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Sales Coaching: When Should You Ride to the Rescue

By David Jacoby

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For a sales manager going on a call with a sales rep, nothing is more painful than watching the rep crash and burn.

The natural reaction is to rescue the sales rep. After all, why loose the sale when all you need to do is jump in and take over the sales call. But is that the best choice?

It depends.

Joint Call vs. Coaching Call

Let’s first make an important distinction between a joint sales call and a sales coaching call. On a joint sales call, a sales manager’s role is to help the sales rep sell. Perhaps the sales rep has specifically asked for help with an account, or maybe the opportunity is so significant that the sale manager wants to accompany the rep on the call “just in case.”

The primary goal of a joint sales call is to close business. So on a joint call it is entirely appropriate for the sales manager to takeover a call and rescue a sales call if the sales rep is struggling. One point of caution: a sales manager should only go on a limited number of joint sales calls (as opposed to coaching calls). If you find yourself going on too many joint calls, you are in effect doing the sales rep’s job for them. A sales manager should be primarily managing, not selling.

By contrast, on a coaching call a sales manager’s role is to observe the sales rep in action and then later provide constructive feedback. Ideally, the sales manager would also have a coaching plan for each of their reps, allocate sufficient coaching time, and follow a structured coaching process.

The primary goal for the coaching call is to develop the sales rep’s skills. A best practice for B2B sales organizations is that the sales manager spends 25%-40% of their time going on sales coaching calls. Why so much time? Because research shows that sales teams that get consistent coaching produce better sales results than teams that get little or no coaching.

Sometimes, the best coaching happens after a sales rep makes a mistake. In the short run, this can be painful to watch, but in the long run this results in better sales reps.

Defining Roles

Prior to going on a coaching call, the sales manager and sales rep should clearly define their respective roles. On a coaching call the best role for the sales rep is the seller, and for the manager is the observer. Managers can coach most effectively when they when they’re not actively involved in the selling process, focusing their attention on observing how well the sales rep demonstrates a few specific skills and knowledge areas.

In a few limited cases, though, it’s better for the sales manager to sell on the coaching call and have the sales rep observe. For example, this is appropriate for a new sales rep that doesn’t yet have experience or confidence, or has a persistent development need that a manager can best address by demonstrating the “right” way.

To the Rescue!

But what about “rescuing” the sales rep on a coaching call? If necessary, it should be done consciously, not as a knee-jerk reaction. For example, if what the rep says could potentially have legal or company policy misinformation ramifications, the manager should tactfully provide accurate information, and then turn the call back to the salesperson.

Other factors to consider in deciding when to rescue include:

  • Progression of events during call may jeopardize the sale or account relationship
  • If stepping in and helping salesperson will seriously damage rep’s credibility
  • Enhancing or impairing salesperson’s development, such as their confidence/attitude

Bottom line: Sales coaching, which includes learning through failure, leads to better sales rep skill development and this improves performance.

Learn how to transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers 

About David Jacoby

David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.

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