As a sales leader, you depend on your team to contribute consistently and predictably towards achievement of sales goals. However, what should you do if previously top-performing sellers on the team start to slide backwards? How do you get them back on track and keep them there?

Many first-line sales managers don’t really know what to do when top performers on their team stumble. Most of them feel comfortable when coaching rookies or average performers. However, they aren’t as confident about how to coach an experienced seller with a strong record of success, especially when a high performer falters. 

The reason for this is simple. Most sales managers, especially those new to the position, mistakenly believe that coaching is equivalent to providing good advice based on their own past success and experience. As a result, when working with someone who already has a good sales track record and considerable experience, many sales managers are at a loss about how best to coach a veteran performer.

Providing useful advice is certainly a desirable outcome of coaching, but most sales managers need to rethink how they go about doing this. Effective coaching starts first with establishing standards of excellence and coming to an agreement with sales people about what those standards require.

Coaching sales behavior against agreed-upon standards enables managers to help each sales person, regardless of their performance history. This will help a sales person come to their own realization of what they can do to improve.



There are three steps to standards-based sales coaching: 

#1 Establish standards for customer engagement

Cptr9_1_EstablishStandards.jpgIt is first important to have agreed-upon expectations for how your sales people should engage with customers and how your sales managers should engage with their sales people. 

Standards for effective sales engagement should include:
  • Ideal pipeline characteristics – how large and how dynamic should the pipelines be?

  • Ideal customer profile – what do your best customers look like?

  • The customer buying process(es) – what are their buying preferences?

  • Aligned seller process steps, with verifiable outcomes at each step
  • Opportunity qualification criteria – when should you walk away from a deal?

  • Criteria for sales management reviews and coaching

#2 Train sales managers to assess and diagnose against your standards

Cptr9_2_Diagnose.jpgWith clear standards, your sales managers then have objective criteria against which performance issues they will need to assess and diagnose, regardless of any sales person’s tenure or experience.

By examining each seller’s pipeline shape, managers can identify skill, time and activity management issues. Standards enable your sales managers to proactively identify issues and prescribe corrective action before emerging issues grow into big problems.

#3 Train sales managers to coach effectively against standards

Cptr9_3_CoachAgainstStandards.jpgEffective coaching entails observing what happened relative to a standard, knowing why it happened and then reaching an agreement with the seller on how they can comply better with expectations.

If the manager’s diagnosis is based on objective criteria and accurate observations, then a high-performing sales person will be more open to listening and acting. 



Good coaching is both a science and an art. While coaching to objective standards is important, there’s also a human side to coaching. It’s important to understand the preferred work style of each sales person, so that the sales manager can coach them effectively. Using an assessment tool like DISC can help sales managers better understand each seller’s preferred style and how to best align with those in their charge.

Too many sales managers rely only on informal, on-the-spot coaching. The best sales managers also establish a regular pattern for formal review of pipelines and opportunities, taking the time to prepare for each coaching conversation.Cptr9_ArtAndScience.jpg


You have written an excellent piece. I do not say that lightly

VP of SALES, $3 Billion Revenue Co.

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