ATD Blog

Disrupt Sales Management Through Adaptive Coaching

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Are your sales reps anywhere near reaching their quotas? For about half of you, the answer is no.

Are you too busy putting out fires, filling out forms, and being stuck in endless meetings to coach your reps properly? For many of you, the answer is yes.

Most sales managers fail to do two things, causing this cycle of mediocrity and frustration:

1. They don’t develop the sales skills and soft skills of their reps.

2. They don’t devote enough attention to coaching.

The best way to end this cycle, while sustainably increasing sales revenue month after month, is to make your salespeople better—then let them generate the revenue. In fact, multiple industry studies indicate companies that do a better job of coaching their sales reps have up to four times higher revenue than companies that do not.

The bad news is the number one barrier to sales coaching is time constraints and scheduling conflicts, according to 2018 research from ATD.


The good news is sales managers who can’t find time to work one-on-one with their reps can transform their process with adaptive sales coaching. This coaching process employs two proven learning methods: adaptive learning and microlearning. Using this process, sales managers and reps save time, earn more money, and develop a healthier sales culture.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning emphasizes flexibility and personalized coaching. Each person internalizes knowledge at their individual pace and in their individual style. You won’t improve your team’s performance if you sit everyone in a classroom and drill them together on the key aspects of successful selling. However, when you personalize your training materials and your approach, you’ll get results.

Personalization starts with figuring out which sales skills your reps need to improve. For instance, if reps agree they’re putting off making follow-up calls, you’ve identified a skill gap. Don’t waste your time and burn through their enthusiasm by making them go through training that covers every aspect of the sales process. Focus on what they need to close their skill gap.


Coaching should be delivered in frequent, bite-sized chunks for maximum effectiveness. This is especially true for salespeople who don’t want to be taken away from sales—which is where they make their money.


The philosophy behind microlearning is that a skill gap can be closed by giving your reps bursts of information. Once you identify the skills your reps need to refine, assign them to review a five- to seven-minute article, video, or podcast.

Your microlearning topics should encompass a single key takeaway. University of Denver professor and corporate trainer Bernie Fischer remarked in a Manage Smarter podcast that reps will retain more information in shorter and focused sessions. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that microlearning makes knowledge transfer 17 percent more efficient.

The microlearning process doesn’t stop there. To reinforce the message, ask your reps to review multiple training sessions on the same topic three or four times in one week. After internalizing the knowledge, they’ll develop the confidence and expertise to close their skill gap. The new SalesFuel COACH platform does this automatically for every sales manager who claims to not have the time for sales coaching.

Finally, you should spend a few minutes discussing the details of the coaching material with your rep during your next one-on-one session. Be prepared to answer questions and encourage them to talk about how they’ll change their behavior. Above all, stay positive. Keep Brian Tracy’s advice in mind: “People perform at their very best when they feel really good about themselves . . .”

Kevin F. Davis, in The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, cautions that “most sales managers invest less than 8 percent of their time coaching their salespeople.” Don’t strive to be average. Instead, disrupt your process and start using adaptive sales coaching.

In other words, if you can’t find time to coach your sales reps, where will you find time to replace them?

About the Author

C. Lee Smith is the CEO and Founder of SalesFuel, a Columbus, Ohio-based firm that was named one of the Top 10 Sales Enablement Vendors in 2020, and Lee was also named by Selling Power as one of just six Leading Sales Consultants for 2020 worldwide.

He is the author of SalesCred, the definitive book on the #1 problem facing sales teams today: their lack of credibility among buyers. He also has written the Amazon international bestseller Hire Smarter, Sell More!, a book that helps readers increase their bottom line by avoiding toxic employees and identifying and hiring sales rainmakers.

His expertise in remote teams, leadership and coaching, and hiring is enhanced in 2020, with him becoming a Certified Professional Behavior Analyst, Certified Professional Axiologist, and Certified Professional Values Analyst.

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