Traits of Top Salespeople

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The Seven Secrets Of A Winning Sales Coach

The Seven Secrets Of A Winning Sales Coach

I recently heard a fascinating story from a Fractional VP of Sales (a true Sales Coach) who told me how he succeeded in overcoming some significant challenges when he was recruited as a Fractional Vice President of Sales for a major-brand forklift dealership. Despite the brand name and the brand’s reputation for quality and excellent resale value, the dealer’s sales record for new, reconditioned, and used forklifts was abominable and had been lousy for quite some time.

At this Sales Manager’s request, I’ve agreed to keep him anonymous, so for our purposes, I’ll just refer to him as Steve and I have changed the industry (he doesn’t actually sell forklifts) and his location (he isn’t in California).

Steve had a long history of success as the VP of Sales for fairly large organizations including some in the forklift and material handling industry. He also had been the number one salesman for many years before transitioning to Sales Management and then starting his practice as a Fractional Vice Preside of Sales. Steve was relatively well known throughout the industry, so a failing dealership in the northwest desperately needed to sell or die, so management earnestly went after Steve.

This was nothing new for Steve. He’d been recruited for years by dozens of other dealers all over the country. But the dealership in the northwest was something else. Sales had been slipping for several years, market share had plummeted to historic lows, and the service and parts departments were experiencing a severe revenue shortfall due to the cumulative, drop-off in overall new, reconditioned, and used forklift sales. So, the dealer principal called Steve and literally begged him to meet for dinner so he could offer him tons of money and complete freedom to run the sales department any way he saw fit.

Steve is anything but dense. So he looked at this opportunity for what it could be, not for what it seemed to be. The new client would undoubtedly be a tough challenge with lots of inherent risk of failure. However, if he could turn this company around, he’d be able to write his own ticket with anyone, anywhere. On the other hand, even if he failed, he could always hit the road and earn six figures selling forklifts for any dealer, anywhere.

So, he looked the dealer principal in the eye, shook his hand, and accepted the position.

Steve inherited nine salespeople with his new job. The only producer in the entire sales department was a mid-forties salesperson we will call Jasmine (not her real name). Jasmine had only been in the industry for about five years, yet she was selling forklifts like there was no tomorrow. None of the other eight salespeople seemed to have the experience, training, motivation, or the character necessary to focus on much of anything beyond a draw, driving a company car, and taking paid holidays.

Morale had dropped as low as sales, profits, and the infrequent commissions check.

Steve immediately sat down individually with each salesperson to talk about what was really going on. He promised to keep each conversation confidential as he asked each salesperson to talk about why they weren’t generating more sales and profits. He was disappointed (but not surprised) to hear the usual excuses for the poor performance he’d heard from salespeople for years, “There’s no business in my territory because it’s saturated with forklifts.” And, “Our competitors outsell us because their prices are lower and I can’t compete.” And, “The economy is slowing down, and no one is buying.”

Within 3 months of Steve arrival in the sunshine, all those excuses faded like memories of last year’s Grammies, and the sales department was selling new, reconditioned, and used forklifts like never before.

So, what happened?

What did Steve do to change things around so dramatically?

Well, here’s what he told me:


1. Steve’s First Secret – Do nothing:

For the first few weeks, after he became Sales Manager, Steve did nothing at all. He didn’t make any changes; in fact, he didn’t even make any suggestions.

The sales crew was delighted because they began to believe that Steve would never be as good a sales manager as he had been a territory salesman. There were two reasons for this unlikely attitude. First and foremost, the sales crew didn’t want things to change, not really, because they didn’t believe changes would do anything but make them work harder for less. Secondly, they’d heard all about Steve’s heavy-hitter reputation and thought it made them look bad, so they secretly rooted for Steve to finally fall flat on his behind.

Given the severity of the sales situation, the big question floating around the company was why isn’t Steve doing anything? Is he just lazy? Is this the Peter Principle in action? Is Steve not up to the job? Or, is he too much of a wimp, too scared to tackle this huge, long-term problem head-on?

Not hardly.

Steve did nothing because he was too smart to move too quickly, too soon. He knew that before he could institute changes to increase sales and profits, he first needed to invest some serious time and patience in learning to understand the dynamics that had killed sales for so long at this particular dealership.

This time and patience thing took more than a little courage on Steve’s part. It was tough for a results-oriented guy like Steve to overlook caustic comments from Senior Management and pass off the disappointed stares flashed his way by the few people in the sales department who really did want change. Nevertheless, he stayed focused on gathering information, analyzing sales records and call reports, talking with salespeople, managers, department heads, and customers, and digging for the root causes of the only problem that really mattered: Not Enough Sales!

2. Steve’s Second Secret – Build Relationships with Sales Team:

After Steve analyzed management support, financial resources, company image in the territory, facilities, equipment, customer service, parts and service support, product quality, and the company’s relationship to its factories, he concluded that he was right about the root cause: The sales team was utterly incapable of doing its job. Sure, like any warm body, each salesperson was capable of taking an order for a forklift, but nine of nine salespeople weren’t trained in the skills they needed to sell significant numbers of forklifts. Eight of the nine obviously lacked confidence and direction and had never experienced any consistent success … so they had no positive history to fall back on. Nine of nine salespeople worked – when they worked – only for themselves because not one of them had a clue about the collective importance of working together as a team. Last but not least, since Jasmine had always been off doing her own thing, completely disassociated with the rest of the group, her colleagues had no role model to emulate.

Steve made it his business to continue getting to know each salesperson, both as an employee and a person. Each afternoon, he would invite one of the nine to come to his office early the next morning for 15 minutes or so before the switchboard opened, just to talk. He provided fresh coffee, hot chocolate, and a variety of pastries to please any taste. Discussions were friendly and casual with lots of give-and-take. Over time, each individual came to learn that Steve wasn’t a threat and, at the same time, they began to believe in Steve as a leader and as a coach who could and would help them sell more and earn more, more often.

3. Steve’s Third Secret – Create a successful role model on the team:

If you’ve heard the term “Stepping Up” then you probably heard it in the NBA or NFL. “Stepping Up” means that a top-performing player assumes a leadership role on the team. Because Jasmine was the only real performer in the sales department, Steve decided to help her step up. He trained her thoroughly on the ins and outs of the Sales Trapping concept to help her realize that despite years of separation, the team really needed her to become a Success Role Model. Steve knew very well that the best way to transform eight below-average producers was to get them to emulate the one strong performer.

Steve also realized that if Jasmine’s sales began to drop – for any reason – she would lose credibility with the rest of the team. So, he worked to coach her, subtly and quietly, because he didn’t want to offend her sensibilities as a top performer. He worked with her consistently because he wanted to keep her numbers strong. In Steve’s second month as Sales Coach, Jasmine was able to generate nearly 200% of budgeted new, reconditioned, and used sales in her territory. And, senior management and others around the company began to drop their doubts about Steve’s abilities.

At this point, I asked Steve why he didn’t merely set himself up as the team’s role model. After all, his sales history was nothing to sneeze at!

His reply?

“I felt that my example wouldn’t be as meaningful as the example Jasmine could set,” he said with a smile. “After all, even though these salespeople weren’t particularly friendly with each other, they knew Jasmine well enough to respect her abilities as a top-notch salesperson and would, therefore, be more likely to emulate her strategies and tactics.

“We started slowly at first. In Team Meetings, I’d ask Jasmine to talk about her week was going. She’d tell us who she sold to and why. It was just a casual conversation. No lectures, no pressure. After a couple of weeks, I began to encourage the others to interact with Jasmine, to ask questions, and to talk about their successes or failures. And, in no time at all, we had our Successful Role Model working to help the team sell more, more often, with no resentments and no resistance.

“Over time, I realized that Jasmine had become Sales Coach in Team Meetings while I had become the moderator. Gotta tell you, I couldn’t have been more pleased that my plan worked out so well, so quickly.”

4. Steve’s Fourth Secret – Clearly communicate performance goals:

Steve refused to waste time with mealy-mouthed platitudes. Because he felt obligated to turn the company around as quickly as possible and forklift salespeople work in an incredibly competitive business, Steve refused to take anything for granted. He believed that he owed it to Senior Management, to himself, and especially to the sales team, to come clean and communicate his expectations to everyone concerned.

So, Steve established the following three categories of Performance Goals for the team:

Activity Goals, Behavior Goals, and Results Goals.

An ACTIVITY GOAL, for example, requires each salesperson to have a minimum number of planned meetings for at least 45 minutes. In Trapper parlance, we call these Customer Interaction Hours (CIH).

A BEHAVIOR GOAL requires each salesperson to provide a quote to the customer within 24 hours of the initial contact.

The RESULTS GOAL that got the most attention requires each salesperson with at least one year in a territory to sell a minimum of $100,000.00 in sales of new, reconditioned, and used forklifts each and every month.

5. Steve’s Fifth Secret – Set your standards high:

No matter how productive you are as a Sales Coach, Steve says, no matter how hard you and the company work to support the sales department, there will always be someone who won’t step up to the plate. Steve doesn’t hesitate to confront poor performers because he refuses to tie the team’s performance to the lowest common denominator. He focuses on the only thing that really matters:

Consistent, profitable sales!

If a salesperson can’t or won’t generate enough profits to exceed the company’s cost in payroll, commissions, benefits, etc., Steve recruits a replacement and immediately cuts the player from the team.

If a salesperson is a marginal performer but is willing to admit the shortcomings that need to be fixed, Steve, the Sales Coach, works to bring that person to the point of making the final decision. This means they either ‘decide’ to join the team, immerse themselves in the Sales Trapping process, and start selling or they ‘decide’ to leave the company… immediately.

Steve told us that the only thing worse than someone who resigns and leaves is someone who resigns and stays… so he never allows anyone to stay if they are already checked out.

6. Steve’s Sixth Secret – Emphasize dignity and respect for all:

“Look,” Steve says, “after the dust settles, we are all just people. We are fallible human beings who make more mistakes than we care to admit.” So, Steve makes it his business to admit his own mistakes, no matter how tough it may be to do so. Because he agrees with Dr. Phil when he says you can’t change what you won’t admit, Steve expects salespeople to accept responsibility for their own shortcomings. Irrespective of performance failures and character flaws, Steve continually reminds the team of his expectation that everyone – salespeople, senior management, department heads, key personnel, and, of course, the coach – will treat everyone else with complete dignity and respect.

Steve promotes by taking the entire sales team out of the office once a month – every month – for a fun dignity and respect-building group activity – go-karting, golfing, dinner, lunch, breakfast, something.

7. Steve’s Seventh Secret – Coach hard, play hard, and win:

Steve believes that his job as the Sales Coach is just as critical as an NFL coach. Like any winning NFL coach, Steve recognizes that he has to stay close to the action. To be a capable, credible coach, he has to be visible to salespeople, customers, prospects, senior management, department heads, and key personnel in the company. So, like any good coach, Steve spends a great deal of time each week talking to people, on the phone, in meetings in his office, traveling with salespeople, in front of prospects and customers, asking questions, and observing how sales plays are won and lost.

As a result, Steve has gained incredibly accurate and timely insights into his performance, the performance of the Sales Team, and the real needs of customers and prospects. These insights, of course, have helped Steve set realistic team goals, reward winning salespeople, supply real customer needs, and thereby triple sales within 12 months.

You can do the same and more… if you really want to.



This team thing is nothing new. We all play our lives out on a variety of teams … the team at home with our families, the on-the-job team with colleagues, the team we play on with good friends and close neighbors, and on and on.

Some of us stand on the sidelines, watching and cheering… we are called receptionists, sales coordinators, service, and parts folks, truck drivers, and senior managers. Some of us take the field and compete… we are called salespeople. And a crazy few of us do it all: we watch, we cheer, we train, we cajole, we motivate, we even play… we are called Sales Coaches!

As a Sales Coach, your primary responsibility is to create a winning environment in your company, an environment that comes about only when you:

  • Identify precise goals… be clear and very vocal about what you want to achieve and when you want to complete it, and colleagues & friends will hold you to your goals!
  • Clearly communicate winning ideas to your team
  • Transform winning ideas into winning realities

When you clearly communicate your goals to individual salespeople, they will begin to adopt your goals as their own. And, when your salespeople understand the value and significance of your goals, they will work harder to help you achieve them.

Unfortunately, if you cannot do all of these things then you likely need the assistance of a Fractional Vice President of Sales. If you want to learn more about that, check out

Header Photo by geralt (Pixabay)

2 Replies to “The Seven Secrets Of A Winning Sales Coach”

  1. I liked the “Do Nothing” step. It’s counter-intuitive, starting with an analytical phase of the current operations. You may want to impress the leadership or be excited about carrying out your ideas. Gathering starting data is gold, especially when you have no solid baseline.

    I apply this step regularly in tech and marketing work.

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