The Ironies in Coaching


By Allen Bessel, VP Client Solutions, Optimé International Inc. 

In my last blog, I emphasized the power of active listening and how it leads to great questions, and, ultimately, great coaching. In a regularly scheduled 1:1 coaching setting, you now (if you followed that advice) have a great roadmap to getting to know your team members, where their strengths are and what skills or behaviours they may need to develop.  

But what if your world of corporate sales rarely comes neatly packaged in a series of 1:1 meetings where things happen on schedule. For most, problems can arise, seemingly out of nowhere. Some you can see brewing for a while. You get called into unexpected meetings and phone calls that make your time unpredictable. If you have a large team, you are inevitably familiar with the barrage of phone calls and door knocks that descend upon you from your staff with a mountain of URGENT problems. Issues that need a decision, intervention or escalation. And if you respond and step in to ‘quickly’ solve all the problems that are asked of you – you can easily spend all your time doing just that.

Jumping in to solve the ‘urgent’ issue is a strong reaction most of us have. If the issue involves a customer, isn’t it everyone’s best interest to see it solved correctly and quickly? And if your network inside the organization allows you to cut through the clutter to enroll the right people to address the issue, aren’t you the one best suited to drive the quick fix? Of course you are! And your customers deserve your best service in resolving issues. 

As a conscientious leader, watching someone on your team twist in the wind is never a great way to deliver learning or development! But deep down, we also know that there is a better, more sustainable way to help your team members become as good – or maybe even better – at solving those same problems as you are. 

Key to helping your team develop their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills is to coach them to discover their own abilities and nurture their own relationships with important internal partners throughout the organization. How? By sharing what you know and what you do – likely subconsciously – through the questions you ask while coaching! Questions like “What the first step in resolving this?” and “Who else needs to be involved? Informed?” are great coaching questions that encourage critical thinking. “What can you do to avoid this happening next time?” is another great question that even works after those instances when you have to get involved to resolve the urgent issues mentioned earlier. 

What’s the charm with questioning like this? If you were to slow down enough to bring your subconscious response to a crisis, back to a conscious level, those are the questions you ask and answer yourself. Through your experience, you know how to address each crisis and who else needs to be involved and informed. And that’s how we develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills with the people we coach! (It also builds accountability but that’s the topic for the next post…)

According to the Sales Readiness Group, great sales manager should be spending up to 40% of their time coaching. That’s a lot of time, but when you consider that building problem-solving and critical thinking skills across your staff will invariably save you lots of time in the long run, it is worth the investment. (Better yet – hire for those skills to begin with. For tips on how to do that, watch for a blog post coming out from my colleague, Optime’s COO Marty Blake, soon)

Many managers make the mistake of spending an equal amount of time coaching each of their reps, but that approach doesn’t maximize the return on your time investment. If you are wondering how to divide your coaching hours amongst your team, The Sales Readiness Group offers the following rule of thumb: 

  • 60% of your coaching time with your salespeople with average skill levels,
  • 15% of your coaching time with your salespeople with low skill levels, and
  • 25% of your coaching time with your salespeople with high skill levels.

The reason you should spend most of your coaching time with mid-level or average-skilled team members, is that this group will usually provide you with the highest return on your time investment. These are the ones that have the most potential for improvement. Strong coaching can help an average performer become a high achiever.

Salespeople with weaker skills, may not have the potential to be successful on your team. For these reps, you need to consider whether coaching is a productive use of your time. Maybe they do (have the potential) but often you can be sucked in to spending a lot of time coaching when they simply can’t get there. You might need to look at other options for them.

Highly skilled team members may have some room for improvement, so don’t ignore your top performers. They too need to stretch their skills. Make sure to empower and challenge them to keep them engaged and rewarded but spending a lot of time coaching high performers won’t give you the same return as coaching average performers. 

So, the key message here is to make sure you have a strategic and firm calendar for coaching across your entire sales organization. Get ahead of the next URGENT issue that they ask you to solve. Run these sessions with active listening and demonstrating the very skills you are working to instill in them. Asking the right questions and analyzing the responses to formulate the next question is the perfect formula to build problem solving skills. In the long run – you will have a solid team of critical thinkers and problem solvers that won’t be lined up at your door.

Check out to find more tools and tips to take your sales organization from good to outstanding.

Good luck and good selling!