Brent Jarvis, sales manager at Renaissance Exteriors, Maple Grove, Minn., coached football for years. Now he coaches 13 sales reps. Each one calls him after every appointment to review in detail how things went. “We try to make it all a learning opportunity,” Jarvis says.

DRILL TO SPECIFICS Coaching is a method of sales management characterized by a highly hands-on relationship between sales rep and sales manager.

Unlike sales managers who focus on metrics or telling salespeople exactly what to do, the coaching sales manager's focus is on developing people, explains Linda Richardson, chairman of Richardson, a sales and sales management training company in Philadelphia.

The coaching approach emphasizes getting the salesperson to identify areas where he can improve, she says, which means the coach asks questions that drill down to specifics. “Ask for their perceptions first,” Richardson says. “Make it a dialogue.” At the end of the conversation, the salesperson and manager should agree on some new tactic to use on the next appointment.

LOWER SALES TURNOVER Sales coaching has a more positive effect on staff retention and customer perceptions than a traditional hard-hitting style, says Tony Allesandra, a partner at the Platinum Rule Group in Akron, Ohio. “One reason for high turnover among salespeople is the traditional approach. Treat people like short-term replaceable commodities, and they behave like short-term replaceable commodities.”

On the other hand, Allesandra says, when salespeople perceive someone is interested in them, they're less likely to leave. That's why he suggests working with salespeople collaboratively instead of imposing a particular way of doing things on them.

The approach favored by Don McNamara, president of consulting company Heritage Associates, Laguna Niguel, Calif., emphasizes making each salesperson feel empowered while bringing him or her along. “If no one has shown him the way, it's a formula for disaster,” McNamara says. “But unless they can do it for themselves, they'll never achieve their goals.“

INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION Sales manager Darren Jennings at Cal-Tec Construction, a home improvement company in Fresno, Calif., believes coaching means managing each rep differently. “I find the way they like to be managed and do it,” Jennings says. He helps reps reach their goals, reviewing progress every 90 days. “It's not the classic ‘beat them up twice a week' routine.”

While most managers assume that money motivates salespeople, Jennings probes to see what gets his guys really excited. Some aim to earn enough so their wives don't have to work. Others want a specific luxury, such as a cruise. “By helping people get what they want, I'll get what I want,” he says.

Richardson points out that coaching is key to improving salesforce productivity, but that changes aren't immediate. “Coaching is future-oriented, so your results will be better in three months.”