Coaching vs Managing a Senior Living Sales Team

A Different Kind of CRM

Continuum CRM changes the way you'll view customer relationship management tools in Senior Living. It goes beyond activity tracking for the Marketing & Sales department. It helps sales people manage relationships and marketers track campaigns. For managers and corporate team leaders, it’s a powerful data-driven machine capable of providing insights to achieve better budgeting and strategic measures.

Coaching vs Managing a Senior Living Sales Team

Coaching vs Managing

Which One Are You?

I came to the senior living industry seven years ago, as a Director of Sales for a large Life Plan Community. I had been in sales and sales management in various B to B organizations for nearly 20 years. My job there was to work with the sales counselors to make them better at what they did, and with my experience, I could do that.

My listening skills were superior, (so I thought), my presentation skills were top notch, (they were), and having always utilized a consultative sales approach I thought I was ready to coach this team to success.

Only I wasn’t coaching and I wasn’t leading. I was managing.

I managed to the situation. I put out fires. I changed processes. I instilled a “my way not your way” philosophy. I didn’t coach a darn thing.

I thought I was a great coach. Boy did I have it wrong.

I had a ton of previous experience managing and training employees in a very large international business with a great deal of structure. The last time I managed a large team, they all liked me. They were successful. I promoted a lot of my employees. A lot.

I was constantly churning new trainees and getting them ready to be managers. I rocked!

Now… not so much.

I wasn’t sure if my people liked me. I didn’t feel effective like I was before. I didn’t really feel like they respected me, my opinions, or my ideas.

I thought I was being a great coach. I thought I was bringing great ideas to the table and the team would want to follow my example to success. I forgot one huge element to all this.

I had been managing, not coaching. It took me a while to learn the difference.

Here’s my lesson.


One day, feeling frustrated and like the I was failing at my new role, I called upon the assistance of my business coach.

By the way… if your company ever offers you access to a business coach, jump at the chance! I now believe, no matter how long you’ve been in business, regardless of your title or level of expertise, everyone can benefit from a business coach. They RULE! Mine gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me.

Coach your team in the place they are. Every person is at a different level of expertise in each given situation. And here’s where I learned the difference between managing and coaching.

A manager tells people what to do. A coach asks the team member how they think they should approach a situation and then offers guidance, based on knowledge and experience, on how to get to the desired result.

Turns out, I had been managing all along.

I had spent very little time asking my team members how they wanted to approach any given situation. Instead, I was solving every problem for them and in the process, making them very reliant on asking me for answers instead of asking me to guide them toward solutions.

They weren’t learning to respect me, my opinions, or my expertise. They were learning to listen to what I told them to do. They were learning obedience, and how to cover their asses to keep their jobs.

This was no way to work. And I wanted them to work. I wanted my team to like and respect me. Most of all, I wanted to earn their respect.

Making a Change

I started asking one simple question every time a team member came to me with a problem. “What would you like to do about this?”

Sometimes, they had no idea. Sometimes there were very specific ideas, some of which we couldn’t accommodate.

But it was a starting point.

I involved my team member in the conversation, the decision-making process, and ultimately gave them better problem solving skills. Which is what a coach and leader is supposed to do.

We aren’t supposed to answer every question that we are asked. We aren’t supposed to give edicts, mandates, and demands.

We are supposed to elevate our players to new heights. There is no way we can do that if we don’t let them use their brains to solve problems.

Starting to Think

There were times my team would solve problems even better than I would! It was so refreshing. To have someone come to me and say, “Hey Kristin, I have this problem I’d like to solve for this customer and here’s how I’d like to do it… what do you think?” This was a much better way to communicate!

So much stress was lifted off my shoulders once I learned the difference between coaching and managing.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times I still had to manage, but when I had to do that, I also tried to coach behavior change. How did I do that? That excellent business coach I referenced earlier gave me another bit of advice.

Never approach your people by scolding, intimidating, or shaming them in to behavior change.

Why? It doesn’t do anything but create contempt and bad feelings between you and your team member.

So, another epiphany, and a new way of approaching behaviors that needed correction for the better of the person, department, or organization.

Every time I had a real problem with something someone did, I approached it this way… “Hey Susie (not one of my peeps names), I have a problem.”

You see what I did there?

I let them know the problem was mine. Because guess what? They might not see the behavior as a problem.

If you don’t see the problem yourself, you won’t acknowledge it and you won’t fix it. So really, until they see and acknowledge they have a problem, it really is YOUR problem.

Let’s test the difference between managing and coaching in the situation below.

Here’s how a manager might approach Susie:

“Susie, I can see from my reports that you haven’t hit your call quota for the last month. Next month you need to hit it or we are going to have to have a different kind of conversation regarding performance.”

NOT helpful at all. This approach doesn’t do anything but make Susie feel attacked, shamed, and scared about her job security. It doesn’t in any way address why she might be struggling or how to help her overcome the problem.

Now, let’s look at how a coach might approach the same situation:

“Susie, I have a problem. I know you have a lot of responsibilities and tasks I ask you to complete, one of them being a certain number of phone calls weekly. I noticed you haven’t been able to complete those calls consistently, but it’s something I am accountable for with this team. What can we do to make sure you complete them so we can both report to our bosses that we’ve met our responsibilities?”

Susie may have plenty of time. She might just be lazy about the calls. In a few months, you may be coaching Susie to find work more suitable to her talents, but today is not that day.

It’s possible we’ve piled too much on her plate and there is not enough time in the week to accomplish everything. Maybe you have set expectations too high.

Have you physically accomplished everything you’re asking your team to do each week? If not, spend a week in their shoes. What an eye opener that is.

It could be Susie has been covering for other people and that is affecting her capability to keep up with her own responsibilities. Perhaps there are tools we can give Susie and the rest of the team to ease workflows and increase their productivity. (Think uber effective CRM!)

There are a lot of reasons Susie may not get all her calls done weekly. But this approach includes Susie in the conversation. It invites her to open up about why she’s struggling. She may have something going on in her personal life that is affecting her work and she just needs some temporary breathing room.

You’ll never have the chance to find out with the first approach. The manager approach in this situation is cold, uncaring, and doesn’t account for Susie’s challenges in any way. The second supports employees as people.

Get Personal

One of the best business books I’ve ever read was “Five Signs of a Miserable Job” by Patrick Lencioni. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to as soon as possible.

There was a time in business where leaders were taught to keep focused on business and not get in the business of their employees. This book not only challenges that thinking, but shatters it. If you don’t get to know your people personally, it only shows them you don’t care about them.

Keeping your personal life and your business life separate is a bunch of malarkey.

You have one life. Your employee has one life. You can’t shut one off when you walk in the door of the other.

You can maintain composure, you can attempt to maintain focus, you can keep quiet about personal (or business) problems. But they all affect the human being trying to maintain all that control.

I’m not suggesting you spend your day prying into the private lives of your employees. You’re not there to become their best friend. And prying will make you look just plain nosy and probably a bit creepy.

What I am saying is that you need to be genuine in your interest in employees as people. To do that, you must break down some of the barriers and be genuinely interested in who they are. And who they are, is far more than what they do for you.

Lessons Learned

Over my six years leading a stellar senior living team, I learned many lessons.

I’m proud to say I learned how to be a coach. I learned how to make my team not need me so much, but I made them want me to be their leader.

I learned that a manager is just a person in a chair telling everyone what to do. A coach is someone you want to learn from and work for.

I mostly learned that my team doesn’t work for me, I work for them and my job is to remove obstacles in the way of their success.

Want a sales & marketing tool that will help you become a better coach? Check out Continuum CRM and request a free demo.

Kristin Hambleton

Kristin’s passion is in helping others succeed in the senior living industry. Her objective is to assist teams in becoming better sales people through consultative selling, and helping managers be more strategic in their roles through data mining and analysis. With her role at Continuum CRM, Kristin is able to focus on both of these efforts.