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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Coaching Salespeople: Should You be Their BOSS or Their FRIEND?

coaching salespeopleLast week, a sales manager told me, “I know I'm not supposed to do this, but I get really close with my salespeople."

Only a few days later, another sales manager explained to me, "You really need to know where to draw the line. You can’t get too close and still maintain objectivity."

Two totally different approaches to relating to coaching salespeople! Which one is right? Is it possible for a sales manager to be BOTH your friend AND your boss? 

Recently, our VP of Talent Services, Beth Sunshine, wrote a provocative blog article titled, “Is it wrong to be friends with the people you manage?"  It received a lot of attention, generated a lot of discussion, and quickly became the most talked-about article on our blog.

Clearly this topic is a hot one, and after talking with many of our clients, it has become obvious to me that there is still much more to explore when it comes to the relationship between seller and manager.  

I want to get a bit personal with you for a moment. Do me a favor and fill in the blank here:

I would not be who I am today without _______.  (Think of a coach, a mentor, or a teacher.)  Have you got someone in mind?  I’ll wait while you think… 

Thinking of that person you came up with, would you say that they drew a firm line between teaching you and being your friend?  

My bet is that person knew you as an individual, and not only supported your development, but also cared about you personally. The best mentors will push and challenge you while also maintaining a close, meaningful relationship.

To further prove this point, think about the worst teacher that you had in school—one who you knew didn’t like you. When that teacher disciplined you, was it effective? I’d be surprised if it was effective since you knew they didn’t really care about YOU.  

Bottom line? The relationship matters! If you are finding it difficult to coach one of your salespeople and ultimately increase their sales performance, start with a quick relationship-check. Ask yourself, “Do we have the kind of relationship where they can trust me and they know I truly care about them? 

If that answer is not, “yes,” here are a few ideas that might help you to better connect with your salespeople and develop powerful relationships as a result:

  1. Ask their advice, and seek their opinions. It’s the ultimate compliment!
  2. Remember their birthday. Send a hand written card or plan a little surprise. It’s a golden opportunity to notice something that is totally unique to them.
  3. Look for significant personal achievements to celebrate.
  4. Identify their core values (work, community, family) and support them.
  5. Provide growth opportunities by giving them challenging assignments that showcase their talents.

These simple steps will strengthen your relationship and allow for more frequent opportunities for powerful and effective sales coaching opportunities. Want more tips on developing powerful relationships with your sellers? Learn more!

Tell us what you think! Should managers and sellers be friends?


Elisa Hillman is a Talent Analyst at The Center for Sales Strategy
Topics: developing strengths Sales