Psychology for Better Sales Coaching


Sales coaching can be rewarding when you start seeing the transformational fruits of your efforts. But if you're not seeing these outcomes consistently, you might be left wondering why.

Developing sales coaching skills is a process, like coaching reps to develop new skills. It's important to be patient with yourself and continue learning. If you want to improve your team’s results, a good place to start is with increasing your knowledge of the psychology of coaching.

But with so much information available, where should you start?

Coaching psychology

Interestingly enough, there is such a thing as coaching psychology.

Coaching psychology is the scientific study of behavior, learning, and emotion to improve understanding and enhance the quality of coaching. A practice called positive psychology is often combined with coaching and referred to as positive psychology coaching. Positive psychology is the scientific study of human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, focusing on positives instead of negatives.

What is coaching?

Coaching is an activity where a coach guides the person being coached toward their own discoveries, insights, and goals. Coaching focuses on working toward specific goals and measurable achievements by changing behaviors. And when being coached, the coached person actively participates by taking most of the day-to-day responsibility for reaching these goals.

Coaches support employees by understanding their personal and career goals and by providing feedback and direction to facilitate performance improvement.

Be a guide

Notice that both of these descriptions emphasize guiding, not telling. It’s important to remember that coaching is a partnership between the coach and the sales rep, working together to achieve specific goals. They are accomplished by the coach helping the rep learn rather than simply teaching them. And involves unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their performance. So, coaching involves:

  • Helping and guidance for the sales rep seeking to change
  • Support as the salesperson learns and grows
  • Encouraging the team member’s personal awareness to aid in continued growth and transformation

Coaching is not:

  • Judging
  • Telling others what to do
  • One-size-fits-all

Psychology in coaching

Understanding the psychology involved in certain aspects of coaching will lead to greater success when coaching sales reps. These aspects of sales coaching include:

  • Coaching for motivation
  • Coaching for growth
  • Coaching for change

Let’s look at the psychology behind each of these.

Coaching for motivation

The Self-Determination Theory comes into play when coaching for motivation. This theory is based on the fact that the strongest and most sustainable form of motivation comes from autonomy and independence. This is because people need to feel like they are in control and that they have freedom of choice.

When sales reps feel like they are in control, it motivates them to make changes and continue striving for improvement in the long-term. If they feel pressured, they will be demotivated. So, resist advising or telling your rep what to do. Allow them to decide what they want to do and establish their commitment.

When coaching, advising or telling the rep what to do can result in:

  • Resistance or refusal
  • Following your advice to please you, but not necessarily doing what you tell them properly or consistently
  • Doing what you tell them to avoid conflict, but as soon as they aren’t accountable to you, discontinuing the behavior.

Any of these eventually leads to a total breakdown in true motivation and will not drive the desired results or improvements.

Coaching for growth

You need to encourage and motivate growth in your sales reps if you want your coaching to be transformational. This growth needs to include emotional and mental aspects. To do this, you personally need to take responsibility for your own improvement and development. Become aware of that uncomfortable feeling when you’re trying something new. This is called a “growth edge” according to coaching psychology expert Margaret Moore.

A growth edge is when you are at the threshold of a growth opportunity. Learning how to recognize this and push through it, allows you to experience more transformative moments. Then you’ll be better equipped to help your team members to recognize and navigate these moments themselves as well to achieve greater progress.

Coaching for change

Change is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. So, it’s important to understand the phases of change so you can help your reps work through them. That’s where the Transtheoretical Model comes in. It was created by Jim Prochaska to promote lasting change and describes the five stages of change. These stages are:

  • Stage 1 – Pre-Contemplation is where the rep knows they need to change but they don’t have a strong enough reason or can’t see a way to change, so they give up before getting started. Until something changes, this is not someone you can coach.
  • Stage 2 – Contemplation is where the rep recognizes their problem and the importance of changing. They understand that continuing to do what they have been doing will not help them reach their goals, but they may be struggling to take action. This is where you, as the coach can help your team member work through uncertainty and help them become aware of what is holding them back.
  • Stage 3 – Preparation is where the rep is ready to take action to improve their performance. As a sales coach you need to provide guidance and feedback while helping the sales rep maintain their motivation as they develop the desired skills and behaviors.
  • Stage 4 – Action is where the sales rep has started working on building their skills and knowledge. They may lack confidence as they step out of their comfort zone when trying new techniques. This is where you can support them, guiding through their discomfort and urging them to continue moving forward instead of falling back on old ineffective habits.
  • Stage 5 – Maintenance is where the sales rep has developed the new, desirable habits, behaviors, or skills. Work with them to help them stay on track and continue to grow.

In Summary…

Learning more about the psychology of coaching can help drive more successful outcomes from your sales coaching efforts. Applying these coaching psychology principles consistently until they become second nature. They will help you grow as a coach and help your sales team develop new sales skills.

Anxious to learn more about the psychology of sales coaching? Register for our upcoming event to learn how to build an environment where people can do their best work.