In your daily job, are you coaching? Or are you managing?

For some, the two words are synonymous, but that’s not the reality. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t related because coaching sales reps is certainly a part of a sales manager job description. However, there are some key differences that a sales manager will have to understand in order to sufficiently develop his or her direct reports into better sales people and help to grow the company’s bottom line.

The truth is, both are critically important and while it’s a sales executive’s duty to coach his or her sales reps, it’s natural to manage people much more than it is to coach them. Even so, when done correctly, coaching people with the right sales training tips impacts people, and the company, much farther into the future.

What is managing?

Let’s start with managing. Consider what comes into your head when you hear the term “micro-managing.” Generally, this term isn’t used in a positive light, but it helps frame managing as:

  • Oversight

  • Tasking

  • Facilitating

  • Delegating

  • Showing “how to”

Too much of these things leads managers into “micro-managing” territory. Too much oversight into the daily activities of reps is a sign of an unhealthy sales management process. On the flip side, not delegating enough responsibility to your team is just as damaging to your team.

As a baseball fan, I find the line between managing and coaching much easier to see in the context of my Chicago Cubs. Even though Joe Maddon is the team’s “Manager,” you don’t see him out giving advice to the pitcher after every single throw. That would make games last even longer than they already do, and the pitchers would get fed up pretty quickly.

As a sales manager, you can’t be over the shoulder of your reps every minute of the day explaining the sales process. It’s not a good use of your time, or your direct report’s. When you’re directing everything that they do, they aren’t learning and developing as salespeople, they’re just doing what you say, because you said it.

What is coaching?  

That leads us to coaching, where you as a sales leader help your team to develop and grow. For the most part, coaching includes:

  • Skill development

  • Incremental gains

  • Employee empowerment

  • Realizing the best version of themselves

  • “Teaching people to fish”

That last point isn’t about baiting a hook and casting a line. I’m referring to the adage “Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for life.” Coach your sales team to sell for the rest of their lives, not just today. The most effective sales managers improve their direct report’s existing selling skills, while simultaneously helping them build new ones.

Returning to my Cubs, this is what makes Joe Maddon a coach even though he holds the title of manager. He doesn’t need to give tips after every pitch because he’s already taught them how to pitch. There might be times when Joe needs to go out to the mound and calm his pitcher down during a particularly rough inning, but that’s a different type of discussion than “your foot is too far forward when you start your pitch.”

Coaching and managing improve with the right tools

You start to see the difference between a coach and a manager by examining the sales training content for your team. Important sales knowledge from a managing perspective might include:

  • Productivity Tips for Using Salesforce

  • Best Uses of Your Time When You’re Not on a Call

Best practices or “how-to” sales training content falls under your managing duties—you’re giving oversight and facilitating how your reps work on a daily basis. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with supplying your team with this content. In fact, it’s almost necessary to run a sales team larger than 10 people efficiently. The problem tends to show up when sales leaders mistake content that manages for content that coaches, and don’t go any further than that. The resulting gap created by the lack of coaching is detrimental to your reps.

Content that coaches will tend to be more in-depth, focusing on long-run skill development. Some examples of these types of lessons includes:

  • Better Prospecting - Think Like a Buyer

  • Nailing Your Phone Calls, Every Time

Typically, employee development like this comes with in-person coaching from a sales director, with a follow-up lesson or quiz afterward. This is where practice and feedback loops come in. Your reps learn the skill, you make them practice it, they get feedback from you, and they practice it again. Quizzes and follow-up lessons through sales training courses become another part of the job. The best sales training tools will have the ability to track rep growth and development, providing an accurate assessment of areas for growth, and already-mastered skills.

Here at Lessonly, I’ve found that assigning training content before a one-on-one meeting with a  rep makes our in-person time more valuable. This allows us to focus in-depth on their growth areas, rather than just transferring information. I think the term “flipping the classroom” applies here. “Flipping the meeting” using a learning tool allows me to spend less time managing, and more time coaching. Similarly, the Cubs batting coach is able to coach more effectively if the players come already warmed up. Then, they can work to refine swings instead of taking time to stretch and loosen up.

The difference between the sales process management and effective sales coaching for your team is subtle but immensely important. While there’s a lot of overlap, the difference boils down to addressing daily issues and developing the skills for future growth. Either way, tell your team to swing away.


Matt Lubbers is a Sales Director at Lessonly, the leading team learning software. Based out of Indianapolis, Indiana, he spends most of his time - outside of Lessonly - with the love of his life Claire, and a recent addition to their family, their son Teddy.