Why sales coaching is ineffective and what to do about it

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

Depending on the length of your sales career to date (as well as your title), you have probably either initiated or solicited sales coaching. Most typically, sales coaching occurs when a salesperson (or team) demonstrates clear deficiency in sales activity or performance.

Sales coaching is typically a reactive step, rather than proactive. More often than not, organizations solicit sales coaching as a futile attempt to turn around a low-performing salesperson or team.

Let me explain further. Every salesperson has the capacity to improve through continuous structured sales coaching.

It bears repeating: Through continuous, structured sales coaching.

Successful sales coaching should be proactive and strategic. Sales coaching should be a hard-coded, baked-into-the-sales-performance maximization strategy.

All sales team members should be engaged in active, ongoing sales coaching dialogues with their sales managers. This sales coaching dialogue addresses tactics, activity levels, and mindset.

Treat the cause, not the symptoms.

animal-animal-photography-blur-397863For sales coaching to be impactful, it must be customized. Much of what passes for sales coaching today is not customized to the unique “sales personality” of the salesperson. The type of generalized “coaching” found in these products and services is often regurgitated blog posts and eBooks, resulting in little to no impact on sales performance.

Few in sales leadership grasp the power of psychometric assessments to help understand both how and why a salesperson does or does not take action. Instead, most sales coaching today is completely off in terms of effectiveness and treats symptoms rather than root causes of performance issues.  

If any one of the following in combination or individually exists, sales coaching will be largely, if not completely ineffective:

The salesperson is not a Sales Wolf.

You cannot create Sales Wolves from a non-Wolves (sales managers or salespeople). They do not possess the requisite sales personality, background, and experience to do the job well. No amount of coaching will overcome poor job fit. Rather than invest in sales coaching to try and “fix” a team of non-Sales Wolves, it’s better to use a hiring scorecard and strategic recruitment to assemble a team of Sales Wolves. Then, proactively invest in sales coaching to continually help them perform at their highest levels.

The sales manager does not possess the requisite sales personality to do the job well.

Sales Wolf Managers without the requisite job fit, experience, and background will not coach well. More often than not, that means your Sales Managers are not Sales Wolf Managers. I have discussed this before here in the blog, but if you want to maximize performance of (and retain) your Sales Wolves, hiring Sales Wolf Managers is essential.

Improper management mindset regarding sales coaching.

Sales coaching should never be your proposed solution to a sales team that is not performing.  Mindset is critical toward recognizing and implementing strategic, proactive sales coaching. If management has a reactive mindset instead of a proactive one, your efforts (and investment) are doomed.

Lack of centralized accountability.

In some organizations, “sales coaching” is simply purchasing an online course or program and assigning its completion to their sales teams. Sales coaching will be ineffective with a lack of centralized accountability for following a prescribed sales coaching methodology, structure, and program.

Be proactive with a personalized approach.   

Every salesperson should have a unique, personalized coaching plan that is based on that person’s sales personality. This plan should address any job fit gaps, in addition to skills and strategy.

Sales coaching is most effective in the following circumstances:

When you are coaching Sales Wolves.

Sales coaching for salespeople who do not fit the sales action-arrangement-chalk-1374548role is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. It is not effective and a waste of time, energy, and resources. It is important to state again that sales coaching will never replace the importance of using a hiring scorecard and strategic hiring practices to assemble a team of Sales Wolves.

When sales coaching is proactive.

Sales coaching should be proactively built into the professional development of your sales team. To maximize their output, you should be continually investing in the development of your salespeople. In most cases, as mentioned previously, sales coaching is a reactive, last-ditch attempt to salvage a salesperson or team. In some cases, though, it is proactively added. But this is primarily as a let’s-incrementally-improve-sales-performance perspective. In other words, a perspective that will have marginal, if any, effect on actual results.  

Sales Coaching is more likely to be effective when salespeople and sales managers are both themselves Sales Wolves. Like attracts like. Iron sharpens iron. Sales Coaching is more likely to be effective when a systematic manner of coaching is used with accountabilities - a feedback loop for deviations.  

Invest first in building a team of the best.

bump-collaboration-colleagues-1068523You will never get a real return on your sales coaching investment unless you first invest in building a team of Sales Wolves. Select and hire only the best-of-the-best salespeople. Carefully onboard your Sales Wolves, and surround them with other Wolves -- both on the team and among Sales Management.

Once you have used the sales hiring scorecard and strategic recruitment to assemble your team of Sales Wolves, it is critical that you identify immediate and short-term coaching opportunities in the following areas:

Job mismatch areas.

Sometimes a team of Sales Wolves is compiled; however, performance is lacking due to job mismatch. Proactively addressing these concerns is likely to improve performance, and build a stronger employer / Sales Wolf relationship.

Competency gaps.

Closing skills gaps should be a top priority for any organization. Together with executive leadership, Sales Wolf Managers should identify the core competencies necessary to succeed on their team and invest in ongoing sales coaching to address those gaps.

Selling strategy / tactics.

Sales Wolves hate to stagnate, and realize that they will only continue to get better when they evolve. They are always looking for more ways to gain an edge. As the marketplace evolves, so do sales tactics.


In many organizations today, sales managers do not even realize that mindset shaping is a possibility. They erroneously believe “mindset” is about choosing one’s attitude and is a personal responsibility for each salesperson to figure out on his/her own. True mindset shaping is incredibly powerful, a private matter where individuals face their inner critics and demons. They learn to reshape how they think to overcome what holds them back.   

Craft personalized sales coaching plans for each Sales Wolf on your team to address these areas. Sales Wolves are constantly seeking opportunities to grow, advance, and be their best. Not only will your proactive investment in sales coaching help them achieve their best, it will likely increase your retention rate and simultaneously cut costs as you increase revenue.

Few organizations take the time to assess and more importantly, make changes to their sales team and processes in order to address the deficiencies noted above. They instead check of boxes and invest in “coaching” that goes nowhere.

Those who do, reap the rewards.
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