How to Maximize Opportunistic and Developmental Coaching

Opportunistic and Developmental Coaching can be used to support sales force development, sales effectiveness, and growth.
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Sometimes, it surprises people to hear there are multiple types of coaching. Often that’s because they mistake feedback for coaching, thinking that coaching is simply providing their opinions or guidance and advice. This is especially true for many front-line sales managers. Even those who have thought through this will miss one or two of the coaching types, when asked. The one most often missed by front-line sales managers is behavioral, skills-based developmental coaching.

Hint: If you think you’re doing skills-based coaching but aren’t role playing with feedback loops and reruns – you’re not.

In this post, I’ll focus on making the most of both opportunistic coaching (the one that occurs the most) and developmental coaching (the one that occurs the least). That said, it will be helpful to review the four most common types of coaching to lay a solid foundation.



Strategic Coaching

Focus on strategy to create a plan to achieve pre-determined objectives. Tends to be broader; focused on what to do.

Example: How to determine the best possible approach to maximize growth in a territory

Tactical Coaching

Focus on the tactics to execute the strategy or to achieve an outcome. It’s generally targeted on how to do something, but usually more directive than focused on the skills needed.

Example: How to navigate the buyer landscape most effectively, for a specific opportunity

Opportunistic Coaching

Focus on a response to something observed in-the-moment. May be strategic or tactical, but most often tactical. Can be skills-based (but in practice, often isn’t).

Example: “I just saw you do [X] and experience [Y]. Why do you think that happened?” [Discussion] “May I offer some thoughts on how to get a better response?”

Developmental Coaching

Focus on mindset, beliefs, knowledge, and especially skills, competencies, and behavior. Developmental coaching is targeted, planned, purposeful, behavioral/skills-based, and outcome focused. It fosters getting into a cadence of coaching for continuous skill improvement to reach sales mastery.

Example: “Where should you focus improvement efforts this quarter and what skills should you develop to full mastery, in order to improve your sales performance the most?”

SIDEBAR: See this post to better understand the difference between training, coaching, and feedback. It’s a helpful foundation.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at Opportunistic and Developmental Coaching.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • A response to something observed in-the-moment
  • May be strategic or tactical, but most often tactical
  • Can be skills-based (but in practice, often isn’t)

Developmental Coaching

  • Skills
  • Competencies
  • Behavior
  • Underlying mindsets
  • Beliefs that support or derail results

Biggest differences: Topics may vary for opportunistic, versus skill development and performance improvement for developmental.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • Whatever the manager happens to see or hear

Developmental Coaching

  • Sales analytics
  • Diagnostics
  • Assessments
  • Discussion with observation to confirm hypotheses

Biggest differences: The inputs are ad-hoc observation versus diagnostic approach with targeted observation.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • Manager, seller, and often prospects or customers
  • Manager-led based on observation

Developmental Coaching

  • Manager, seller, often prospects or customers, and perhaps also mentors, trainers, enablers, coaches, or peers
  • Reps owns their development; manager is their guide

Biggest differences: This is manager-driven versus rep-owned; others may be involved in Developmental.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • Ad hoc via discussions or in meetings or based on observing something in-the-moment
  • It’s serendipitous, random, and left up to chance

Developmental Coaching

  • Formally diagnosing performance and co-creating solutions, as part of a deliberate, ongoing coaching cadence
  • It is targeted, planned, purposeful, behavioral, and outcome focused
  • It fosters getting into a cadence of coaching for continuous improvement

Biggest differences: The process is random versus an orchestrated cadence of continuous improvement.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • Most often, the output is feedback and advice
  • May result in field training or sales coaching sessions, but not guaranteed

Developmental Coaching

  • Field training sessions
  • Sales coaching sessions
  • Feedback
  • Other interventions
  • The resulting action plans with rolling reviews, which are tracked for both skill development and the resulting performance progress

Biggest differences: The outputs involve feedback and advice vs. formal developmental approach with tracking.


Opportunistic Coaching

  • Results are often not tracked, which may or may not impact results

Developmental Coaching

  • Skill improvement and sales mastery in the targeted area with tracking of results/performance improvement

Biggest differences: The results are informal without tracking versus action plans with rolling reviews to ensure mastery and performance improvement.

Maximizing Developmental Coaching

With that foundation laid, let’s take a closer look at both Developmental and Opportunistic Coaching, so we can maximize each. We’ll start with Developmental Coaching, so we can refer back to it when discussing Opportunistic Coaching.

Sales Coaching Framework

We’ve said that Developmental Coaching is targeted, planned, purposeful, behavioral/skills-based, and outcome focused, and that it fosters getting into a cadence of coaching for continuous skill improvement to reach sales mastery.

The Sales Coaching Framework shown above represents how to make this actionable. Refer to the graphic as needed, as we walk through the framework.

The framework has Inputs, People, Process, Outputs, and Results. When done, it starts over at the beginning.

INPUTS: This includes whatever reports, assessments, and metrics exist to diagnose rep performance and skill levels.

PEOPLE: In this developmental journey, reps and managers work together, as a team. The rep owns their development, and their manager is their guide or Sherpa.

PROCESS: The Process is Diagnose, Plan, Do, and Review. Meetings occur throughout the process. We say you “SLED through these meetings” (meaning you follow the steps in the SLED model to run them). In the Diagnose and Plan stages of the process, multiple meetings might be required (with the steps of SLED spread across meetings), or if there’s time, they might get through SLED in one big meeting.

In addition to the Inputs, the ROAM model supports the Diagnose stage, by comparing the Results versus Objectives, to know where to focus to improve performance, and using the Activities and Methodologies in that area to conduct a root cause analysis.

Once you know the root cause problem you move to the Plan stage to determine the best solution. It may be training, coaching, feedback, or something else (or The Solution Chart) that supports the Plan stage and helps make this determination.

OUTPUTS: This results in one or more Outputs, such as a personalized learning plan, field training, or sales coaching. Then, you apply the most appropriate model(s), at the right points in your ongoing meetings, which you continue to SLED through.

The Field Training and Sales Coaching Models

  • Tell: Manager trains with rep knowledge check (summary/recap)
  • Show: Manager demos with rep skills validation (role play)
  • Do: Rep develops action plan with manager support and executes
  • Review: Meet again to check progress with train/coach loop
  • Engage: Analysis and engaged discussion
  • Practice: Joint solution design and planning
  • Do: Rep develops action plan with manager support and executes
  • Review: Meet again to check progress with train/coach loop

Field Training and Sales Coaching

Sometimes, you will train and that will be all that is needed and then sometimes, you will train one topic and coach another. At times, you will train a topic that will require ongoing coaching to get better until a rep reaches mastery.

After the field training and sales coaching sessions, when the rep is ready to apply their new skills and approaches with buyers and customers, they create an Action Plan to implement what they have learned.

Then the reps go Do, or implement their plan, and get together again with their managers after some time, to Review progress toward skill mastery and improved results.

In some cases, it might require Rolling Reviews (an ongoing loop between Do and Review) to reach mastery of the skill(s) being training and/or coached. Ongoing meetings occur, using SLED and the appropriate other models, until mastery is achieved and results in this targeted area improve.

Note: To get the most out of the Show step in the Field Training model and Practice step in the Sales Coaching model, see this post on purposeful practice and this one on how to maximize role play.

RESULTS: Once those Results are achieved – and this may be the most important part of this framework – the rep and manager return to the beginning and start over again, fostering an ongoing cadence of coaching and continuous improvement.

As you can see, this framework, process, and other elements are all focused on skill development and improving results – which is why this is referred to as Developmental Coaching.

Maximizing Opportunistic Coaching

If Opportunistic Coaching is a response to something observed in-the-moment, the question becomes how to maximize that opportunity you’ve been given.

Managers should ask themselves:

    • How urgent or important is this opportunity?
    • What’s the potential for performance improvement?

If it’s less critical, they might just offer some quick feedback. If it’s of average importance, managers might say:

“I just saw you do [X] and experience [Y]. Why do you think that happened?”


“What might you do differently in the future?”


As needed: “May I offer some feedback on how to get a better response?”

[Offer feedback]

As warranted, the SLED, Field Training, and/or Sales Coaching models may be used, in-the-moment.

If it’s more urgent or important, with significant opportunity for performance lift, shifting to a full-fledged Developmental Coaching approach may be warranted. In other words, the in-the-moment opportunity has unearthed something that is worthy of plugging into The Sales Coaching Framework and your Developmental Coaching cadence, even though you learned about this opportunity though an unplanned interaction versus the planned diagnosis.

At that point, the manager can step back and enter the full framework and do a diagnosis together with their rep, or just use ROAM and The Solution Chart to determine how to best address the issue, with the Field Training or Sales Coaching models.

Managers should feel free to apply their best business judgment to these situations, and act accordingly.

The Best of Both Worlds

This is how both Opportunistic and Developmental Coaching can be used to support sales force development, sales effectiveness, and growth.

Developmental Coaching gets your managers and reps in a cadence of continuous skill improvement, focused on skills that when improved, will contribute significantly to improving results.

In contrast, Opportunistic Coaching will help managers take advantage of their in-the-moment interactions with their sales teams. Some of those may enter the developmental cycle, and others may be addressed on their own, using some of the same methods and tools.

Combined, you have the best-possible chance to maximize both Opportunistic and Developmental Coaching, and make the most of every coaching interaction, to improve sales skills and lift sales force performance.

To learn more about effective coaching and training for sales managers, download our Sales Coaching Excellence eBook.

Sales Coaching Excellence

Build a culture of better sales coaching.

Sales Coaching Excellence is a training program that provides a solid framework to transform sales managers into sales coaches. Fast-track your sales talent development through coaching.

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