coaching Performance Management

The Importance of a Great Sales Coach


In the last few weeks, the US Women’s National Soccer team took the world by storm—they are now back-to-back World Cup champions. 

This team is unique, and has certainly captured the hearts of old and new fans for plenty of reasons—but one particular stat stood out to us as we thought about our own clients and the challenges of putting together a great sales team: Jill Ellis, the USWNT coach, is first coach for men or women in United States history (and second in the entire world) to win two World Cup titles. To find her sole counterpart, you’d have to go back to Italy in the 1930s.  Undoubtedly, a huge part of this team’s success must be owed to Ellis. But often, that’s about as far as the conversation goes: Wow, what a great coach!

From Jill Ellis, to Steve Kerr, to Phil Jackson, we know great coaches makes a difference, but we really don’t talk about the “why” or “how” all too much.   If you’re interested in taking your sales coaching to the next level, come along with us as we explore a little bit of why great sales coaches make a difference for their employees—and the organization—and how exactly you can get to that next level yourself. 

The Myth of The Great Manager

When we’re really pressed, what do we say makes a great manager or coach? Is it their education? Their resume? Personality? Some perfect combination of all three and then a few other very specific things? 

Here’s the trap we get stuck in a little too often: we put the burden on a single woman or man’s shoulders, and expect them to carry their organization across the finish line. We thinks it’s about charisma, or an “x factor” that they have as a leader—which, when you dig even deeper, just translates to “they’re special, and we got lucky.” 

But that’s far from the truth. In a recent article exploring the value of great coaches, The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Walker compares the opinions of two men who have an exceptional amount of experience with good leadership: The Golden State Warrior’s Andre Iguodala, and Silicon Valley giant Bill Campbell. 

At first glance, it might seem, Walker says, that the two diverge on their opinion about leadership. For Bill, he was a truly unique individual who had leadership skills that simply can’t be taught in a classroom. He was almost transcendent.  But from Andre’s perspective, he points out, “a team’s ability to win depends less on the coach’s modus operandi than how well the players organize themselves around” or even against that M.O.  But Walker goes on to show how these two ideas converge into one ultimate key for great leadership. 

Are you ready?  “Mr. Iguodala, like Mr. Campbell,” writes Walker “believed that a coach’s influence is only as strong as the team allows it to be. A captain’s job, he believes, is to adapt the team to its coach.”  You might be saying to yourself that sounds like a lot of basketball talk and I’m an inside sales manager. What does this have to do with my job? And when did we start hiring people with the job title of Captain? The key point is this: A coach, or, in our parlance, a manager

, can only be as good as the team under them. Great sales coaching starts from the very first hire you make. But for most of us, those hires have already been made—and if you’re struggling to get your team’s groove together, we certainly don’t suggest firing everyone just to start with a blank slate. 

For any manager to thrive, you need to inspire a team mentality in your organization from top to bottom. And it works in the reverse: a sales organization will not live up to its full potential unless they have a clear vision, unified goals, and a desire to succeed as a single unit. You need people on both sides of the ball—that is, “coaches” and “players”—who want that same ultimate result.

One Team, One Goal

So that’s a little bit about the “why” of great sales coaching, and now here’s a simple, practical part of the “how” that you can introduce to your team as soon as this week: goal-setting. A huge part of keeping your employees engaged and motivated is by helping them to see the broader purpose in what they’re doing. That comes in a number of different ways, at both the individual level and the corporate level. 

First, they have to be oriented around how their performance directly affects their individual life. Do they have a life-goal that’s tied to a stronger Q3 performance? Is there a vacation they’ve been itching for, or a new addition to their house that they can tie to better numbers and performance? 

Secondly, there are the corporate goals? How does their performance better the organization as a whole? It may sound a little “rah-rah,” but it’s been proven time and time again: When employees understand how their job positively impacts the business they’re tied to, they find a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in their role, which directly leads to increased achievement. 

Take some time to sit down with your team this week and map out those goals. Not only will it make them feel seen and known, but it will give everyone the renewed sense of clarity they didn’t know they needed. 

Final Thought: Leadership Is More Than a Title

You may be reading this piece and thinking that this doesn’t apply to you—maybe you’re not a manager yet, or your office doesn’t work in a “team” structure. But leadership is a whole lot more than a title—just ask Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, or Alyssa Naeher. As we learned above, it’s about folks who have a mindset to achieve more—not just for themselves, but for their whole organization. 

Don’t wait for a promotion to start acting like a leader in your office. You’ll be amazed at how a simple change in mindset will not only impact your own performance, but even help to bring others along with you.