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Sales Coaching: Good, Bad, What’s the Difference?

Monday, June 8, 2020

What’s the difference between a good coach and a great coach? How can you identify a bad coach?

Many of us have heard of great coaches, some of us have seen great coaches, others of us have experienced great coaching, and some of us have performed as amazing coaches. Take a moment to ask yourself where you are.

Good. Now, let’s set some context.

There are a couple of challenges sales professionals face today. In the market there is a prescriptive mentality that has taken the form of do this, don’t do that. Ultimately, this creates confusion and noise.

It can be hard to sift through the noise.

There are a couple of approaches that you can take to help identify the signal through the noise, but what if that signal is in your blind spot? This is when coaches come in. A coach can help you shift your perspective, change your point of view, and see through that blindness.


Let’s start with a question: What is a coach?

A coach, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is an athletic instructor or trainer (noun). Oxford further clarifies this as “a tutor who gives private or specialized instruction. I think this is an important distinction that highlights a potential problem.


Can you coach in a group setting? If the instruction is private, specialized, or specific, I don’t think you should. Coaching in a group setting can create challenges, including ones around communication, perception, and focus. How many times do you like to have your behavior corrected in a group setting? Does ego get in the way of communication?

When I think of the definition of a coach, I think of a person who provides guidance, direction, information, or perspective that is personalized to the individual who is being coached. This coaching is based on what they observe and informed by their experience and expertise.

Common Mistakes

One of the most common mistakes that we make when thinking about coaching is confusing it with training. Training is important; it can happen in a one-on-one format and be specialized or it can happen in a group format. It is usually designed around a specific set of objectives and a process that helps to ensure that knowledge or information is transferred.

Coaching likely includes some level of training; however, not all training is coaching. The distinction I like to use here, again, is the personalized aspect. Coaching is a tool that can be used to improve performance. Training is a tool that establishes a base level of awareness, knowledge, or skills.

Think about riding a bike. You can learn to ride when someone teaches you a technique, demonstrates the mechanics, and gets you to a point where you can go around the block without falling. The basics are the same for everyone. Once you have acquired the skill and applied it, you become proficient. There is a limit, though. What if someone showed you that by making a slight change in your foot position on a pedal, you could increase your power output? A good coach, through their experience knows what to look for, where to adjust, and what changes will have the greatest effect.


But they do not ride the bike.

What Does This Have to Do With Sales Coaching?

I’ve been on a number of sales calls where a manager, vice president, or sales leader thinks that they are coaching a member of their team by doing and demonstrating the work the work. That is not coaching; that is doing. In the bike example, the coach doesn’t help with foot position by getting on the bike and riding it for the person being coached. The coach guides the learner by moving the rider’s foot, using verbal cues, or by other means.

Sales coaching is about increasing performance, not about training the basics. It is about taking a specialized, tailored approach at a one-on-one level with members of your team. It is about accelerating performance.

There is a time for training and a time for coaching. Know what tool you want to apply when and where. Take the approach of the craftsman. The next time you are on a call with a member of your team and feel compelled to engage with the customer rather than listen, force yourself to pause. Take a note and save your question for the debrief. Gather context before you coach and remember that coaching is not doing.

Let’s go back to the original questions: What’s the difference between a great coach and a good coach? How can you identify a bad coach?

A great coach helps you shift your perspective, break through your bias and blind spots, and identify subtle changes that will have a significant effect on performance. A bad coach allows their bias to become your bias. They do not tailor their solution to the individual. A great coach helps you accomplish more than you could have accomplished on your own, and they hold you accountable when you start to slip.

Looking to learn more about how coaching can drive sales success? Check out “Personalized Learning and Coaching Drive Better Sales Performance.”

About the Author

Mike Simmons is founder of Catalyst Sale. He has more than 20 years of operations, customer success, sales, and sales leadership experience, as well as 15 years in the EdTech space. A lifelong learner, his is creative, analytical, and driven to achieve results. Mike has built, lead, and optimized sales organizations leveraging both direct and indirect teams. Follow Mike on the Catalyst Sale Podcast, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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