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ATD Blog

ICE 2012 Sales Enablement Zone Blog Series 4-19


Thu Apr 19 2012


The Danger of Knowing Too Much


Session W210: Four Reasons Sales Managers Fail at Coaching - and what you can do about it!



I did a Science degree majoring in Botany and Marine Science. I loved the 3rd year research projects that were done in the bushland and lakes near the University’s research facility on the coast.

I came to realise that when we started the projects the first step was always a frustratingly large amount of “wasting time.” Progress didn’t come quickly because we would adjust the aim or direction of the research as we found too little or too much of some environmental factor that made the whole thing messy or unworkable.

Eventually, though, I came to realise that “wasting time” was simply a part of the process. These projects had a certain amount of the unknown mixed in that took time to sort out. The feeling of frustration dropped.

This was unlike the more direct and typical laboratory-based experiments that we did, which essentially followed a recipe. Even the part time jobs I had (mowing lawns and parking cars) were straightforward.

I mention this because, as a sales manager and sales coach working with your representatives, you may find yourself feeling that all too often you are wasting time and that the fuzziness of the coaching interaction may be causing you a certain amount of anxiety and frustration. This is in contrast to many of your more straightforward administrative tasks.


Here’s the thing. This frustration is created by more than the amount of time it takes for a representative to show progress and improve sales performance.

This may sound counterintuitive but the most difficult aspect of coaching and the cause of frustration at the pace of representative improvement is not that you don’t know enough about how to be a great coach, rather that you know too much about how to be a successful representative.

Your sales representative experience means that, as you see your sales team encounter performance speed bumps and road blocks, you have a ready solution. Unfortunately, when coaching, I often found that my own sales representative experience frequently led me to the wrong coaching conclusion because initially, the representative was not really looking for the kind of sales answers I was giving.

In fact, they were looking for support, reassurance, and confidence in doing something that, right there and then, was somehow fearful and risky. I found that giving the representative answers or advice didn’t result in lasting productive behaviour. In fact it often did the opposite.

Make no mistake. Successful sales coaching is all about change in behaviour.


The feeling of frustration occurs because despite our best efforts on the day, representatives continue to act as they did before the coaching. The danger for you is to feel that it has been a waste of time and money.

Here’s a simple fix. Shift your focus from you to them by identifying or confirming firstly what the representative is doing that’s working well; that you and they reckon contributes most to his/her selling success so far. Try and limit this to 2 or 3 success-critical behaviours.

It is these 2 or 3 identified behaviours that you should leverage to create and sustain the change. When coaching is wasted it’s because we think we can change behaviour as a consequence of simply being with the representative for a day and giving advice. If you can identify the key behaviours already in place - the productive ones that move the sale forward - then they act as a launch pad to support change.

The focus in successful coaching is identifying and moving on from what they are doing well. It shouldn’t be about what they are doing badly, and then “let me tell you the solution.” That tends to make representatives defensive.

So instead of wasting time, feeling frustrated and waiting for your turn to talk and offer advice, figure out what they are doing well.

Leveraging the right behaviour is far more powerful than giving the right answer or giving the right advice.

If you'd like more, please consider attending ASTD 2012 where you can hear Mark Wayland at his session in Denver.

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