Mastering the Art of Communication: Coaching vs. Counseling in Sales Management

Book cover of Skip Miller's ProActive Sales Management

Mastering the Art of Communication: Coaching vs. Counseling in Sales Management

It’s no secret that great leaders and great communication go hand in hand. If you’ve been reading our monthly newsletter or following our videos, you’ll know that how you communicate up, down and sideways through an organization and with outside prospects will play a large part in your success as a sales manager.

Communicating effectively can vary depending on the tool you use: meetings, committees, e-mail, voicemail, in person, text messages, video chat, IM, etc. – you have many options these days to make sure your voice is heard loud and clear.

Coaching vs. Counseling

First, let’s define each word. In sales management class, you often see the word “coaching” described as the following:

  •  Telling
  • Directing
  • Leading
  • Guiding
  • Instructing
  • Doing
  • Listening
  • Providing examples
  • Maintaining order
  • Participating
  • Training

“Counseling” is often described as:

  • Discussing
  • Consulting
  • Deliberating
  • Telling
  • Leading
  • Expressing feelings
  • Agreeing with
  • Prescribing
  • Being empathetic
  • Nudging

At first glance, if we were to judge these two words based off the lists above, we may think that they are interchangeable. In reality, however, there is a big difference between them, and it’s essential to understand the difference, especially when we are practicing effective communication.

If you’re a Star Trek fan, think of the two terms as Spock and Captain Kirk. For the rest of us, think of these two as logical vs. emotional.

Coaching: Just the facts, ma’am! Coaches pull from their own history to interpret the facts presented before them. Using logic, sales managers help sales executives with a sale based on observations and aligning the facts with what has worked in the past in similar situations.

Counseling: Get ready to bring out the feels! Intimate and empathetic, counseling is the go-to tool when you are looking for a mutual agreement based upon understanding and consensus.

But which tool do you use and when? Two examples come to mind:

Suzy has been showing up late recently to the office for two straight weeks. Rumors are swirling that her husband has been having an affair and the two have been fighting well into the evenings. This upsets you. Suzy is a star performer and you like her a lot. She’s never performed poorly in the past. Because you want to nip this in the bud, you ask Suzy to join you in your office. Once the door is shut, you quickly state:
“I heard Bob has been cheating on you and giving you a hard time. Leave him immediately. Problem solved. Come in tomorrow bright eyed and ready to sell!”

That would go over real smooth, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. How about this scenario:

Jim’s Jeep Wrangler is suffering from an oil leak. He’s checked the oil pan and can’t identify a leak there. Scratching his head, Jim heads down to the local automotive shop to troubleshoot with some experts. He meets Dale, the manager of the shop. After hearing Jim’s problem, he knows where to look next to identify the leak. Dale opens his mouth and says:

“Thank you for sharing this with me Jim. How are you feeling? Is everything ok? You seem a little down.”
That’s just laughable. These examples are exaggerated to make a point – If you’re communicating using the wrong tool, it won’t serve either person in the conversation.

By using the right communication tool at the right time, situations become much clearer and your interactions with the team become effective and more powerful.

Get our Coaching/Counseling Wheel Tool

Shoot us an e-mail at with the subject line “Coaching/Counseling Wheel Request” And we’ll send it your way.

For more information on communicating like a master, refer to Chapter 6 of
ProActive Sales Management: Second Edition” by Skip Miller, available on Amazon or at