In the third part of this series we look at what to do when the sales person you are coaching gets defensive when you coach them.

One of the most frustrating aspects of sales coaching is dealing with sales reps that don’t want to be coached. We all have managed these types of sales people before. They get defensive when you provide feedback; deny they have a development need or try to deflect the blame for performance challenges.

Here are some tips for managers to try when coaching sales people resistant to feedback:

  1. Set the tone, time and place. These can all have a significant impact on the outcome of your conversations and the receptivity of the sales person. Make sure you set aside enough time to have a meaningful conversation. Keep your tone calm and even – even if they become resistant. Your tone does a lot to maintain control of the conversation.
  2. Limit your feedback. Present only small amounts of feedback in a session. One sure fire way to shut a sales person down is to list off a long list of development areas. Create some bucket areas with overarching themes and if needed introduce specific examples but try not to overload them with a litany of offenses. Otherwise they will shut down and miss the purpose of the feedback.
  3. Be specific. Provide objective information that shows the facts. Avoid absolute statements or superlatives (you always, you never). When you stick to the facts and have supporting examples, it leaves less room for debate. Feelings or perceptions will certainly be cause for dispute.
  4. Be honest with employees. Don’t try to soften the blow. When someone is resistant to feedback, the more you sugar coat the information, the less likely they will get the right message. Maintain positivity with your honesty as long as it is genuine. Feedback is a gift and is about growing a sales person as long as you have the right intention.
  5. Be clear. Set reasonable expectations for improvement and make this on going. Behaviour or performance changes should not be a 30-day issue. Expect immediate and sustained improvement, but be flexible in allowing them to get there. Establish steps, milestones and looking for improvements. Behaviour changes generally take around 3 months but you should see gradual improvements immediately.
  6. Be honest with yourself. Do not coach employees if you have no intention of keeping them. If you feel termination is imminent and you are just going through the motions, don’t put the employee through the stress of sitting through a series of coaching sessions if your intention isn’t to really attempt to reform and retain them, If you do feel that termination is the probable end result, this is where very specific time limited Performance Plans are appropriate.
  7. Make it two way. Allow the employee an opportunity to voice their concerns or ask questions. You don’t need to debate with them about your feedback. If they don’t see any issues, that are a problem, but in the end the meeting isn’t about establishing the accuracy of your feedback, it is to create an action plan that drives change. Listening to and addressing their concerns is important but make sure you don’t enter into a debate. Stay focused on the end result. They don’t have to agree but they do need to find a way to turn things around.

Although it may take time and effort on your part, it is possible to turn around an uncoachable sales person into one that embraces feedback. Use the above tips to help increase your odds of success. There are some employees who simply can’t be saved, but when you have tried everything possible, you can part ways knowing that you did your job as a manager and provided them with every tool for success.