Principles of Effective Sales Coaching and Reinforcement


Posted By Dr. Tom Sant | Feb 05, 2014


Recent research into adult learning, information processing and skill development has shown that individuals learn to function in real-world settings and make effective decisions about how to execute their role when they have been properly coached.

Effective coaching addresses the three chronological phases that people go through as they learn to execute a new skill:

1. Perceiving

Individuals learn to recognize the situations in which they find themselves and understand the factors that will influence their success in executing any course of action.

If we use American football as an example, the quarterback receives a play from the sideline, a play that is part of the team's total playbook. As the quarterback approaches the line, he must size up the variables: Where are the linebackers? Which way is the defensive line shading? Has the defense brought in an extra cornerback to protect against a pass?

As the quarterback approaches the line, he must size up the variables

2. Deciding

Of the options for action available, which is the most appropriate path to take?

To continue with the same analogy, the quarterback may recognize that the play is not going to work, given the defense's alignment. If he decides to audible to a different play, he needs to choose one from the playbook that has a higher probability of succeeding.

sales coaching playbook - football

3. Acting

The final stage of learning is to use the skill in a real-time situation. Practices, rehearsals, and role playing are nice, but nothing has the speed and intensity of actual application.

Typically, American football coaches will spend hours reviewing game film and then discussing it with their players, giving them constructive feedback to correct flaws in execution or to help them recognize specific pattern faster in the future.

coaching film review

Sales people need to go through the same basic pattern to achieve mastery of their professional skills. Classroom sales training is vital for learning the basics of selling and for acquiring fluency in products. But formal training alone is not enough. The sales training needs to be followed up with regular coaching and reinforcement. In fact, the value and impact of training are multiplied when the training event is followed by effective sales coaching and reinforcement.

In a smart sales organization, managers have created a "playbook" of typical scenarios and how to react to them. The sales professionals need to rehearse these plays, practicing them over and over until they become comfortably automatic.

But then the sales manager/coach needs to provide the kind of constructive feedback that enables the sales person to go beyond the specific play to improvise, to be creative.

Different Ways of Providing Effective Sales Coaching

There are different ways of providing this kind of coaching. For example, there is curbside coaching, where the sales manager accompanies a sales person on live calls, observes, and provides feedback after the call is complete.

Another method is to run simulations where sales people are presented with scenarios, required to make choices, and then given immediate feedback on the likely consequences of their decisions. This kind of sales coaching can be one-on-one or can be used with small groups.

Finally, there is team-based coaching where peers coach and reinforce each other.

Save the Lectures for College Professors

What doesn't work very well is lecturing a sales person, because they quickly slip into cognitive overload, become defensive, and tune the message out. A better strategy is to ask open-ended questions: "The customer asked about pricing in the first five minutes and you told him you would cover that later. What's another way of handling that kind of question?"

Ultimately, no coach can field a winning team unless the coach has created a playbook that will work in the environment where his team competes, trained his performers to execute that playbook, and then provided on-going mentoring to build competence and self esteem.

Qvidian is recognized as the leader in creating playbooks for sales and marketing organizations that really work. Learn more by watching this video overview at