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Promoted! How to Develop a Sales Team

As sales manager, you can focus on the short-term and drive sales results to meet this period’s goals. It’s a lather-rinse-repeat approach, and you’ll be doing exactly the same thing next period and next year. A much better choice is focusing on the long-term to build sellers’ competence and confidence so they can drive sales results to meet each periods’ goals on their own. This option isn’t possible, though, unless you learn how to develop a sales team.

To develop a strong sales team, you’ll first have to pick your role. Are you manager, mentor or coach? The differences are illustrated in this table.


How to Develop a Sales Team: 3 Roles You Can Play


Manager Response

Mentor Response

Coach Response

A sales territory has been vacant for 2 months. New hire seller starts today…

Compress onboarding to get seller on the street as quickly as possible

Conduct onboarding between 4-legged sales calls; demonstrate how to sell your product

Complete onboarding, training and ramp up as usual to ensure learning and mastery.

Seller is only 3% away from making quota but has run out of ideas…

Tell seller who to call on and what to pitch

Share stories about times when you were in the same situation as a seller and made things happen

Use coaching questions to shift perspective and liberate seller to see additional options

Seller isn’t updating CRM in a timely manner and forecasts are inaccurate…

Set expectations and deadlines so you get data when you need it

Explain why this data is needed and how you found time to make updates as a seller

Brainstorm with seller about ways to fit this into daily routines and how it will benefit seller to do so

You observe seller losing a sale by not answering a buyer objection…

Document the error and put this into the employee file

Jump in to show the seller how this objection should be answered. Save the sale by doing so.

Debrief the call to promote self-discovery of what could have been done differently

Seller has call reluctance and doesn’t want to “be pushy” with callbacks…

Monitor call activity and have discussion when seller is not meeting acceptable standards

Do reverse role play so seller can learn from the way you’d handle these callbacks

Ask seller questions to surface hidden issues and address perceptual barriers

Seller is struggling and will likely miss quote for a 3rd consecutive period

Prepare a Performance Improvement Plan and consult with HR

Show seller, again, how to close clients instead of accepting continuances

Find out, from seller, what the skills gaps are and develop plan (together) for remedying

Top performer asks you to help prepare her for a move into management…

Encourage focus on sales as a way to prove ability now, in this job

Tell seller the steps you took to position yourself for a promotion

Facilitate goal-setting so seller has a road map to develop management skills in current role


What’s the Difference between, Managing, Mentoring, and Coaching? 

Graphic Showing Personal Trainer on Weigh Lifting The best-case scenario is for a sales manager to situationally shift between these roles. You’ll manage when needed, shift to mentor in the next situation because that’s what’s needed, and then segue into coaching when that’s what will best suit the needs of the individual and situation.

You can’t make those shifts, though, unless you know the difference.  Let’s use these simple definitions, all based on the word origins that go a little deeper than our everyday use of these words:

To manage means to handle. Managers handle today’s work. They get work done through other people, and they are measured by the team’s collective performance.

To mentor means to advise. Mentors show others how to do things. They tell people how to get things done. They have a superior level of expertise and have answers and abilities others may not.

 To coach means to extract. Coaches promote self-discovery. They draw our ideas, options, and plans from the people they coach. They don’t give directions, instructions, answers, or advice. Instead, they facilitate discussions so others will come up with their own goals and choose their own commitments. 

 If you’d like to learn more about the differences between mentoring and coaching, take a look at this free, on-demand webinar.

Each of these approaches produces results. Each serves a purpose in developing a sales team. All three, together, produces stronger results and better-developed sales teams.  Let’s look at each, in turn. 

 How to Develop a Sales Team as a Manager

 It’s true that practice makes perfect. The more people repeat and refine an action, the better they will get (assuming they have adequate training and examples of what “good” looks like).

You can manage sales activities with this in mind. The more calls people make, the more competence and confidence they’ll have in making calls. (Remember: that’s IF they have training and know what a good call is!). By setting expectations for activities that produce results, you’ll be forcing skills practice. This is a form of development.

Since standards are typically the same across a group, managing is a form of development that is also efficient. You set standards for a group and monitor everyone by the same standard. You can make comparisons, and peers can observe and learn from each other. 

How to Develop a Sales Team as a Mentor 

Show-and-tell can help others develop by providing an example. Getting a concrete example of what it “looks like” makes it possible for sellers to emulate you. Examples provide an extra measure of courage. They turn the abstract into something more concrete.

Mentoring can be offered to a group or to an individual. Your stories and experience remain the same no matter how many people you’re talking to. For development, you may wish to engage each individual in discussing how to apply what you’re sharing. By connecting the dots, there’s an increased likelihood that they will do something in response to the mentoring. 

How to Develop a Sales Team as a Coach 

This is where the magic really happens. Coaching isn’t what you think it is. It’s not like athletic coaching. It’s not demonstrating. It’s not cheerleading or therapy or training. Coaching is a specific discipline. Certified business and sales coaches earn credentials by putting hundreds of hours into training and practicing. They abide by a Code of Ethics that guide their actions.

Coaching helps people develop by stretching them to apply what they already know in new ways. It makes each individual responsible for his or her own development. With coaching, people buy in sooner and make deeper commitments to their own development. They set their own goals for development, explore the obstacles that could interfere with attaining those goals, consider options for working through those obstacles, and craft action plans to reach their goals despite those obstacles.

Coaching follows a model like this one, the GROW Coaching Model from Sir John Whitmore, a pioneer in the field of business coaching.

Coaches ask questions, facilitate the generation of ideas, reflect back what the seller says about their own goals and obstacles, challenge “can’t do” attitudes, and promote self-discovery. Coaches do not give answers, even when they have answers to give. Instead, they help people learn from themselves instead of teaching them.

Coaching is intended to unlock the potential that already exists inside an individual. Tim Gallwey, another business coaching thought leader, described it this way. “People are like acorns. Every acorn contains, within itself, all the potential to become a mighty oak tree. All that’s needed is nourishment, encouragement, and light to reach toward, but the oaktreeness is already within.”

People respond to coaching because it dignifies what they already know and can already do. It accesses their own potential and entrusts, to the individual, his or her own development.

Coaches ask questions like these, following the GROW Model.

  • In order to develop your prospecting skills, what will you need to do? (GOAL)
  • What do you foresee that could interfere with doing that? (REALITY)
  • What are three things you could do if that interference does occur? (OPTIONS)
  • Describe your plan for getting started. (WHAT’S NEXT) 


Which Approach Does Your Sales Team Need for Development? 

If you’ve inherited a struggling sales team with low motivation or a history of poor performance, you may need to focus first on managing to turn the team around. Basic block-and-tackle sales activities can be managed. You set the expectation and monitor to make sure each seller is delivering what’s expected. 

If you’ve inherited a high-performing sales team, you can spend less time managing and more time focusing right away on development. No matter how strong the team, there is always room for continued and ongoing development!

In addition to considering the needs of your team, consider the needs of each individual seller. Situationally and individually, there are different responses required. Sellers are going to be at different stages in their career. They will have different learning styles and preferences. They will have different types of relationships with you and personalities all their own. You’ll need to take all of that into account as you determine with development approach to take. For example:

  • A new hire seller without much experience needs a manager to spell out exactly what activities are required. This seller has no ideas of their own, so a coaching conversation may not be very productive. This seller isn’t able to understand what you did because they’re still grappling with the most basic skills that you’ve long forgotten as they become natural and habitual for you.
  • A long-tenured veteran seller may resent managing and mentoring. This seller has plenty of ideas and is capable of evaluating options to tackle most sales scenarios. This seller may have more stories and experience than you do, so your mentoring is unlikely to provide new insights. Telling this seller what to do, how much to do, and how to do it could backfire, so managing may be ineffective, too. Coaching, on the other hand, taps into that vast well of experience and dignifies what the seller already knows and has done.
  • A mid-range performer who wants to improve could, potentially, benefit from any of these approaches. If you’ve already tried managing and mentoring, it’s time to give coaching a shot. Different people respond to different methods. This mid-range performer may not be someone who is easily stirred by extrinsic motivators. The carrot-and-stick management method may not produce any change. Coaching, on the other hand, may tap into intrinsic motivations that are highly effective with this individual.
  • A slow-to-change seller might need you to light a fire underneath them in order to produce desired change. Coaching to light a fire within someone or to fan a spark they already have might not be expedient. Mentoring is unlikely to work with this individual because their resistance to change makes your stories hard to relate to.
  • An interactive learner will likely enjoy mentoring stories and advice. The questions they ask will help them translate your experience to their own situation.

The point is this. When it comes to development, there is no one-size-fits-all. Your ability to be nimble and responsive will help you see what works best for each seller.

A word of caution. Most people tend to teach the way they prefer to learn. If you are someone who learns from others’ stories and experiences, for example, you’ll have a natural tendency to mentor others. Your needs, though, aren’t their needs. Take time to evaluate who needs what and flex to develop people in ways that will work best for them.  

Paradigm Shift: Build the People Who Will Build the Business

 Fundamentally, this is the premise behind shifting between three roles and developing members of the sales team. You want to build the people who will build the business. You don’t want to be starting over again every quota period. You don’t want to be carrying the heaviest load, with sellers over-relying on you as the mercenary closer or problem-solving superhero.

Eleanor Roosevelt said

“A good leader causes others to have confidence in the leader. A great leader causes people to have confidence in themselves.”

Your aim is to be a great leader. You need sellers who are able to work autonomously. They need to make sales happen, even when you’re not there. They need to proactively prevent problems and solve any problems that do arise.

Sustainable, scalable growth is only possible when you expand the capacity of the team. To increase year-over-year sales, your team has to be able to do more next year than they’re doing this year. If they aren’t developing, that’s unlikely to happen.

Short-term thinking will keep you mired in the work of managing for today and this period. The only way to ensure stronger results, less stress, and ever-growing capacity is to think longer term. That necessitates people development.

Development is accelerated by sales coaching. Managing and mentoring simply don’t produce the same effects. They are important, and they serve a specific purpose. But managing and mentoring are not enough if you’re aiming for a strong sales team that doesn’t need you looking over their shoulder every few minutes.

Sales coaching has documented benefits and proven ROI. Only coaching provides a 5.7x ROI (Manchester Study), and only true coaching boosts employee engagement and retention at double digit rates. Remember, what you’re calling “coaching” may be mentoring… And mentoring doesn’t deliver the same results as coaching does. That’s why becoming a good sales coach is worth your time.

What does it take to be a good sales coach? Good news! Coaching requires many of the very same skills that made you highly effective as a seller. 

And bad news… coaching is more challenging than managing or mentoring. It takes more time. It requires learning, practicing, and mastering new skills. It also requires patience, empathy, strong listening skills, critical thinking, and a willingness to observe and ask questions instead of expediently giving the “right” answer. 

Coaching requires different skills and a different perspective. You may not have time to develop or deploy coaching competencies. Maybe your organization has expectations for you to do managing, mentoring, and/or selling work that keep you from coaching. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that you sellers’ development will be stunted without a sales coach.

To develop a sales team, you may need to develop yourself as a sales coach or supplement your managing and mentoring with an external coach. The key to your success is the long-term development of the sales team. Stubbornly clinging to a short-term focus deprives them of development opportunities, diminishes their ability to grow sales as much as they could be, and holds you back, too, as you miss out on participating in higher-level strategic work (because you’re putting out fires and fixated on short-term goals).  

Sales coaching is a true game changer. Take time to learn more about it.

Did you know PFPS trains sales coaches? Let us train your sales management team, or supplement the work they do. Click the button below to get in touch with us and let us know about your coaching needs.

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