to behold. Sales managers’ best intentions are consistently overwhelmed by the never-ending onslaught of urgent problems and blazing fires.

And in the place of great coaching, we see low-value conversations between managers and reps that fail to advance its primary goal: To improve the capability and performance of frontline sellers.

Below are three common scenarios that we see playing on a loop – even for the most well-intentioned sales managers. These are three types of meetings that you definitely want to avoid.

Bad Sales Coaching Strategy #1: The Sprint

We’ve all been in meetings where so much information is communicated that there’s no time for anything meaningful to be discussed.

Sales managers have so much to do in any given day that their default mode is to try to cover as much as possible in every conversation they have. In fact, I’ve seen sales managers compose coaching agendas with as many as 15 items to discuss during a 30-minute meeting.

Where’s the time for coaching!

If you’re falling into the trap of sprinting through your meetings, realize that when it comes to coaching, less is more.

Our research shows that the most effective coaches tend to discuss fewer topics in greater depth. For example, you might choose to discuss only one or two upcoming sales calls with a salesperson during a 30-minute meeting.

Imagine the inefficiency of that!

And yet, that is how you can most thoroughly help your salespeople plan for those calls and advance those sales. Trust our research—it’s a best practice.

Bad Sales Coaching Strategy #2: The Interrogation   

The interrogation is a version of the sprint, except that all information flows in one direction—from the manager to the seller.

Sales managers were typically very successful sales reps, and they bring a load of experience to the job. Therefore, when they meet with their sellers to discuss opportunities, accounts, and sales calls, they love to provide explicit direction on how the seller should behave. Very explicit direction.

In some cases, providing direction to salespeople is appropriate—particularly with less experienced reps. However, many sales coaching sessions need space for more collaboration and dialogue. That’s when the real insights come. But timing is again a challenge here, since collaboration takes time.

Fight the desire to cover too many things in too little time. It might feel incredibly unproductive, but it’s the only path to powerful sales coaching.

Bad Sales Coaching Strategy #3: The Ambush

For many sales organizations, on-the-fly sales coaching is the norm. I’m talking about the “coaching” conversations that take place in the hallway, or in the parking lot, or in a car. In these organizations, more thoughtful, formal coaching sessions are a rarity.

In an ad-hoc interaction at least one person was interrupted—typically the sales manager. Consider the interpersonal dynamics of someone who is ambushed: They were doing something else, going somewhere else, and thinking about something else. Now you’ve asked them to stop and think about a new issue. Quickly!

This dynamic is not conducive to good sales coaching.

It creates an interaction of divided attention that encourages the sales manager to provide direction rather than collaboration.

When it comes to sales coaching, quality matters. Conversations that take place after an ambush are low quality by nature, because at least one of the participants was totally unprepared.

Schedule your coaching conversations in advance so you’re prepared to do them right.

Bad Sales Coaching Is like No Sales Coaching at All

Ironically, sales managers can be engaged in all of the behaviors above and still consider themselves prolific coaches. For example, I once worked with a very large company that had deployed a survey to its sales force to gauge the quantity and quality of the coaching taking place.

The sales managers gleefully reported that they were conducting a vast number of sales coaching sessions each and every month. However, more than half of those same managers’ salespeople reported that they were receiving zero coaching! What?

In reality, these sales managers were spending plenty of time with their salespeople, but they were spending it in highly unproductive ways. They were spending hundreds of hours each month sprinting, interrogating, and ambushing. They were conducting some of the least effective coaching conversations of all time. All the time.

The worst thing about this story is that the sales managers were trying really hard to invest time in their salespeople. They genuinely wanted to help their sellers succeed, and they were spending lots of time in the field. It was just wasted time. And their salespeople knew it.

Key Takeaways: Great Sales Coaching Starts Here

If you want to be an exceptional sales manager, there are a few behaviors that you absolutely need to avoid.

And conversely, there are some things you need to do.

1) Avoid conversations that are jam-packed with information exchange

Of course, you need to know what’s going on with your reps, but pace the conversations so that you have time to explore their thinking and then provide great coaching that is just as rich.

2) Fight the desire to tell your reps what to do

You are the expert in the room, no doubt. But salespeople learn best when they’re prodded and questioned to reveal their inner thoughts. Then you can see clearly where they are going right and wrong. And great coaching will follow.

3) Refuse to engage in random, ad hoc coaching conversations.

Sure, you’ll see your reps in the parking lot, and they’ll stop you in the hallway. However, that’s not where great coaching takes place. Find the time to have real conversations. Schedule it, prepare for it, and then crush it.