Coaching is the way sales managers help salespeople move results from good to great. But although most sales managers know the importance of coaching, few do it properly.

The biggest mistake I see in sales coaching is that most sales managers attempt to do it from the comfort of their office, instead of doing it in the field while making calls with a salesperson. Office coaching is not the best way to coach, and it only leads to less than optimal performance from the salesperson.

See, the purpose of sales coaching is to ensure your salespeople produce the right results. The right results come from doing the right things. The right things are the behaviors and actions a salesperson takes to make sales — the successful implementation of your company’s sales processes that lead to sales, strong margins and happy customers.

How will you know if your salesperson is using the correct behaviors if you don’t observe her in action?

I’m not advising you to coach a sales rep during a call. I am advising you to make calls with the rep, engage in pre-call planning, observe the rep during the call, and coach the rep after the call — so he improves.

In the field is where sales happen. Coaching in the field is mandatory for optimal success. Block out a day to make in-field sales calls with your salesperson. Give your full attention to the day with your rep. Don’t be on the phone with others or sending emails and texts. Devote your day to in-field coaching.

You’ll gain a great understanding of the performance of the sales rep. Even better, you’ll learn more about the rep as a person, and you’ll connect with him or her on a deeper, more meaningful level. This will help you in your further coaching of the rep.

In-field calls help you evaluate the approach and the professionalism of the rep. I once made in-field calls on the day my salesperson was delivering homemade cookies to his key accounts. This action told me a lot about him as a rep, and laid the groundwork for meaningful dialogue with customers that strengthened my knowledge of the market and my relationship with some key accounts.

There are several key elements to successful in-field coaching:

  • Devote your full attention to coaching the rep. Take care of returning calls and checking emails at lunch and when sales calls for the day are complete.

  • Don’t take over the call. You can only coach by observing the behaviors of the rep, and you can’t do that if you enter the conversation. You should even allow them to fail. You are there to coach.

  • Keep the rep to their normal routine as much as possible. You want to observe typical behaviors. I’d often only give my reps one day advanced notice that I was going to make in-field calls with them.

  • Engage in pre-call planning. Have the rep state the clear purpose of the meeting. Have them define what the customer hopes to achieve from the meeting. Make them share what they hope to accomplish — what will be a great outcome? Ask about the meeting plan and how they see the meeting unfolding.

  • Your real coaching happens after each meeting. Hold your comments until you’ve heard first from your rep. Ask them what went well in the meeting. Was the objective achieved? Then ask them what they would change if they could. Find out how the rep feels they need to follow up. Let them talk, you listen. Letting the rep talk first allows you to determine if their assessment of the call coincides with yours. Their assessment of the call gives you valuable insight concerning additional training and/or coaching the rep might need.

  • Now, share your observations with your rep. I like to start by telling them what I thought they did well. Then, focus on two or three that could have gone better. By limiting yourself to several items, you aren’t overwhelming the rep and you’re giving them a manageable number of things to work on for improvement.

After your day of calls with the sales rep, send her a follow up summary of each call. Describe what went well and the improvement opportunities with each. Putting this in writing helps the rep and you, and it serves as a basis for continuing coaching.