By Anita Sirianni


The work of the sales representative is a solo endeavor. Those who have chosen this profession are typically independent, self starters and generally work well alone. Yet, this arrangement does not provide the feedback and coaching reps need to become better at their craft.

Rep performance is often measured by how well they complete required paperwork, return phone calls and ultimately reach their sales goals. While these areas are important, there are many skills, habits and activities salespeople must hone to reach their potential and maximize their contribution to the organization.

All employees need and deserve feedback and direction from their manager. Yet, it is often only the underperforming people that receive the attention and feedback. Providing the support, encouragement and coaching for each representative is the best way to assist in reaching the true potential of a sales team as well as an organization. Let this be your reminder and request to take a few minutes to consider how you can be a better manager by strengthening your coaching skills.

One of the hardest aspects of supervising others is getting employees to comply with requests and do so at a level of excellence that meets or exceeds expectations. Managers who actively coach their teams have a greater impact on driving the performance expected and results desired.

Coaching can and will lead to better results at all levels of the sales organization. In fact some studies indicate that in-field coaching can increase performance as much as 20 percent. This increase will vary depending on the baseline performance and skill level of each rep. Improvement will also depend on how effective the manager is at coaching. 

The needs of each employee are as individualized and unique as they are. Yet, there are some specific areas that, when coaching is provided, have a big impact on performance.


Organization and planning

Pre-call planning: Planning tends to take a back seat to the strong egos that make salespeople successful. They think their experience and excellent persuasive skills will carry them toward success. However, experience has shown a winning effort begins with preparation. Assist your team to improve their planning skills by asking the following before each call:

  • Why are we calling on this account?
  • What do we hope to accomplish?
  • What information do we have on this account?
  • How will we use this information to tailor our approach?


Post-call debriefing: One of the most valuable opportunities for managers to offer advice is debriefing after a sales call. Let reps lead the way by describing their take on how the call went. Let them weigh the plusses and minuses to develop their critical thinking and self assessment skills. Be sure to offer feedback in a manner that is both constructive and encouraging.


Territory management: Notice as you co-travel how efficient your day was. Territory planning is an area where you might help reps see a more effective routing plan. Explore and discuss ways to maximize the geography for a given territory.


Processes and systems: Is it clear your reps have standardized systems in place that help them improve productivity? Where are opportunities for improvement? Can better processes be developed to promote greater productivity? Where are the voids in their current processes?


Time management: Is it obvious that your reps value their time? How prompt are they at making appointment times? Is there a clear demonstration to customers that you (and your reps) value the time that was provided? How was this expressed? Look to uncover efficiencies in the ability of your reps to maximize their selling day.


Selling skills

One of the most underdeveloped under trained areas among sales reps is in selling skills. Managers tell themselves that they have hired people with selling skills and therefore do not feel obliged to offer training in this area. Yet, every team in the NFL hires athletes who know how to play football. That does not stop them from insisting on continuous training and practice. Even the principles of atrophy tell us that all things must be exercised in order to maintain, strengthen or prevent its deterioration.  

One of the best things you can do to invest in higher top and bottom line performance is to offer quality training on sales skills. Start with the standardized sales competencies that include the following:


Prospecting: The first step of any sales system. It is the phase of the sale where prospects are identified, detailed background information is gathered, the physical activity of traditional prospecting is coordinated and an overall strategy for face-to-face selling is developed.


Building rapport: The first face-to-face interaction between a prospect and the salesperson, this step is designed to enable the salesperson to display his or her sincere interest in the prospect … to gain positive acceptance and to develop a sense of mutual respect and rapport. It is the first phase of face-to-face trust building and sets the face-to-face selling process in motion.


Qualification: The questioning and detailed needs analysis phase of the face-to-face sale, this step of selling enables the salesperson to discover what the prospect will buy, when they will buy and under what conditions they will buy. It is allowing the prospect to identify and verbalize their level of interest and specific detailed needs in the product or service the salesperson is offering.


Demonstration: The ability of the salesperson to present his or her product in such a way that it fulfills the stated or implied needs or intentions of the prospect as identified and verbalized.


Influence: What people believe, they act upon. This step is designed to enable the salesperson to build value and overcome the tendency that many prospects have to place little belief or trust in what is told to them. It is this phase of the sale that solidifies the prospect’s belief in the supplier, product or service and salesperson.


Closing: Notice how comfortable reps are closing. Asking prospects to buy, dealing with objections, handling any necessary negotiation and completing the transaction to mutual satisfaction is a critical competency for sales success. Identify specific areas or trends you see occurring and offer feedback for improvement.


Use of the sales process: Represents an overall understanding of a sales process and its execution in real-world scenarios. Knowledge of a sales process can lead to a positive attitude toward sales and a commitment to the individual sales steps.


Product knowledge

Sales managers have a fundamental responsibility to equip their representatives with the technical and clinical application of their products. As mentioned, this is the area most companies emphasize at sales meetings and generally do well. The area I see most lacking, as a sales trainer, is in teaching reps to apply their knowledge to real world sales situations. There can be no better time to do this then when managers co-travel with their reps.

It is not the responsibility of a sales manager to be a product expert. There are product managers, technical and customer service resources for that. Sales managers do need a functional understanding of products, but their bigger need is to recognize when members of their team lack the information required to meet customer expectations. This is difficult to do from a cubicle in the corporate office. Being in the field, listening to presentations, watching reps respond to technical questions and observing them problem solve are the best ways for supervisors to gain clear understanding of their teams preparedness to meet customer needs.


Communication and interpersonal skills

There are many attributes that contribute to the success of salespeople. Basically, reps need to be communication experts; however, there are several skills that surface among top performers:


Problem solver: Sales managers need to coach reps to become adept at providing solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis. Top performers know how to identify key components of the problem, explore possible solutions and develop an action plan to obtain the desired result.

One of the best ways for you to coach reps to cultivate this skill is to require they have two potential solutions for each problem or situation they bring to you. Managers who ‘spoon feed’ their reps with point-by-point instruction on how to fix a problem are like teachers giving students the test answers!


Project and goal focus: The ability to concentrate one’s full attention on the project or goal is another critical skill reflected in top performers. The path of sales success has many roads. As a coach, you must guide your team to minimize distractions or road blocks. Effective managers keep their team focused on tasks that will lead them to the goal at hand. Weekly one-on-one meetings with reps are a good way to keep a finger on activities and the rationale used in their daily decision making. This is where your guidance can positively influence for best results.


Results-oriented: Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the End in Mind.” Results Orientation is the capacity to clearly and objectively understand and implement key variables necessary to obtain desired results. At the beginning of a co-travel day, ask “What do we ultimately hope to accomplish today?” Ask the same question before each call or as you are approached for feedback or advice. This habit will strengthen the ability for your reps to clarify and set a plan in motion toward goal achievement.


Self-starting ability: You show me a person who has a keen ability to initiate tasks to fulfill specific responsibilities and commitments and I’ll show you a winner. There are top producing reps that have mediocre selling skills. The difference is in their ability to move themselves forward toward the goal.


It is difficult to teach people how to motivate themselves or force people stick to projects until they are completed. It is easier to hire them. Be sure to incorporate interview questions that ask candidates to describe situations that demonstrate self starting skills are present and developed.


Relating to others: Salespeople tend to have a natural capacity to understand and relate to others and this serves them well as they interact with customers and colleagues. Managers should cultivate this skill by offering training on responding to different temperaments, as well as adapting to those with opposite communication styles.


Professionalism and poise

In many cases, sales reps are the only image customers have of your company. As a result, their image and appearance must be consistent with the messaging intentions of your firm. Today’s standards can be very confusing. For example, I recently attended a business function where the dress code was listed as “nice business casual.” People were dressed in everything from formal business attire (suits) to jeans, cutoffs and T-shirts!

Since appearance and style is such a varied and personal issue, managers often stay away from coaching their reps about their look. Yet, given the diverse choices in attire, managers need to step in. Company dress codes should be given careful thought. Policies should flex to the environment and the job responsibility. Since the appearance of salespeople has a big impact on the impressions of customers, consider the message you intend to send. Are you a formal company or more casual like Apple? Do you intend to impress or relate with customers? Don’t let something as important as image be left to chance. Decide in advance what it means to “dress for success.”





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