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When does sales coaching become micromanaging?

5 min readJanuary 4, 2019

The start of a new year and a fresh set of goals means the pressure is on. How well your sales team performs against these goals is in your hands.

Your confidence for the coming months hinges on last year’s results – if it was a down year, it is time for a change; chances are, making a visible change in management style is a great way to demonstrate to those in charge that you are committed to turning the ship around for 2019.

If you are looking to transform your team’s skill set, part of your new year’s resolutions may include developing a sales coaching plan with each rep. Maybe you have read one of the many articles promoting the practice, or you have heard statistics about how sales coaching has the potential to increase sales productivity by up to 88 percent.

You know about the benefits, but are you ready to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of sales coaching? CSO Insights found that 69.7% of organizations don’t leverage the potential of sales coaching to improve their sales performance – could this be because it is too hard to do it right?

Because sales coaching is a process designed to improve the skillset of direct reports, it is very easy for it to slip into micromanagement.

Why sales coaching can turn into micromanagement

Frankly, sales coaching and micromanaging are closely related – they both involve a manager-employee relationship, they both focus on trying to improve performance, and they both involve more feedback than average.

If sales coaching and micromanaging are so similar, where are the differences? To compare, let’s look at definitions of each term:

CSO Insights defines sales coaching as “a leadership skill to develop each person’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise, along with social, communication, and questioning skills, to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities, to break through to new levels of success.”

Merriam Webster defines micromanage as “to manage, especially with excessive control or attention to details.”

As you can see, sales coaching involves guiding team members through a discovery process to result in performance improvements. On the other hand, micromanagement involves control and scrutiny. Most people don’t react well to being constantly watched or controlled.

There are two primary differences between sales coaching and micromanaging: how the feedback is delivered, and how the feedback is received. Sales coaches deliver their feedback in an empathetic, emotionally intelligent manner. Growth through guidance is usually received more positively.

The results of sales coaching can be valuable, but if it devolves into micromanaging, the results can be catastrophic. Research by CSO Insights demonstrates this where rep turnover was higher when they felt over-managed and undervalued.

Signs your coaching practices are bordering on micromanagement

Preventing micromanagement starts with knowing what it looks like. Next, you need to know what to do to instead. Below are behaviors to watch for along with how to correct them to transform over management with productive sales coaching:

It all starts with hiring practices. If you aren’t hiring salespeople that are trustworthy who have the desire to succeed, then you’re probably adding the wrong people to your team. You aren’t going to fix this with excessive oversight. This results in a lack of confidence in your reps’ ability to work independently. Instead, make sure that you’re hiring coachable reps that want to continually improve. They’ll enthusiastically engage in the coaching process and follow through without scrutiny or micromanagement.

We’ve talked before about how sales coaching only works if both the sales rep and the manager feel equally invested in the process. The pitfall to avoid is having a salesperson feel no investment. If sales coaching is a one-sided investment, where the manager is trying and the salesperson doesn’t reciprocate, the coaching experience will be perceived as micromanagement. This experience is easy to avoid if you hire right in the first place.

Regardless of how much prior sales experience a team member has, there’s always something new for them to learn and room for improvement. Leaving them in the dark by not setting clear expectations or guidance sets reps up for failure. Instead keep open lines of communication. Be sure to discuss your expectations, how you’ll measure progress and what they need to do to succeed. This will enable them to continually improve along the way. And when setting expectations, include the rep’s input whenever possible. They’re more likely to be enthusiastic and engaged if they’re involved in plans for progress.

Without clear expectations, it is easy to just jump in and offer advice to your sales reps when you notice something they should change. Not only does this not connect to any meaningful skill improvement, but it also is perceived as overbearing micromanagement.

Only telling reps which metrics and analytics will be used to measure progress without providing them access to this data is like asking them to fly blind. Instead, take the time to explain the metrics and then provide them with the tools to easily access them. A dashboard of their own will allow them to monitor their progress and identify where they need improvement. This information also facilitates more meaningful coaching conversations and guidance. Other tools you might provide include call recording examples of successful reps so they understand what they should be doing. Also, recordings of their own calls with actionable feedback so they know what they’ve done correctly and what they need to continue working on.

Using a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t coaching. Instead, take the time to observe each rep, study their performance, and get to know their needs. Involve them in crafting an individualized coaching plan that is best suited to each team member through regularly scheduled one-on-ones. This will maintain an open dialogue that will result in a strong, trusted coaching relationship and sales growth on the long term.

The same goes for the manner in which rep sales rep works. While some processes require a structured approach, not every rep or every person works in the same way. Managers who provide their reps with a goal but give them leeway to accomplish it in the way that best suits them are likely to create a higher performing team than the managers who control every process.

Watch for these micromanagement behaviors and correct them before they cause problems for your sales team and their performance. You’ll have happier, more productive reps and the numbers that only result from great sales coaching. Have you been micromanaging? If so, tell me how you knew and what you did about it in the comments.