Success in Sales and Sales Coaching are Not So Different

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP) 2018 Leadership Summit.  This was a fantastic event where Bob Perkins and team hosted sales leaders from around the world.  Amazing leaders from established heavyweights and scrappy startups joined together to share best practices and lift the sales profession.

As killer keynotes were delivered, and engaging breakout sessions were happened throughout the three-day summit, sales coaching came up repeatedly.  A common discussion was the emerging “Coaching Skill Gap.”  Organizations are realizing the uniqueness of Sales Coaching and spirited discussion around how to develop coaching skills was common in many sessions.

As I took in the opinions from these active sales leaders (as opposed to thought leaders that haven’t led a team for a while,) it occurred to me that we might be overcomplicating things.

Most sales leaders were salespeople at one point in their career.  Most were good enough at sales that they were promoted to leading teams.  The skills used to help a salesperson win sales will also help a leader win with their teams.

Successful salespeople are able to effectively create commitments with their prospects.  The first commitment is time on the calendar.  The last commitment is to do business together.  Depending on your sales process there are many more commitments a salesperson is able to engineer with a prospect.  Done correctly, the prospect never feels sold.  They don’t feel coerced and they don’t wonder if they are being taken advantage of. 

When sales is done right, customers see the salesperson as an important part of the process rather than a necessary evil.  The salesperson helps the customer identify their desired future state, clearly define the reason why this state matters, and creates a compelling roadmap to achieve the desired future state.  Closing becomes a “non-event” as the client pursues their desired end-result.

The best sales leaders are able to effectively create commitments with their team members.  The best leaders are able to help their salespeople identify their desired future state and then they create a compelling game plan on what activities to change or skills to develop in order to effectively achieve their career goals.

Salespeople can have conversations till the cows come home, but if they don’t secure commitments from clients they will fail.  Far too many salespeople fall victim to the “great conversation” and don’t secure next steps that only come with the ability to create commitments.

Sales leaders face the same challenge.  Too many sales leaders have great coaching conversations but stop short of creating commitments to change with their salespeople.  Without commitment, the likelihood of success in coaching is very small.

Most coaching tools do a good job of stimulating conversations.  Stack rank reports from a BI tool are a good example.  These give leaders and reps something to discuss:  “You might want to try….” or “Next time consider….” are easy ways for leaders to feel they are providing coaching. 

Unfortunately, 95% of what leaders think is coaching is nothing more than conversations.  In order for coaching to create predictable improvement, a 1:1 coaching session MUST include a commitment of some kind.  These commitments need to include:

  • Which activity will change or which skill will be dev­eloped.
  • How to measure the change (new number of activities or a specific way to measure a skill).
  • A target date to complete the change goal.
  • System of record to measure the change.

With these basics in place, a rep leaves a coaching conversation with a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to keep this commitment.  If the goal is relevant, achievable, and measurable (every coaching goal meet all three of these criteria), your chances of each team member responding to their commitments is very high.

Gamification is often referred to as a coaching tool.  Be careful how you use it.  Gamification works best if more activity is all that’s required to succeed.  This means you have a relatively small team with a fairly narrow skill spectrum.  If you have a broad skill spectrum, most likely “Just work harder” isn’t going to work for you.  You’ll need to help identify which parts of the process are most relevant and which skills will be the ones that improve success at the individual level. 

Coaching is not a team sport.  It is an individual event.  Individual salespeople respond best when a savvy leader helps them see what they need to move from their current state to their desired state.

Coaching is about helping a salesperson find “what’s next.”  It isn’t about going from bad to good.  Great coaches help their team members identify what they want and then draw on their own energy to get there.

Don’t fall victim to the conversation trap.  Talk is cheap.

The skills to be successful as an elite coach are certainly different in many ways than those required to be a top salesperson.  However, if you look at success as the ability to help engineer and keep commitments you’ll find they are not as different as you may think.

Rob Jeppsen is the Founder and CEO of Xvoyant, a Sales Coaching technology provider that helps organizations experience the results associated with world-class sales coaching. He has won 15 gold and silver Stevie Awards for his sales leadership and coaching expertise. To learn more about how to make coaching your most defensible competitive advantage or to have a custom "Case for Coaching" analysis conducted for your team, reach out to Rob at

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