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When performance improvement coaching for your salesperson goes badly: a conceptual approach to dealing with negative reactions

Michael L. Mallin (Department of Marketing and International Business, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)

Development and Learning in Organizations

ISSN: 1477-7282

Article publication date: 3 July 2017




The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework and conceptualization of approaches to salespersons’ negative reactions to performance-improvement coaching. This is done by first depicting “negative reaction to coaching” (such as defensiveness, reluctance, fear, confusion, or apathy) as the manifestation of an underlying psychological “basic issue” held by the salesperson. Next, from the sales coaching and psychology literature, the theoretical underpinnings of the following coaching approaches are introduced: humanistic, behavioral, cognitive, and psychodynamic. Finally, applications of coaching conversations are presented for each “basic issue” and “coaching approach” pairing.


This study is conceptual and is depicted using a framework illustration (table) of how each negative reaction to coaching (i.e. basic issue) maps to a theoretical approach rooted in the psychology and coaching literature.


Dealing with a rep’s negative reaction to performance-improvement coaching should be treated like the process of handling any sales objection, issue, or concern. This process consists of, first, recognizing, clarifying, or attempting to better understand the rep’s negative reaction; and second, responding to the negative reaction using the appropriate psychology-rooted coaching approach to clarify or explain the purpose or rationale for coaching. Examples and sample coaching conversations are presented for each negative reaction–coaching approach pairing.

Research limitations/implications

The conceptual research presented in this paper provides scholars one way to view and understand such negative reactions to performance-improvement coaching from salespeople, as it maps to the underlying psychological basic issues (behind negative reactions) and theoretical basis (to coaching approaches). Using the framework of Argyris and Schon, this paper conceptualizes these negative reactions to coaching as “action strategies” as a rep’s means to protect him/herself psychologically.

Practical implications

For practicing sales managers (coaches), a better understanding of negative reactions to performance-improvement coaching and underlying theoretical approaches to responding to them could better help shape the most constructive coaching conversations with reps. These conversations should follow the same format as responding to a customer objection (e.g. better understand the reaction and then respond to it).


This conceptual paper blends the theory and practice of sales coaching by providing a framework to aid sales managers in overcoming and minimizing the obstacles posed by salespeople when they are not open to coaching conversations.



Mallin, M.L. (2017), "When performance improvement coaching for your salesperson goes badly: a conceptual approach to dealing with negative reactions", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 5-8.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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