Home > Kadri > Tim Champman, Lynn Pickford, Tony Smith: Coaching winning sales teams

Tim Champman, Lynn Pickford, Tony Smith: Coaching winning sales teams

Coaching introduced

Great sales coaching positively impacts individual, team and organizational performance. Coaching is a two-way street and both parties need to believe in the merits and be open to the process.

A professional generally goes through the journey of study, practice, learning, graduation and from then on into work. From then onwards, a professional is more or less capable of managing their own improvement. Sports has a different philosophy and practice; you are never done; everyone needs a coach.

Great coaches are your external eyes and ears, break down your actions then build you back up again.

For sportspeople coaching is part of the way they do things, in sales less so. There is a lot of psychology involved in both sales and sport.

Book is based on in-depth conversations with 38 sports coaches, athletes and sales leaders and sales professionals. Authors also conducted a survey with over 1.000 salespeople.

Coaching has been around for a long time. The term has its origin from the Hungarian town Kocs, where horse-drawn carriages were made.

It is often the context or the environment that gets in the way of coaching being integral part to the sales process. The pace and pressure for results and competing demands of the sales environment often hinder our good intentions. Six top reasons that hinder coaching efforts:

  • Too busy
  • Don’t know how
  • Aren’t expected to coach and are not coached themselves
  • Not accountable
  • Not part of the company culture
  • Don’t have the right skills and tools

Finding your own style is important and that takes effort. Understand yourself first, your own habits, your belief in coaching and how you communicate and impact others.

Your inner coach

Each coach we met talked about their coaching journey being a game of two halves. The first half being the underlying mindset and beliefs, the Inner Coach. You’ve got to be in the mindset to coach because you have got to be in the right mindset to listen. The second half is the Outer Coach, the outwardly expressed coaching behaviours and skills.

The number one motivator for our coaches, 83% of those interviewed, is the satisfaction in seeing and individual or team achieving what they want to achieve. Directing this passion and energy towards improving an individual has a direct line to enhancing individual and team performance. It’s about the person, but it’s also about the “love of the game”, in sports and sales. Being top coach is not about money and you should forget about the ego.

You should understand your coachee and especially yourself. Self-awareness is about being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and combined with self-regulation, putting your needs on hold and continually managing your tendencies. Self-awareness is one half of the Emotionally Intelligence equation. The other half is ability to also read other people’s inner dialogue emotions and empathy. Switching our brains into social mode.

Matthew Liberman in his book Social talks about business of brains. A fascinating study has shown that we have what is in effect a neural seesaw on our heads. Our brains are either in social mode (empathizing, thinking of others, group focused, people minded), or non-social mode (problem solving, deploying logic, analytical thinking), or IQ.

The nature or nurture debate rages across sales, business and sports. For all coaches involved in study there was a strong belief, demonstrable in their coaching approach, that emotional intelligence is a learnt behaviour.

Bosses who are both result and people oriented get the best outcomes.

Authenticity is the cornerstone of the coaching relationship: when you start your coaching on an authentic relationship, a genuinely caring relationship, you are not an intruder. Relationship trust is built on three key pillars:

  • professional competence
  • integrity
  • care for others

Pep Guardiola refers to himself as a magpie of ideas, ideas belong to everyone and he has stolen as many as he could. In sports the self-obsession with performance improvement is ubiquitous; in sales it appears to reside in the belief systems of only the high performers.

You are either winning or you’re learning valuable lessons that can help you be more successful going forward.

There will be certain things that you really admire but are not for you. We have all worked for someone who starts acting weird and out of character, especially directly after a training course.

Habits can be both useful and detrimental; they can help with shortcuts but also impede our progress, so we need to take stock of them from time to time. We know that a habit cannot be eradicated, it must, instead, be replaced.

Cathy Ward is talking about learning in a way that life is all about learning. That everyone has the opportunity to improve their performance, capitalize on their potential to grow and learn and be their best self.

Coaching consistently at the top level or with high intensity it deserves, can be mentally and physically draining.

The move from player to coach is a shift in mindset from performance through self to performance through others.

Six phrases associated with a coaching mindset of great performance coach:

  • Self-improvement
  • Performance
  • Passion
  • Self-awareness
  • Authenticity
  • EQ

The best advices for sales managers that want to become good coaches are:

  • Get over the numbers
  • Get your hands off the wheel
  • Be kind to yourself, you will make mistakes
  • Don’t jump in
  • Get yourself a mentor
  • Combine humility with your values and beliefs
  • Set the bar high and coach up

Performance outcomes are driven by combination of beliefs and behaviours.

The outer coach

Great coaches are all passionate believers in the value of coaching and its impact on the performance of both individuals and teams.

Nine behaviours of great coaches:

  • The coaching relationship: coach the person first and the skill or behaviour second
  • Observation: look, listen and sense
  • Preparation
  • Give feedback without freaking people out
  • Ask more than tell
  • Rhythm and timing
  • Coach the individual and the team
  • Commitment to action
  • Create an environment for success

Does the relationship rely on natural chemistry or can it be built purposefully? In sales understanding people and building relationships are two of the behaviours required for high performance.

Authors found that coaches are building relational trust on three levels:

  • Philosophical
  • Rational
  • Psychological

Philosophical is coaching a person first. Rational is focusing on outcomes. Physiological is about reciprocal altruism. We trust someone if they don’t let us down. It is about creating a safe environment for coaches.

Meeting commitments and setting realistic goals is also important.

Some common approach authors find out were:

  • Take time to get to know the coachee and their personal life
  • Ask about their values and beliefs and respect the expression of these values
  • Are honest and embrace differences
  • Create a safe environment for experimentation where failure is ok
  • Have got their coachees’ backs covered

Observing is important. Like Nancy Klince put it: “The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”[1]

When you first come into a team, any team, you need to spend a period of time observing before you take action.

As humans we are all unreliable evaluators of other humans. We thought through our experience that we find typical. And we all have recent bias.

Small things matter. The small things are marginal gains that can go unnoticed. Small improvements mount up and the compound effect kicks in.

The best coaches have a destination or plan for your development, so when the five-minute coaching opportunity is there, they are prepared. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail.

According to David Rock who coined the term Neuroleadership, we have good reason to be wary of feedback; our brain is wired in such a way that if we perceive danger, physical or non-physical, we have automatic response systems that fire up ready to respond, commonly known as fight, fright or freeze.

Don’t take the feedback culture as a given; it needs constant reinforcement. Once the culture of openness and self-reflection is set out coaches then turn to ensuring that feedback is respectful, balanced and packaged in a way that is right for that person.

We need to consider also individuals’ preference for communication styles when giving feedbacks. Some people love facts and figures, some abstract ideas, others like more emphasis on amplifying what they’re already good at and seeing where that goes. Others strive for perfection, looking for the smallest of improvements to up their game. Ask you self: what am I trying to achieve by saying this and how will this person best receive this message positively.

Sales, like sport, is a dynamic and an emotionally charged environment and salespeople feel that they are in the spotlight and feel a pressure to deliver.

You should aim to deliver consistent, incremental and dynamic in the moment feedback, avoiding the emotionally charged performance window.

A range of research findings would seem to suggest that the key to development and learning through coaching is to focus on the strengths or positives, weighting the feedback 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of positive over negative. Negative, brutal and challenging feedback can work for some, for example you know the types who love to feel they can prove you wrong. It boils down to knowing your people in the end.

Don’t let people off the hook; get them to think for themselves; make the accountable. Giving people ownership and accountability, facilitating self-realization is much more likely to result in people being inclined to change and break a habit.

Coaching in a high-performance culture requires a rhythm or a flow, a consistency of approach and a tenacity to drive incremental behavioural change in each and every member of your team. In executing the plan there is undoubtedly routine, repetition and a process of purposeful practice.

Is sales really a team game? Sales and business people often see themselves as an individual first and part of a team second.

Having observed many sales coaches in action, a repeated theme is that they are strong in understanding the challenge or situation and can provide insightful coaching on the potential options, but what they are not consistently good at, is managing the goal setting process at the beginning of the session and gaining commitment to action at the end.

Break the journey into small steps not overloading the coachee with too many actions at any one time. In the book The Progress Principle Amabile and Kramer are talking about setting the destination goal, breaking up the actions and getting ownership.

Culture is one of the key building blocks of a successful coaching program, providing an environment or a place for individuals or teams to maximize their performance. As a sales leader you want to get to the point where people want to play for that team and I want to play for that coach because I believe in what they are trying to accomplish.

Being coached

Often, in the world of sales, the balance of the coaching conversation can feel like two people on a seesaw, with one person opting to resist playing the game. You have a salesperson desperately seeking guidance from their sales manager but the manager having no time and no coaching skills or inclination to support them. Or alternatively a salesperson closed to the advice, supremely self-confident or supremely under confident, not wanting to show weakness.

Coachability is a mentality or attitude that a player has towards receiving criticism, their openness to be corrected and the willingness to use it to improve. The act of improving involves experimentation and with this comes failure – a word and sensation that no sales professional is comfortable with.

Overcoming any natural resistance to coaching starts with self-awareness. You can check your status with researches or simply check last lost opportunity and review it.

The modern sales leader is constantly switching between mentor and coach by providing advice, knowledge and support, alongside their focus on team and individual performance.

Interpersonal attraction, similarity paradigm or bias, is a well-researched concept in psychology, management and sociology. We have a preference for interaction with similar people, based on actual or perceived similarity. But the best coaches are those who see the world differently to us and can challenge our assumptions, opening us up to fresh thinking.

What a great coach does it give you the tools to be able to continue to coach yourself long after they’ve left the building.

Research from authors and experience suggest that most salespeople seek coaching when they are looking to solve a specific challenge – 42 % or on an ad hoc basis – 25%.

Some thoughts for when you are in the coaching moment:

  • Concentrate
  • Seek clarity
  • Reflect
  • Feelings are ok
  • Be honest
  • Ask for support

Feedback is information. Information that can be useful to you in many ways. Receiving feedback ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the intention of the person giving you this information?
  • Is it true?
  • Have you heard this before?
  • Who can validate this for you, a trusted colleague?
  • How do you think this feedback can help you?
  • Do you choose to accept this?
  • What do you want to do about it, if anything?
  • Pause and process. Out your feelings to one side and don’t react immediately.
  • Ask, probe, confirm. Clarify the intent and context of the feedback.
  • The Solution. What would you do differently next time?
  • Agree an Action. Don’t forget to ask for support if you need it.

Structure, process and models

How to balance systems and processes against environment and individuals. We need two things: a framework to support the coaching and development of the team and a simple dynamic model for individual in the moment coaching. Frameworks that would be flexible enough to work in the fast-moving sales environment and could be part of everyday.

Recognized theoretical coaching models or approaches can work. Such as GROW.

Obsessing about winning is a loser’s game. The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. Chuck Pol from Vodafone Americas is talking about people, customers and results. Developing people to be the best, to enable them to deliver supreme customer service and results will follow.

Every coaching session must be designed to meet an outcome. In the world of sales, there is also a recognition that process and structure is important, but observation from the authors is that it is not prevalent. Sales coaching is typically delivered in the moment and is more reactive and tactical than proactive and planned.

Coaching process and structure can be introduced at three levels: organizational, team and individual. A typical organizational approach to implementing a sales coaching program would include:

  • Video-based coaching energizers to deliver the how to coach in a time-efficient and scalable format.
  • Face-to-face practical workshops
  • Standardized coaching framework and coaching questions for typical sales scenarios (deal review, pipeline review, …).
  • CRM system to provide the analytics on sales activity and behaviours.
  • Internal and external observations of coaching in the field.

How we learn:

  • 70 % of what people learn they learn from experience and practice of doing their jobs. Experiential Learning
  • 20 % through managers or coaches and networks. Social Learning
  • 10 % through classroom or online learning. Formal Learning

This 70:20:10 framework, first referenced by Professor Allen Tough in his study “Why Adults Learn”.

Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized that information we have received in our brains declines over time. Because of this, organizations cannot rely on sales training alone to deliver behavioral change and a return on their investment. As Keith Rosen is saying: “Training develops sales people, coaching develops sales champions.”[2]

Models and process do have a place. For new and inexperienced coaches, they provide a framework for learning. Models help us visualize a process, simplify complexity and chunk information so our brains can deal with it.

GROW model, developed in the 1980s by Graham Alexander and Ben Renshaw and made popular by John Whitmore in the 1990s. It also sometimes referred to as T-GROW.

  • Topic – decide on subject of discussion.
  • Goal – agree measurable output/outcome.
  • Reality – describe current situation, uncover real issues.
  • Options – Draw out all possible solutions, select preferred solution/s,
  • Will (or Way forward) – discuss possible implications/obstacles. Commit to action steps, identify support and check goal achieved.

Cathy Ward from SAP is using also co-active, coaching, FACTS and gestalt. Her coaching model and approach is evolving towards balance of challenge, creativity and process, driving personal transformation and change for each individual to reach their full potential.

Some other methods of coaching are:

  • Metric-driven sales coaching – uses sales data to drive, quantify and evaluate coaching. But be careful with linking data with behaviours.
  • Solutions or behavioural coaching – Perry Zeus and Suzanne Skiffington are talking about the scientific approach that results in validated, measurable, sustained learning acquisition and change in individuals and organisations.
  • Appreciative inquiry – David Cooperrider. Approach is focusing on positive.
  • Reflective – coaches are becoming self-aware.
  • Cognitive – this approach is grounded in becoming aware of how our thoughts are linked to our subsequent behaviours.
  • Observational – in-the-moment coaching is paying attention to coachee, listening, seeing and sensing how they perform.

The great coaches coach dynamically but with purpose and structure.

People are far more passionate and willing to persevere through inevitable difficulties and hurdles if they link their outcome to something that puts fire in their belly.

One challenge in sales environment is focus on team coaching. Team coaching model is made out of:

  • Performance results
  • Observation
  • Analyze and assess
  • Plan practice
  • Practice plan
  • Perform

Our model starts and ends with performance. The sales coach is constantly observing their team in a range of environments. Observation is one of the key behaviours of a top coach. The coach needs to assimilate observed behaviour with objective data points from CRM and sales support systems. Build a dynamic development plan for each salesperson. World of sales will not always allow for practice and repetition in quite the same way as sports. The process ends where it started with performance.

Dynamic coaching model:

  • Cue or observation: what do you see, hear and sense?
  • Behaviour: acknowledge and identify the behaviour.
  • Engage: questions like what do they think and feel about the situation and what feedback would you give to yourself?
  • Feedback: deliver your feedback notes.
  • Action: get the coachee to identify next action and gain commitment.

Preparing to coach

In sales, we are sometimes guilty of just looking at the numbers without drilling down to where the real answers lie: in the habits and behaviours of individual salespeople.

The four stages of coaching preparation:

  • You – put your coaching hat on (what mood you are in, what kind of relationship you have with coachee, see it through their eyes, what could we do better as a coach, allocating time for preparation (two hour of preparation for one hour of coaching)).
  • Who are you coaching – how do they prefer to learn and be coached, how open they are to coaching, where they are with their development, how they are performing (split of 60-70% of KPI on what and 30-40% on how is standard).
  • What are you coaching – linking behaviours to outcomes, setting drivers of sales performance (behaviours, inputs (activity), market territory sales role, metrics/KPI and output performance goals).
  • How am I coaching – timing, place, confidentiality and space (giving somebody time to think).

Coaching sales teams – action


  • Coaching relationship –
    • Coach the person first. Learn about who they are. Who they are at work and where they are in their development curve.
    • Create a trusting environment. Deliver on your commitment
    • The humble and authentic sales leader. Bring people together.
  • Rhythm and timing
    • Knowing when to coach.
  • Coaching the individual and team
    • Start with individual.
    • Understand the range of abilities in the team.
    • Coaching different levels of performance. Coach the whole team not just your favorites.
  • Create an environment for success
  • Coaching against resistance.
    • Some behaviours that show resistance: procrastination, skimming over detail, lack of commitment to action, blaming, avoidance, reluctant conformity, cynicism, body language.
    • Deal with resistance: acknowledge; show some empathy; ask, probe and confirm; show the value of coaching; back up the value with proof and data.

Coaching teams – how


  • Observation
    • Be careful about biases: similarity, expediency, experience, distance, safety bias or loss aversion.
    • Identify the behaviour: engage, feedback, action, radical listening.
    • Positive elements of observation: shows you care, picking up cues and people want to impress when being watched.
  • Giving feedback without freaking people out
    • Golden rule: why this message, what is the key message you want to deliver, when best to deliver it, where is the best to deliver it, how best to deliver it to individual.
    • Re-labeling: go with I observed, not can I give you feedback.
  • Ask more than tell
    • When to ask and when to tell: performance or training; accountability; confidence; experience.
  • Commitment to action
    • The actions that are not attach to a greater goal are sometime leading to low motivation and commitment. Connecting our personal goals with our work goals is key in motivating action and commitment. A shared vision and goal for the team enables the coach to develop another anchor for everyday coaching conversations.

[1] In the book on page 50

[2] In the book on page 109

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