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Ray Makela

By: Ray Makela on February 5th, 2013

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How to Coach Sales: 6 Vital Lessons from Coaching Youth Soccer

Sales Management | Sales Coaching

As a self-diagnosed “soccer dad,” I have had the opportunity to coach and watch hundreds of youth soccer games over the past decade. Not only was I learning how to coach youth soccer, I was also learning how to coach sales.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve observed from the sidelines is finding the balance between trying to dictate what should be happening on the field (e.g. do this, go there, etc.), and the need to let the players make their own decisions and learn. 

Observing some really great and unfortunately some really bad coaches, I have come to the conclusion that coaching youth soccer is a lot like coaching a sales team (no correlation to maturity level intended).

The best coaches/managers I’ve seen in both disciplines are the ones who were able to focus on a few key priorities and communicate expectations clearly to their team. They are able to observe and develop their “players” without micromanaging.

Here are six critical sales coaching skills that apply in either "game":


1. Communicate expectations clearly and identify the key behaviors needed to succeed

Communicating expectations is one of those things that people take for granted.

“Isn’t it obvious what you’re supposed to do?”

The response is often “no.”

When asked, coaches/managers feel like they set clear expectations, but when you ask the employees/players, they will tell you they’re not really sure what’s expected.

The focus is often too much on the end result, not on the behaviors that are needed to produce the result. Results show what has already happened, and it’s impossible to change them after the game.

The key is to identify and focus on the behaviors needed during the game and then communicate and manage them accordingly. In soccer, that might sound like “I need you to mark that guy and don’t let him shoot.” For sales, “I need you to set 5 appointments per week with qualified prospects.” Be clear and communicate what is necessary to succeed.


2. Catch them doing something right

We’ve all heard we’re supposed to provide more positive feedback than negative. Unfortunately, that often sounds more like cheer leading than providing tangible, positive feedback that reinforces the behaviors we’re seeking.

Once you’ve identified those behaviors you want to see, then point them out and reinforce that behavior when you see it. Start with the positive and build on the behaviors you see that contribute to the results you’re looking for. “I like how you did that” or “It seemed like that technique worked really well.” Do this in public and private, and do this often.


3. Provide one-on-one feedback as close to real time as possible

The best coaches I’ve seen are the ones who don’t wait for Monday morning (or the formal performance review) to give feedback. They do it every time someone comes off the field and every chance they get.

This looks like a friendly hand on the shoulder and the non-threatening discussion that says “Great job. You’re working hard. Now how can we improve from here?  Try this approach next time and see if it helps improve your result.”


4. Let them tell you where they need to improve

An age old tactic that works extremely well is to let the individual and team tell you where they need to improve – at least let them go first in the conversation.

We often find that people are very aware and often extremely critical of their own performance, and likely the one or two points they make are right on target if we give them a chance to analyze their own performance instead of telling them what do.

Spend the time refining (and sometimes tempering) these comments and exploring “what else can we do to improve from here?” Not only will they be more likely to “own” the solution, but they will often surprise you with the suggestions and insights they bring.


5. Prioritize one or two things to work on at a time

It’s easy to create a long list of behaviors that need improvement. It’s difficult to keep track of so many things and it’s painful to look at all the faults at once.

If you look back to the expectations you’ve set and the behaviors you’ve identified that will produce the desired results, the performance gap likely boils down to one or two things that if improved would really change the game.

This could be subtle selling skills or personal behaviors, or defending techniques that will shut down the offense. The same concepts apply.


6. Make getting feedback accepted and appreciated

Finally, the best coaches I’ve observed and the most successful teams are the ones who create a highly collaborative sales coaching environment. They make it okay, even desirable to give and receive feedback. 

High-performing teams relish in the fact that everyone is practicing and improving his or her game every day. The star players and newest recruits all get attention and they all receive feedback – with clear priorities for improvement.

It’s not punitive, it’s not criticism. It’s a supportive dialogue about how to improve performance. Talk about it. Celebrate it. Make it infectious to improve, and see if it helps improve the “game.”


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About Ray Makela

Ray Makela is the General Manager of the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation, and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.