Are you in sales management? If so, we believe you have one of the most important and challenging roles in your company. Unfortunately, we find that most sales managers have strong forces working against them that limit their effectiveness and impact. Even worse, many of these forces are the sales managers’ own creations. In a new series of blogs, we will identify 5 of these deadly trends that hobble sales management, and then provide tactical ideas for overcoming with each one.

Trend 1: Inspection Instead of Coaching

We’ll start our series of sales management trends with one that’s easy to spot and hard to deny: The tendency of sales management to ‘inspect’ rather than coach.  

By ‘inspect’ we mean a manager’s need to review what’s happened in the past or to audit what’s happening right now. A typical example can be found in any pipeline review session between a manager and rep. “So Jane, can you tell me what’s changed since the last time we met? Did you have that conversation with the CFO last week? Is this opportunity still on track to close by the end of the month? Can I move this opportunity from 50% to 75% probability in our forecast? Is this deal still looking like $100,000 in revenue, or have you been able to expand the scope?”

On and on the interrogation goes until the manager is satisfied that he or she has sufficient knowledge and ample comfort with what the rep is doing. It’s a one-way extraction of data that’s often dreadful for both participants. Is it interesting to the sales manager? Sure. Does it satisfy the manager’s need for information? Yep. But would the seller rather be anywhere on the planet other than across the desk from their interrogator (like, out in the field selling)?  You bet.  

Would You Like Some Coaching with That?

So how would a ‘coaching’ conversation go instead? Well, rather than focusing on historical data, the conversation would focus on future behavior.  Rather than focusing on the manager’s need for information, it would focus on the seller’s ability to make better decisions. It would influence the salesperson’s behaviors and help the seller win more deals. Generally, it would improve the salesperson’s ability to succeed and crush quota. But not by taking direction from the manager — by building the seller’s individual capability.

But let’s be fair to sales managers. They are forced to be inspectors for their companies, because they’re the ones who have to keep the sales machine running. More importantly, senior leadership views them as the extraction point for the data that goes into management reports and the all-important sales forecast. In reality, being the inspector of a sales force is a dirty job… But somebody’s got to do it.

Reversing the Trend

How then do we turn our world-class sales inspectors into world-class sales coaches? In our experience, it’s actually easier than you might think. It’s not that sales managers WANT to be inspectors — it’s just the daily routine that they fall into. We find that once sales managers are exposed to the concept of ‘inspection versus coaching,’ they immediately want to change their behaviors. They were once salespeople too… and they didn’t like being interrogated. They want to do the right thing. So the question is how can they complement their required inspection with a healthy dose of coaching?

Practically, the key to reversing this trend is to set clear expectations for what coaching really means in your sales force and then set aside time for it to take place. Literally, you need to define how the coaching conversations should look and then put meetings on the calendar where those conversations will take place. There’s no magic to transforming behaviors, it’s about setting expectations and ensuring execution. So in short:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge the distinction between inspection and coaching

  • Step 2: Define what coaching should look like in your sales force

  • Step 3: Put time on the calendar to do it

  • Step 4: Monitor Step 3 continually and perpetually

And then, go ahead and inspect the data just a little… It will actually feel good as the numbers start to look better, and better, and better over time.


Jason Jordan, one of the sales world's most prominent thought leaders, is now a Salesforce Sales Community contributor. This community is a new collaborative networking group for sales executives sharing best practices and innovations in sales leadership. We encourage all Salesforce customers to join Jason and other top sales thought leaders in the new Salesforce Sales Community.

About the Author

Jason Jordan is a founding partner of Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm, and co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code. Jordan is a recognized thought leader in the domain of business-to-business sales and teaches sales and sales management at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. For more information, visit