How to Deal with Sales Reps Who Don't Want To Be Coached

4 Aug 14

Sales coaching and dealing with defensive sales reps? Learn how effectively manage sales coaching resistance with the C.O.D.E framework. Read now.

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

Do these examples seem familiar?

  • “That’s not how we did at [previous employer]…”
  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The meeting went well.”
  • “The problem is I don’t have enough leads.”

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, salespeople will resist coaching. When this happens, it is important not to match resistance with resistance. This will only create conflict and not help you achieve your ultimate sales coaching goal of modifying the salesperson’s selling behaviors.

The most effective way of managing resistance is by starting with the mildest management intervention and escalating only when necessary. This escalation process is illustrated by the C.O.D.E framework (described below) for managing coaching resistance:

Consider Alternative Solutions

One fundamental mistake sales managers make when giving coaching feedback is not adequately considering the salesperson’s perspective. It may be that the salesperson’s resistance to your coaching is based on an underlying substantive issue.

For example, you may want the salesperson to prospect using a script developed by Marketing. The salesperson, on the other hand, believes the script sounds contrived and he or she feels uncomfortable using it. Perhaps the salesperson is raising a legitimate point. Rather than argue, why not work with the salesperson to edit the script, putting into his or her voice while maintaining the key points Marketing wants to communicate?

Another consideration is to pick your battles carefully. If the salesperson’s in our prospecting example is booking a sufficient number of appointments using his or her own approach, it may not be worth the effort to try to get him or her to change the behavior.

The key objective in considering alternative solutions is to avoid unnecessary struggles. If there is a simple and effective way of resolving the difference, use it.

Overcome Resistance

Now, let’s continue with our prospecting example. Assume the salesperson is booking a sufficient number of appointments, but the quality of these appointments is low. Through observation, you have determined that this salesperson is “badgering” prospects into agreeing to appointments, rather than creating genuine interest.

In this case, an acceptable alternative to modifying the salesperson’s prospecting behavior isn’t available or feasible. You need to address the salesperson’s resistance to your coaching by investigating the issue and addressing its source without creating more hostility. Here are a few effective tactics:

  • State what you observe. An example of this tactic is “You seem quiet. What’s going on?” The benefit of this technique is that it addresses the core issue without making assumptions.
  • Boomerang. Here you turn the issue back on the salesperson, “That’s a great point. Do you have any ideas about that?” The boomerang tactic helps make the coaching more collaborative as you ask the salesperson for their input.
  • Refocus. When a salesperson is trying to deflect your coaching feedback an effective tactic is to refocus the conversation. For example, “You raise a good point about how difficult it is to get through to the decision-makers, but let’s refocus and get back to how you create interest with the decision-maker once you do get through to them.”
  • Defer. Sometimes dealing with issues as they come up may sidetrack the coaching process, and so it is better to defer these issues, “I get your concern about lead quality. Let’s talk about leads at our weekly team meeting.”


If the salesperson still is resisting your coaching efforts, you may want to consider escalating your intervention and directing. Many sales managers confuse directing with barking out orders – i.e., “Do it my way!” Effective directing is a process that consists of the following steps:

  • Describe the specific behavior you observed – “I noticed that when you prospect you tend to use heavy-handed tactics to get the prospect to agree to an appointment.”
  • Identify pitfalls/impact of the behavior – “In the short run, you get a lot of appointments. However, these are low-quality appointments. This is causing your appointment to close ratio to be extremely low.”
  • Reinforce the behavior you WANT to see – “I want you to use an “Impact Benefit Statement” when you prospect. We covered that in our sales training last month.”
  • Explain the reasons for your directive – “The purpose of the Impact Benefit Statement is to help you quickly create interest with the prospect. This will lead to more high-quality appointments.”
  • Check for understanding – “Does this make sense?”
  • Talk about the next steps – “Great! As a next step, I want you to write your own Impact Benefit Statement and then during our one on one meeting tomorrow we will practice using it by role-playing.”

Directing should be used sparingly, especially when coaching high performers.

Employ Other Management Actions

Sometimes, even directing doesn’t work. Maybe your salesperson has the requisite skills to be an effective prospector, but they lack the motivation to prospect consistently.

In these cases, you should consider employing other management actions such as performance counseling in order to understand the root cause of the motivation issue, re-set performance expectations, or, given the fundamental importance of prospecting to a successful sales career, discuss career alternatives (e.g., account management, customer service, etc.).

Sales coaching should never be a struggle between you and the salesperson. It should be a collaborative process and you should be flexible in your approach, tailoring your coaching based on each of the salesperson’s specific development needs. When you do encounter coaching resistance, remember to use the C.O.D.E. framework.

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