Soapbox: Coach to Gain the Win

Hiring the most talented or experienced people isn’t enough. Inspiring them to give their best is the only way to lead your team members to achieve all they’re capable of.

By Jason Forrest

Sales team leaders: Do you manage to gain the win or to prevent the loss? I talk to clients all the time who try to tell me that they take a proactive approach to managing their team members, as well as the sales. But when I dig a little deeper, I find they’re sitting in their offices, taking phone calls from sales professionals, making sure marketing collateral looks good, and talking about customer offers. During those calls, they have one overriding goal—get the deal to the finish line without getting creamed and losing a ton of profit. In football, this approach would be like being in a goal-line stance; knowing that you’re about to get scored on; and doing all you can just to hold your opponents to a field goal.

Defense is “an action of defending from or resisting an attack,” an “attempt to protect/defend against opposition,” or a “barrier against attack.” When leaders of sales teams manage defensively, they are just trying to survive. Offense is “the action of attacking” or “the team or players who are attempting to score or advance the ball.” An offensive coach takes offensive measures. She coaches (rather than manages), she strategizes potential sales before they happen, and she taps into team members’ “why” and inspires them to give their best.

Managing vs. Coaching

Managing is what you do to someone; coaching is what you do for them. If I had my way, any reference to manager or director would be eliminated from sales leaders’ business cards and replaced with a title that identifies them with preparing, educating, inspiring, and holding people accountable for what they’re worth. The title would be “sales coach.” Even the definitions for manager and coach evoke very different feelings—one is associated with control and limitations, the other with inspiration and progress. A manager is “a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.” Did you notice the word, “control,” in that definition? That causes feelings of oppression and domination. And for good reason—its synonyms are hold back, bridle, check, constrain, repress, corner, smother, and subdue. On the other hand, a coach is “a person who trains an athlete or a team of athletes.” Think of your people as corporate athletes—people who get paid based on their performance and contributions to the team. Would you rather control or lead? Be exhausted or fulfilled? It’s exhausting to try to find ways to force people to get the job done. On the other hand, coaching is energizing and fulfilling because you know you are leading people to achieve more than they could accomplish by themselves.

An important aspect of gaining the win is strategizing the sale before it happens. Find out when your sales professionals are having their prospect appointments and talk through the exact process and presentation (play) they plan to use in order to make the sale happen. Talk through potential objections and how the sales professional is going to handle those. Before you call the play, you make a strategy. This is a great time to role-play so the sales pro can confidently execute the play you’ve agreed upon. This gives him the highest probability for success (rather than having him make it up as he goes along).

Getting to Know You

When a sales coach knows his people, he can tap into the passions and the “why” behind why they do what they do. Hiring the most talented people isn’t enough. Hiring the most experienced isn’t enough. Even getting team members to do what they’re supposed to do isn’t enough. Inspiring them to give their best is the only way to lead your team members to achieve all they’re capable of. And the only way to do that is to know them. Take Jane, for example. Jane was once a model sales professional, but she’d lost hope and she felt like there was no point in taking prospects through her demonstration because “nobody can qualify,” and “people can’t afford to buy right now anyway.”

Jane was waiting for customers to prove they were interested before giving them her best. I asked Jane, “Have you ever walked through a subway or downtown area and seen a street musician playing her heart out, making beautiful music? Maybe 99 percent of the people who walk by don’t even notice, let alone put any change in her case. But she’s not playing to get a quarter, is she?”

Jane shook her head. “No, she’s playing because she wants to create beautiful music.”

“Just the same,” I told her, “if you really love selling, then you’re not doing it just for work. You’re doing it because you enjoy the challenge. You love perfecting the art.”

My advice to Jane was not to worry about who could or could not buy—and just to focus on giving every customer the best Jane she could. She was inspired because her perspective changed and she wanted to give her best to each person she saw. “When you do that,” I said, “you’ll get enough people who will want to buy your sales music.” I used this example with Jane because she plays cello. Not for pay and rarely for audiences beyond her friends and family. She just plays because she loves perfecting a piece of music. Because I knew her, I was able to tap into her personal motivation. Her “why.”

So when I asked her to picture a passionate street musician, she pictured herself. Jane later told me that going into the office every day with the idea of trying to create her sales masterpiece made a big difference in her mindset. She started demonstrating her product to each prospect because it was part of mastering the sales process. And, yes, she started making more sales and enjoying her job more.

The lesson in it is that sales coaches know their people. They know their passions, their goals, and their hobbies. And they know the disappointments and successes that have shaped them. One of my coaches tapped into my passion by talking about all-state football. He said, “If you were successful then, you can do the same things now and be successful again. I believe that you’re capable.” It’s a way to transfer the coach’s beliefs to the team members. Because it doesn’t matter what their coach believes is possible unless the team member believes, too.

We each have greatness in us, because when we’re playing for fun, we reach for the highest heights because we want to. It’s a switch that turns off when we grow up. A coach’s job is to find that switch and turn it back on.

There just aren’t enough market sales (those that would happen with or without the persuasive efforts of sales coaches and sales professionals) for us to make our goals each month. Market sales can be counted by an admin, not six-figure sales coaches. You can either manage to defend a sale or coach to win it. The choice is yours—and your company’s success depends on the choice you make.

One of Trainingmagazine’s 2012 Top Young Trainers, Jason Forrest is an expert at creating high-performance sales cultures through complete training programs. He incorporates experiential learning to increase sales, implement cultural accountability, and transform companies into sales organizations. Forrest is a sales trainer; management coach; speaker; and author of three books, including his latest, “Leadership Sales Coaching: Transforming from Manager to Coach.” For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.