Harnessing Human-Centered Coaching in Sales

The right sales coaching can both empower sales employees to leverage their training and product knowledge, while also exploring the values that drive them and their customers.

Human-centered coaching (Elaine Baxter, 2019) is crucial to training programs in a multitude of settings outside of sales, and should be adopted to engage and empower sales staff, as well. Sales coaching traditionally focuses on improving an employee’s abilities, and yet the forces that drive sales reps and their customers remain difficult to address in many training environments (Will Milano, 2023). Let’s take a look at human-centered coaching and its benefits—particularly in sales environments—as well as steps to include human-centered coaching in any organization.

Understanding Human Coaching in Sales

In today’s increasingly challenging sales landscape, where virtual and remote sales are becoming the norm, new strategies to guide sales employees toward excellence are even more crucial. The right sales coaching can both empower sales employees to leverage their training and product knowledge, while also exploring the values that drive them and their customers. In sales, human coaching recognizes the importance of aligning values and motivations between sales representatives and their customers.

Any reasonably effective approach to sales coaching must teach representatives to find moments of opportunity to sell products or services (Erica Schultz, April 10, 2023). Human-centered coaching provides opportunities for employees to express their own motivations and commitments, connect those to the work at hand, and develop empathy for their customers’ aspirations. This process then helps sales employees identify human needs, rather than gaps in service—which is in line with current best practices in sales coaching (Erica Schultz, September 21, 2023). 

This approach differs by focusing on the employee and what drives them. Every employee is driven by their own hopes, fears, ambition or values. Human-centered coaches connect with coachees by sharing these drives with one another. In sales, employees are guided to connect with customers in a similar but more limited fashion. By understanding the unique values and motivations of an individual or business, sales professionals can identify product solutions that resonate with customers.

The Benefits of a Human-Centered Approach to Coaching

By coaching employees to align themselves with the goals and needs of their customers, they are able to establish genuine connections that lead to trust and engagement. It also makes it easier to “find out what really makes your prospect tick” (Warren Moss, 2017). Sales staff then are able to “co-create value” (Steve Anderson and Scott Benjamin, 2023), a collaborative process by which the employee and customer discuss needs, wants, and goals in order to find a suitable solution or product together. This frequently leads to higher likelihood of a sale. In addition to the potential for improved return on investment (ROI) through sales and customer loyalty, similar approaches to coaching and engaging employees have been shown to increase retention (Bethany Bremer, 2023) and reduce burnout (Will Milano, 2023). Other industries such as healthcare (Robert Garcia, 2022) have used human-centered coaching to improve retention and increase engagement.

Moreover, by using a human-centered approach to sales coaching, employees are guided toward proven sales behaviors. Although this style of coaching is not necessarily typical in sales, in two examples consultants have been able to demonstrate the value of a more human-centered approach to sales. They used this approach to create positive, tangible benefits in overall sales and market share for both a large brewing company in Europe and the Lego Group, especially when paired with detailed customer insight (Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen, 2014). When social scientists were brought in to consult for BeerCo, sales and profits were on the decline. They found that servers and other staff responsible for sales were not engaged with the goals or products of the company. The Lego Group similarly hired consultants to identify the cause of reduced sales, and only saw improvement when it recognized what drove its customers and created products to match its values.

Creating a Human-Centered Program

For any business interested in creating a human-centered coaching program there are three practices each coach must adopt:

  1. Identify what is important to the employee. Ask after their interests, their values, and what they hope for in their professional world and beyond. Never push employees to share more than they are comfortable—instead clearly express an interest in and openness to learning about the person, not just the employee.
  2. Co-create a coaching plan. This allows the coach to build on what they have learned about their coachee, and clearly model the collaborative approach to problem solving sales staff will be expected to use in their work.
  3. Maintain an open and inviting environment for human connection by modeling the behaviors desired in employees. Share your own values, have conversations about what drives you toward professional success or about what you look forward to on the weekend, and make that connection a priority. This final step is an ongoing commitment to model the loyalty any business desires from its employees and customers, and, perhaps more importantly, prioritizes the human value of both the coach and employee.


Dr. Joshua Schea
Dr. Joshua Schea currently uses his training in applied public anthropology to enhance facilitation and employee engagement in a financial institution. He previously has conducted research on value-centered and community-based education, as well as student engagement. Contact him at: josh.schea34@gmail.com