Mark Garrett Hayes uses coaching tools to help leaders empower their sales people, beginning with a change in leadership style


Hamid was vice president (VP) of sales in a fast-growing software firm. His goals included driving a sizeable territory plan, accelerating new customer acquisitions and achieving ambitious annual sales goals.But what he needed most were competent leaders, the kinds of sales managers who could attract, develop and retain top sales people. Hamid already had loads on his plate and his home life was starting to suffer. He had recently promoted several successful sales reps to be new sales managers. Hamid had high hopes for them. But one by one, they slipped back into their old ways, behaving like sales people, not sales managers. With dismay, Hamid found himself getting dragged into individual hiring decisions and the kind of things his sales managers should have taken care of. Worse still, Caitlin, the CEO, was beginning to notice.


Step back/step up

This scenario is all too common among clients. Rather than using coaching to help sales professionals find their own next steps, many newly promoted sales managers revert to directing.
Hamid realised he had to let go to grow. He had to step back so his managers could step up. He had to give people room to think for themselves. Come up with solutions. Try things out. Take responsibility. To do this, he had to ensure that coaching became a way of leading, not just managing. To meet and exceed sales targets, he and his managers had to ensure that their sales organisation prioritised coaching. Thankfully, on the back of a dedicated coaching skills programme for his sales managers, Hamid, and many sales leaders like him have turned around their leadership style with significant results for their organisations.


The business case for coaching and 21st century complexity

Even if someone isn’t involved in selling at all – perhaps they’re a company owner or director, a CEO, a VP or someone with direct responsibility for generating revenue, they should appreciate the importance of sales to a business. They’ll know how important it is to find leaders who get the best from their sales people at the customer frontline.

Businesses need sales leaders who are fast learners, independent thinkers, and problem-solvers, who can hold a team of sales professionals together, then coach them to achieve ambitious targets in a fast-moving world.

Cassi Roper, VP sales, Redgate Software, agrees: “The higher up the leadership structure, the more essential coaching becomes. Sales leaders should be coaching. Yet sales people never seem to get enough coaching and leaders never seem to give enough coaching.”

Right now, customer’s needs are increasingly complex. Businesses need sales leaders who can be trusted to gather around them coachable sales professionals who are equipped and enabled to solve these same needs.

Sales leaders who are fit for the 21st century like Dan Skipp, EMEA sales manager at Sophos, UK, recognise the need to coach every single day. Skipp’s LinkedIn profile describes himself as ‘Leader Learner Coach’. He understands that to lead, you have to learn and to learn you have to be coached and to coach.

And when sales managers start to coach, learn to coach, and help others to coach, businesses can expect to see significant results. Coaching was a key success factor for Prem Patel, a self-described ‘Sales Go Getter’. Patel says, “Mark really helped me get a $250K healthcare opportunity through MEDDPICC® and helped me come up with really insightful action-steps. They worked. Deal closed. Awesome.”


So, if these claims are all true, why aren’t all sales leaders (like Skipp) coaching? And why aren’t all sales people like Patel being coached at every available opportunity by their sales managers? Good question. Here are three plausible reasons.

Reason #1: Sales managers don’t think they can coach

They typically default to giving people an answer when they know the answer. It’s instinctive. Someone on their sales team is stuck again. They know the solution. So they tell the rep what to do. Easy! But not in the long term. The whole idea of hiring and developing sales people, is that they think for themselves and produce results by themselves. For this to happen, sales managers’ leadership style has to take a coaching approach. If your sales managers suggest that coaching is something they can’t learn, you have to ask whether this is true. Sales managers learned to sell. They learned to manage. So why can’t they learn to coach?

Reason #2: Sales managers don’t believe they have to coach

This reason is more straightforward. Maybe sales managers think coaching isn’t for them. They feel it’s not their job. Some have told me that their job is managing, not coaching. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read sales managers’ and senior sales leaders’ job descriptions which list ‘coaching’ as a core, role-specific competency.

It’s there in black and white but coaching seems never to happen. Why? Because their leaders don’t coach either. And neither do their leaders’ leaders. It’s simply a case of cultural ‘lip-service’.
As a coaching professional, I’m guessing you’ve experienced the results of world-class coaching first hand. You probably agree that a strong coaching culture develops and sustains the best of the best. But when coaching is allowed to become an optional activity, it usually slides down the list of priorities. The part of the business that can least afford this, is the part that brings in the money: sales.

Reason #3: They don’t really want to coach

The third reason has to do with how companies champion coaching. When sales managers are juggling multiple priorities, why spend time with people ‘desk-side’ if they can get things done behind a laptop? It’s far quicker to give the answer than to wait for someone on their sales team to figure it out. The way a sales manager learned to lead is often the same way they were led and motivated by their boss.

And being a boss means telling people what to do and that’s what leadership means to many people. ‘I’m the leader. I get to make the decisions.’ They resort to giving instructions and creating compliance, not creativity.

Bottom line: if sales managers don’t have to coach (because no one else in the sales hierarchy mandates it), they probably won’t want to coach either.


More sales training isn’t always the answer

At the beginning of this year, I had a brief conversation with Tiffany, sales director at an enterprise software firm in the US. She confided that the firm was looking to improve sales performance which was ‘tanking’. I asked which enablement her teams and leaders had received before. It turns out they had received training and mentoring more than once. Different providers each time but disappointingly there were no new results, no improvement and no accountability.

This is of course a very expensive problem. You can keep training people, but training alone does not increase sales. Millions of pounds worth of sales training ends up in the sales training graveyard annually. So to diagnose and understand her challenges, we ran an assessment with her sales leadership team. We were curious as to why her business wasn’t generating Return on Training despite repeated intervention.

Our survey addressed the kinds of questions that leaders might like to ask your sales management team. Table 1 shows just seven diagnostic questions from the SalesCoachr SalesCoach OS™ program to help sales teams uncover key areas for behavioural development.

1 I can recognize when my sales people are stuck                      1 2 3 4 5
2 I encourage autonomy and self-reliance                                    1 2 3 4 5
3 I know when to hold back and when to intervene                     1 2 3 4 5
4 I keep accountability on the sales person’s side of the table  1 2 3 4 5
5 I help my sales people come up with their own next steps     1 2 3 4 5
6 I facilitate the discovery of lessons from challenges               1 2 3 4 5
7 I ensure that I follow up to ensure accountability                    1 2 3 4 5

Table 1: Diagnostic questions from the SalesCoachr SalesCoach OS™ program


Combined with onsite observation and other tools we used, it was evident that Tiffany’s sales managers were not coaching. Thankfully, Tiffany and her team turned around their performance through intensive coaching. Her team were held to account for agreed actions. Sales opportunities were more thoroughly qualified. High-value deals were closed with more coaching through MEDDPICC® (a sales methodology).

It’s up to us

The number of people who haven’t experienced some form of coaching is diminishing. The number of sales leaders who are trying and applying coaching is noticeably increasing. Post-Covid, new sales hires are more conscious than ever of their career options and choices. Just as in many other sectors, people joining the world of sales now (and from now on) want to work where they can exercise more choice and be developed by sales managers and leaders who challenge them, grow them and coach them.

Top sales talent is in particularly high demand. As sales enablement professionals and coaching professionals, it’s really up to us to help upcoming sales professionals by championing the cause for sales coaching now.


  • Mark Garrett Hayes is a sales enablement consultant, accredited coach and certified trainer who is truly passionate about helping sales leaders empower their sales people and dramatically boost both performance and revenue. Working both in-house and remotely with sales teams internationally, Mark and associates have developed powerful tools to help sales leaders get the very best from their teams. Mark is the author of Sales Coaching Essentials (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2022).
  • http://www.salescoachr.com