Leadership Interview & Coaching Case Study: Samson Zhou, Sales Manager Shanghai

A case study about coaching for sales performance: building a closer relationship with the customer decision maker to drive more volume and meet sales targets.

Samson Zhou & Tracy Zhi

Back in October 2016 I published an article ‘Coaching is Blooming in Shanghai’ about General Manager Sales, Allen Tu and his team. Allen attended my Coaching Master Class programme in 2011. Much to my delight he kicked off a coaching programme for four of his sales managers in 2016 using my material. He promised to keep me in touch with their progress. Here is the first coaching interview and case study.


Allen interviewed his manager Samson Zhou about the coaching he has been completing with his direct report Tracy Zhi.

Allen: What did you do to ensure the coaching subject for the session was relevant, both in terms of the coachee’s performance goals and their business priorities?

Samson: I start with Tracy’s personal target, in short term she want to be a professional sales. Two things to make a good sales: One is the sales skill and two is the ability to reach sales target. I asked Tracy to keep in mind she need to try very best to reach sales target even it very hard sometimes. With this target, we bring up the coaching subject: how to engage with client senior level/decision maker. The subject is helping Tracy to improve her sales skill, at the same time the good skill on engaging with client will relate to performance result. Business priorities are following these two things.

Allen: What did you do to ensure the coachee reached conclusions and took actions to meet their business performance priorities?

Samson: Every coaching session I am following the ‘GROW’ model. To help Tracy set clear goal, define current situation and explore more options to solve the problems. I am asking a lot of purposeful questions to guide Tracy initiate her own ideas. Those ideas she is willing to try in real world. Follow by weekly coaching and some joint calls, I can observe if Tracy took actions and her own summary about those actions.

Allen: What did you do to select your priorities for coaching – that is, which of your direct reports to work with most/least?

Samson: The 1st thing I did is to understand Tracy’s goal which is in short term she want to be a professional sales. The area she want me to help is how to better run client meeting and how to engage with client. I scheduled some joint calls to observe Tracy’s client meeting. I found Tracy is very good on presentation skill caused her trade and marketing background. However the skill on customer expectation management, to understand customer’s real need parts need to further develop. I shared the findings with Tracy to have the agreement on our 1st focus coaching subject. As we have the alignment, she also priorities her time on this subject.

Allen: How did you plan and allocate your personal time for performance coaching in the last quarter?

Samson: I promise to Tracy every week she can have my 2 hours, one hour for Friday afternoon 2-3pm for coaching, and one hour she can decide to use either for joint client meeting, lunch or coffee and we can discuss anything. Two purposes here: one is to let Tracy know my time also valuable, she need to well use my time and well use the coaching session; 2nd to build better personal relationship with Tracy, to have the trust, to let Tracy know I am willing to help.

Allen: What was it that you did personally as their coach to ensure they achieved their performance goals? What were the business goals your direct report achieved?

Samson: I gave some pressure at beginning to Tracy that a good sales need to meet their performance target, even that time Tracy just been sales 3 months. I want to set this groundwork to let Tracy really think about how to carry every client meeting in order to achieve the target. Apart from the regular weekly coaching, I did join more than 5 Tracy’s client meeting, I help Tracy prepare the pre-meeting, share more market information from GFF side to let Tracy sell Maersk confidently, we work the PSM together to find the value for customer. In the end she achieved sales target consistently in Q3 and Q4.



Here is Samson Zhou’s summary of coaching journey he has been completing with his direct report Tracy Zhi over the last six months of 2016.

Coaching Subject:

How to better engage with customer senior level management/decision maker.


Much closer relationship with customer decision maker, thus drive more volume to meet sales target.

Planning & Preparation:

After some joint meeting with Tracy to build the trust, we agreed upon the coaching session to pick up one topic which is Tracy really want to develop. Combined with my observation during the joint meeting, we came up this topic – ‘How to better engage with client senior management’. As Tracy felt she doesn’t feel confident to sell during a meeting when the customer has issues with our service. With better engagement, it will manage client expectation thus create more opportunity to process value selling, in a result to have better sales performance.  We also agreed every Friday afternoon 2-3pm is our coaching time.

Before every coaching session, I fill in the ‘Coaching Preparation’ form. This is a really good tool to help me think structurally how to organize next coaching session, which kind of questions I need to prepare, what’s the result I want to achieve. After self-reflection I inform Tracy 2/3 days before the coaching session so she also can prepare some examples and questions.

Carrying out the Coaching:

During the coaching, I am keep practicing the ‘GROW’ method. Normally after a few warm up questions, I will jump to the ‘Goal’ with questions like: “What’s the progress since last coaching session?” and “What’s the biggest challenge so far?”

In the ‘Reality’ session, I will link the ‘Goal’ to business results, by asking questions such as: “What’s the impact on this client performance after you engage with the senior manager?” “If the result is good, why and what did you do right?” “If the result not reflected yet, why and what did went wrong?”

In ‘Options’ session, I will try to ask Tracy to think out of the box, what else we can do to improve the relationship with client, any internal party can support on the engagement, any other creative idea can help on the relationship. The purpose is to let Tracy think about her own ideas about how to engage. The challenge here is sometimes I gave my idea directly, and sometimes I didn’t deep dive the new idea to ask ‘Why’ and ‘How’. This need to be further enhance in future coaching session.

In ‘Way-forward’ session, I will ask Tracy again what we have discussed, and when and how will she implement the idea in the coming client meeting. And we will agree to review the actions in next coaching and see how it works.

Reviewing & Follow Up

After every coaching session I will use the tool ‘Leadership Learning Log’ form to self-review the coaching session, and my manager Allen will also use this file to help me review the coaching.

I can see since the regular coaching with Tracy her confident level has been largely improved when engaging with client senior managers. She is confident to run the meeting and manage client expectation, she is able to use our PSM model in the presentation to sell the company value. She met sales target consistently in Q3 and Q4, 2016.

We both believe coaching is really helping us to improve our abilities. Tracy is gaining more sales experience, and I got a lot of opportunity to practice my coaching and management skill. We have agreed the next coaching topic will be: ‘How to better define customer need’. It also relates to Tracy’s Sales College 2 training. If we can better define client need, we can offer precise solutions to gain more sales!

Samson Zhou LinkedIn Profile

Tracy Zhi LinkedIn Profile

Allen Tu LinkedIn Profile

Samson Zhou & Tracy Zhi






Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

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