In my part of the country, golfing is a seasonal event, and the warming weather has opened the local courses. Every year, I remember my favorite golf pro’s approach: Whenever he watches me take a swing, I know he can spot at least a half dozen flaws. But he doesn’t try to burden me with too much.

Instead, he offers me just one piece of advice that helps resolve many of my flaws. This is a model for great sales coaching, which I can advise for any sales manager.

Usually, sales management involves giving a sale rep a long list of things that need to be improved. But most people (myself included) can really only actively work on one or two things at a time at most. Giving people a laundry list of problems just undermines their self-confidence and leave them struggling with what to focus on.

Learning and developing skills is a slow process that takes place over the long-term. It can never happen overnight.

What I advise participants in my sales coaching training to do is to follow the example of my golf instructor. They need to zero in on the “vital few” things that they think will help the most in improving a rep’s performance… and leave the rest for a later discussion.

How to Identify the Vital Few Improvements

I once gained a very helpful strategy for pinpointing performance problems from High Output Management, the book by the former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove. Grove suggests listing out both the good and the bad points about an employee and searching for patterns in the information.

Effective sales management should use this same approach. Identify a salesperson’s strengths and weaknesses and try to figure out what those two lists have in common so you can be targeted and specific about their developmental needs.

For example, if a salesperson is good at maintaining a high level of prospecting, but they need work in converting leads and their quote-to-close rate, what could the pattern be? Think of high prospecting activity as a sign of a poor ability in making appointments. From that perspective, there are at least four possible ties between high prospecting and low conversions:

Finding out which of these problems is to blame will require some probing questions and observation.

This kind of sales management approach offers greater rewards than trying to address each weakness individually.

To get started, download my Observation Checklist for Sales Managers.” This tool will help you gather data that you can use as you begin your analysis. Look for patterns, and offer pithy advice—just like my favorite golf pro!

Kevin F. Davis shares practical solutions to the most challenging issues that frontline sales managers struggle with every day. Kevin blogs on methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., and the author of the new book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.” Find his blogs and articles at and

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