The 4 BIGGEST Mistakes Sales Coaches Make (…and how remarkably simple they are to fix!)

I think that you know that an effective personal coaching session with a salesperson can be a very powerful tool. A great one-on-one session can change someone’s business trajectory. (Or even save a person’s career!)

If you’re a leader, your ability to conduct an effective coaching conversation can be the difference between being just an average sales manager, and actually becoming the leader of a #legacy sales team. All great leaders know how difficult it is to effectively coach people. They recognize how tough it is to influence their key people enough to effect a behavioral change in both thoughts and actions.

In this article I’m going to expose what I believe to be the 4 biggest mistakes sales coaches make.

But before we get to that…

I asked a very talented sales leader (one that I personally coach) a key question a few weeks back. I asked her, “What do you believe your job as a sales leader really is?” She replied with the following: (I’ll convert them into bullet points for you)

  • To help my team become more skilled.” (Competent)
  • “I want to assist them in developing more confidence in themselves.”
  • “Mostly—and most importantly—it’s my job to help them become self-reliant.”

What a great answer…I have coached her well! LOL! The “self reliant” part is the real key, because I doubt that any leader reading this article is thinking, “I have so much free time on my hands that all I want to do is babysit needy salespeople all day.”

What I’ve learned (specifically over the last four years of executive level coaching) is that our natural instincts get in the way of good and effective coaching! I’m not saying that we are bad managers or flawed leaders; I’m simply suggesting that many sales leaders often approach coaching in exactly the wrong way!

“Our natural instincts get in the way of  good and effective coaching!”

I’m going to explain this in more detail and also tell you about the 4 really big errors that many sales coaches and trainers make. I’m also going to tell you how to FIX them! They actually aren’t that hard to correct. If you recognize these 4 mistakes and adopt the right habits the whole coaching experience will be better for YOU and also much better for those you are coaching.

Here we go…the 4 BIGGEST mistakes sales coaches make:

  1. Giving too much ADVICE

The first mistake is a BIG human nature thing. We desperately want to help and we believe we have all the answers—or worse—we think that they think we SHOULD have all the answers. So when we sit one-on-one with them we begin by spewing out an endless stream of advice—what they SHOULD be doing…how they SHOULD be thinking! We want to help…we want to act and sound smart.

“We believe we have all the answers—or worse—we think that they think that we SHOULD have all the answers”

Again…human nature, right? We’re the leader. We are the person that hired them, or at least we’re the person currently responsible for their success or failure. We just can’t stop ourselves. They’re sitting in front of us, so we fire down on them.

We need to remedy this first big mistake if we are guilty of it. We need to stop dumping advice on them, or at least drastically slow down the one-way verbal assault. When members of our team come to us seeking feedback and we immediately jump in with advice, it’s the wrong reflex to have. This reaction is all too common because, we are advice-giving terrorists! LOL! We actually LOVE doing this. It makes us feel good and important.

“This reaction is all too common because, we are advice-giving terrorists!”

But here’s the problem…

In most cases we don’t know what their real—underlying—issues and problems are yet because we haven’t asked the right questions. (However, we have no shortage of thoughts about how to go about fixing their problems!) Again, rapid fire advising makes us feel pretty good—like we are doing our job. Occasionally, we even solve some of the smaller, immediate challenges they’re having, however, this coaching mistake actually creates a BIGGER problem!

The people we are trying to coach (and develop) become too dependent on us for answers. This flawed coaching method stymies their development. When we don’t ask them questions, it doesn’t force them to think for themselves and we become exasperated as they become comfortable making more and more requests of our time, pinging our mobile device 24/7.

Who’s to blame when our salespeople are, “too needy?” The answer is obvious. We are!

Our need to spew out hasty and voluminous answers and advice sends the wrong message. It actually conditions them to rely on US and not work things out for themselves. It’s ultimately incapacitating for them—it weakens them—and it becomes exhausting for us.

“It actually conditions them to rely on US and not work things out for themselves.”

So, if we plan to become an effective and respected coach and trainer, the first practice we must adopt is to become slow to offer tons of advice up front.

  1. Not asking initial clarifying questions

(…and thinking you already know the real issue)

If big mistake #1 is giving too much advice up front, then, logically, error #2 is not asking clarifying questions of them up front so we can start a meaningful dialogue.

Instead of offering a barrage of advice initially, we need to ask some very good questions, ones that can (and will) begin a very valuable conversation. The science of the brain tells us that this method makes people feel:

  • Self-governing
  • Significant
  • Clear
  • Connected
  • Understood

These are all good things, right? When you get them feeling like you’re with them and understand them, they’re much more likely to stay engaged and actually bring the best of themselves to the table. Asking good, basic questions that clarify what their real issues are is the best way to promote those productive feelings.

When a salesperson pops into your office to request help solving a problem, or during a scheduled coaching session, probe them first. Ask them some of the following clarifying questions: (In your own words)

  • “Tell me more about what’s transpiring when this occurs.”
  • “Why is this issue important to you now?” (If not obvious)
  • “What will happen if we don’t fix this?” (The cost)
  • “Tell me what work you’ve done on this issue so far.”
  • “What IDEAS do you already have about this issue?”

And listen carefully.

I do this all of the time with my personal coaching clients and it works like magic! The person on the other side of the table has to do the two things you need and want them to do during a coaching exchange: THINK + ENGAGE

When you practice the method of asking clarifying questions, the coaching session (formal or informal) gets moving in the right direction initially and you’d be shocked at what happens when you ask that last question…“What ideas do you already have about this issue?”

More than 80% of the time they’ll arrive at the answer you would have given them. This method is a million times more valuable because they come up with logical and viable solutions on their own and their issues get solved, and THEY solved them. (With your help)

And they feel smart and self-reliant!

But what if their first answers clearly miss the mark or aren’t very emotive? Or what if you know that the issue they’re asking about isn’t the REAL underlying issue or root cause of the problem?

Should you jump in with advice on the surface issue and call it a day and go get a Starbucks?


  1. Not being willing to go DEEPER

(Moving from the head to the gut)

Sometimes, we ask basic clarifying questions and our subject responds with some great and logical answers for themselves.

But sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes we need to go a little deeper!

The 3rd biggest mistake sales coaches make is not going deep enough—not asking the tough questions that move you from the surface of things to where most all problems stem from, the heart and the gut.

When we are willing to ask the tougher questions of our new or struggling salesperson amazing things happen! (Or they run out of your office and you never see them again! LOL!) I am satisfied with either response because I like to get to the root cause and fix things and not waste time.

“When we are willing to ask the tougher questions of our new or struggling salesperson amazing things happen!”

For example…you’re coaching, “Bob”. Bob was excited about the position when he popped out of classroom training. He was still excited and working diligently a few weeks after basic training. But now you and Bob are 6 – 8 weeks into his career and the activity level (and enthusiasm) is dropping off a cliff. Bob and you are face-to-face for a coaching session and Bob is asking about “other ways” to prospect and create appointments. (That don’t involve cold calling) He’s telling you that the script he learned in sales school doesn’t work…or worse, Bob tells you that, “Everyone in my assigned territory has been called on.”  

I know…you’re nodding your head; you’ve been there!

As a coach, you have two choices. The first choice is to address the issues that Bob is spewing out. You can go down the road of talking about buying expensive pre-set appointments, but there are two problems with that…#1, most new salespeople can’t afford them, and #2, if they can’t close a decision maker on giving them a 20 minute appointment, what makes you think they can close them once they are face-to-face? You can also argue the merits of the words and phrases on the script (or track) they are being asked to follow, but that’s silly because that SAME process IS working for others. You can even begin to peck away at Bob’s challenge with his assigned territory, but you and Bob both know that less than 15 – 20% of the target prospects in your area are current clients, so that discussion is really a big waste of time too.

The second choice you have is to move from the head to the gut. (Or the heart if necessary!)

GREAT coaches listen to all of this stuff without offering justification about proven sales processes, or methods, or arguing about the client penetration in the assigned territory. Highly skilled sales leaders are smarter than that. They are willing to get to the root of the matter, even if it is awkward or uncomfortable. They are willing to move below the surface and go deep.

“Highly skilled sales leaders are willing to get to the root of the matter, even if it is awkward or uncomfortable.”  

Simply stated…great coaches are unafraid to move into deep emotional waters. Given the example scenario above, a skilled leader would lean back and calmly ask:

“What’s really going on here, Bob? Tell me about what you’re feeling right now”

That question moves from the surface (the head) to a deeper place. (The gut or the heart) A masterful coach may even go more aggressive—issue a challenge and ask a deep question in a very polite and caring way:

“Bob, our methods and processes aren’t on trial here. We know what works. And we wouldn’t have hired and trained you if we didn’t think you had the talent to do this work. There’s something going on that we aren’t addressing here—there’s something that’s stopping you from doing the work. Would you mind sharing it with me?”

When you are willing to go deeper you can get to the root of the problem, then you can mutually decide whether it is ‘fixable’ or not. If you ask Bob the question stated above (in your own words) his response may sound something like this:

The thing that’s really killing me is the rejection. I think I’m a good salesperson, but if I get a few doors shut in my face, I get real down on myself. And my wife is starting to question whether I should be doing this.”

Ahhhh…the real issue!

These are the real issues that you need to ask questions about. Bob has call reluctance. He’s not yet learned how to re-frame and re-label the words, REJECTION + FAILURE into something more productive and positive. His emotional gas tank is emptying by the day. Bob hasn’t adopted the right MINDSET. He’s not making prospecting a game. He doesn’t fully understand the metrics and how to put the law of large numbers in his favor while maintaining a chipper attitude.

BTW…We cover this and teach this in detail in The CAP Equation Book. (You haven’t bought the book yet? What the heck are you waiting for?)

But getting back to the “Bob” example…call reluctance is the real issue…not that other stuff! Oh, and Bob’s wife….you have some more questions to ask and more coaching to do there.

Once you are able to help Bob re-frame and re-label rejection and assist him in understanding how to put the numbers in on a regular basis, his calendar and pipeline will fill up. That alone may solve the challenge of a doubting spouse, but if it doesn’t, you have to help Bob formulate a conversation with his spouse.

If you are willing to go deep, you can get to the REAL reasons Bob’s activity level and production has slipped. Then you can fix those things.

Okay, the last (but not least) big mistake sales coaches make…

  1. Being a HIT + RUN coach

(Not being consistent with your coaching cycle)

This is mistake #4…it’s huge, and it’s all too common.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but for the love of God, Don’t be that guy (or lady) who only coaches people when it’s convenient or when they reach out to you. That is a horrible practice, it’s lazy and it will erode any trust or influence you have built up.

I’m going to preach at you for a moment. Here’s a short list of what I’d like you to do so that your coaching process is consistent and persistent:

  • HARDWIRE regular (and formal) coaching sessions into the calendar (weekly, bi-weekly, whatever your system calls for)
  • Take good notes during the session (the stuff that will kill them if you don’t fix it)
  • Agree on action points (very clear, exact and fixable)
  • Agree on timelines for correction (short ones…3 – 5 days)
  • Revisit the prior agreements and inspect the results that you both expect (Get things fixed!)

Okay…I’m done preaching.

But really…after reading this, I never again want you to…

  1. Dump advice on them up front cause you wanna look smart
  2. Not begin the session by asking clarifying questions
  3. Be afraid to get down to the CORE of the matter


  1. Do the ‘drive by’ coaching thing!

So the 4 BIG mistakes are all easy to correct, don’t you agree? You simply have to be aware of the methods that work. If you spent the time to read this I know you can become a more effective coach, even a GREAT coach with just a little reflection and work.

I have a few questions for you today…

Was this type of content helpful for you?

Are you in a place now where becoming better at your role is critical to your career?

If you were able to jump into the mind of leaders that have walked the walk ahead of you, would that shortcut be helpful?

Do you believe that there are still little things missing from your competencies and mindsets that are holding you back?

If you were able to fix or improve small (or larger) areas of your business, how would it affect your current income and future results? Would that make a positive difference in your life and lifestyle?

If you’re a sales leader that answered, “YES” to at least 2 of these questions I want to invite you to access a unique leadership program that we have recently elevated to our home site. It is unlike any other content you may have experienced and it will change the way you think about many facets of your business.

It’s an awesome and far-reaching leadership program that I just took 74 handpicked leaders through. Their results after applying the content have been amazing to watch!

My staff has converted all of the sessions we just completed to an online program, so all of the people that weren’t able to be part of that small original group can now access it and take as much time as they need to absorb all of it.

GO to the link below and take a look:

Invitation to look at our Leading With INFLUENCE Master Class

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Joe Buzzello is a nationally recognized expert on the roles of direct selling, entrepreneurialism and leadership. He has built legacy sales teams and experienced unprecedented success in individual and business-to-business markets as well as the network marketing industry. Joe has held executive level positions for Fortune 500 companies, but he has never strayed far from the art and science of selling, which he loves. In early 2014, Joe began writing, speaking, and coaching through his platform, and The CAP Equation©.


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