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December 17, 2021

The Straw Man

The blog post is designed to enlighten readers on the role of a Coach in a complex B2B sale.



  • The blog post is designed to enlighten readers on the role of a Coach in a complex B2B sale. 
  • First we need to articulate the problem
  • The reader should be able to do the following as a result of reading:
  • Know what a coach is and what a coach isn’t in the context of a B2B sale
  • Know why a coach is important
  • Know what makes a qualified coach
  • Know here to find a coach
  • You can refer to pages 98-102 of the Strategic Selling book I gave you


Understanding the different roles that decision makers play in a complex sale is key to setting and effective sales strategy, after all a good sales strategy is about getting the salesperson in the right time, at the right place with the right people. It’s a challenge to do this without good intelligence about what is happening in the buyer’s business.

So many times we lose deals because we lack the necessary information about the buyer’s business and who is influencing their decisions. As a salesperson, seeing into the buyer’s company can be like staring into a dense fog from behind a wall. This can often leave us confused and constantly wondering what is going on, why they are not talking to us and what are they really trying to achieve.

Some of your buyers maybe forthcoming with information and some may not. As a sales strategist you are trying to collect information about your sales opportunity that will give you a better chance of winning. Its worthwhile considering that information from your buyers often comes from a subjective perspective and so having a tried and tested mechanism within your strategy for triangulating this data, could prove critical to winning the business. Having someone who can play this role for you who not only validates your information but can also exert appropriate influence when necessary, has been found to significantly increase closing rates. We call this method: Developing a coach.

Develop a Coach

Note first of all that we talk about the verb ‘to develop’. In other words we have to locate, assess and cultivate a relationship with someone who can help us in the pursuit of our opportunity. Lets define the role of the coach further:

Coaches Role

  • Act as guide for this sale
  • A Coach can provide and interpret information about:
  • Validity of this opportunity 
  • Other people involved in the decision making process 
  • Other elements of your sales strategy
  • The focus of the coach is your success with this proposal
  • They would ask “How can we make this happen?”

You should proactively develop at least one coach per sale, noting the operative words being ‘at least’. Why do we say at least one? In my research and through feedback from clients I have found that having a coach(s) has the following impact on closing ratios:

  • Where No coach exists closing ratios are < 20%
  • Where 1 effective coach are developed closing ratios move to circa 50%
  • Where 2 effective coaches exist closing ratios move to more than 70%

Sounds good? It should, this is a very powerful asset to cultivate in a complex sale. There is however a guideline or criteria for the coach if the closing ratio improvements above are to occur. This is the criterion for an effective coach:

  1. You must have credibility with the coach
  2. They must have credibility with your decision makers for the specific sale you are pursuing
  3. They must want your solution

Lets elaborate on this a bit further: In number 1, it goes without saying that to be a good coach these people need to believe in you and trust your product and your capabilities. In 2, the word credibility here could be interchangeable with influence. They should be able to have some influence as well as access to your decision makers. And finally in 3, for them to be effective as a coach they must think your solution is the right fit. Lets illustrate by way of example:

In Mid 2015, I was introduced to a company in the professional services space. I was introduced to the business by an external consultant to the buyer business, The consultant met all three points of the coach criteria and was soon developed into a coach. After a couple of initial meetings with three decision makers in the buying business, there was an agreement to proceed into a discovery phase. All was seemingly good. Fast forward a few weeks and calls and emails were going unanswered and I could not understand why. A little confused and not knowing what if anything had changed, I spoke with the Coach and we agreed that at his next meeting with the CEO he would ask some pertinent questions. These questions were:

How have your sales results been over the last quarter - to which his response was less than positive and;

How were you progressing with locating a vendor for sales coaching – to which his answer was; that’s a good point, to which he immediately opened his laptop and emailed the three decision makers asking for a progress report. I had a meeting with the decision makers three days later and needless to say we got the show back on the road.

As it turned out the reason for going quiet were circumstantial but the coach helped me to understand these and then act accordingly.

Where should we look for coaches?

There are three possible locations of a coach:

  • In the buyers business – possible one of the decision makers or elsewhere
  • The sellers business – may have been recently moved from the buyer’s business
  • Outside both – could be an external consultant

Conflicts of interest

It’s a common question to ask, what about conflicts of interest? This is fare and being able to develop a coach will largely depend on how your buyers buy. For this reason and others, you may not be able to locate a coach for every opportunity and as the statistics suggest ,you can still close without a coach. However as I say, to significantly increase your chances of success you should look to identify and develop at least one coach,

To achieve higher closing ratios, Coaches are an important asset. You will however find helpers along the way who want to provide you with information to help (for whatever reason) you win. These people are important and useful and should be utilised for what they are, well-wishers with important intelligence that can help you win. However if they do not fit the coach criteria do not lull yourself into a false sense of security that this well-wisher can do the same job as a coach. 

Lastly, now you know this you should actively build this into your sales strategies because for sure, one day you will come across an opportunity where one of your decision makers is coaching for your competition and not you.

Happy selling.

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