- Why is the manager delegating his or her responsibility for employee/salesperson success to an outsider whom he or she doesn't know and has no authority over?
- Great! That means the manager isn't biased regarding the route to success so long as the salesperson is successful.
- The manager is replacing or blending group sales training with individual skills enhancement to give each seller the ability to discover his or her own favored model for learning and success.
- The manager should be a co-sponsor and fund the endeavor as soon as the seller starts to bring in additional revenue and enhanced results.
- The manager should be part of the final session to ensure he or she can follow up and continue the work of the coach and understand how best to supervise the coachee to ensure the learning gets carried forward.
But as a coach, I'm happy. It gives me a chance to work with dedicated professionals who are actively seeking growth and change and who are ready, willing, and able to learn and grow.
If this is indeed a trend, I am delighted; it tells me that the sales profession is finally recognizing the individuation of sellers and allowing people to discover their own unique routes to success. And it should give the company greater success when sellers are able to follow their own styles and communication patterns and don't need to fit into a possibly uncomfortable mold.
I'm more concerned that the field of coaching may not be ready to accept all this responsibility, however.
In fact, while sales coaching can be highly effective (as long as the seller acquires sound, replicable skills and the seller gets weaned from the coach in a reasonable time period), some coaching I've seen makes me jittery. Some coaches use the coaching relationship as a vehicle to offer "advice," based on the coach's view of "excellence" and based on the coach's "success" in similar circumstances. In other words, the seller gets to be a clone of the coach.
What is Coaching?
Let's step back for a moment and understand what coaching is-and can be.
"Coaching" is a relatively new term used to describe a one-on-one relationship in which one person is meant to guide another into excellence. In fact, coaching is the new word for consulting-consulting for individuals. And, as with consultants, there is no way to know with certainty before you begin if one coach would be better for you than another no matter how good the referral or reputation.
Many consultants have a history of having worked with major consulting firms and, therefore, have discernable track records. When we hire someone who has been a partner at KPMG, for example, we know we will get someone who has a background in accounting, working with large corporations, and who follows a rather linear, strategic approach to change management. Someone who has been a vice president at a bank has other qualities commensurate with his or her work history and banking industry knowledge. But what about all of those new names floating around who have not been associated with a branded employer? And if someone has a good reputation, what does that mean for us specifically?
While there certainly are a few governing bodies around and a few programs that teach coaching, most coaches I know are not licensed and have had no specific training in how to "coach" per se. They just deem themselves good at what they do, advertise their expertise, put prices on their heads, and hope enough people will show up to keep them gainfully employed.
Indeed, there is no way of knowing how you will "connect" with a coach-even one with a great reputation-until you have already had one or two sessions.
How to Choose the Right Coach for You
Here are a few recommendations to help you choose the most appropriate coach, help alleviate the downside, and maximize the upside:
- Write down a list of exactly what you want to walk away with. This will change as you learn and grow, but it's good to have an initial goal-something like "learn how to close better/faster" or "learn how to determine high-quality prospects on the first call." You can also add some skills here, like "learn to listen better" or "learn to develop better relationships." This is the easiest part of your homework.
- Begin to grapple with the type of interactivity you want to have. Should it be a Q&A with the coach giving you answers so you can walk away with things to do? Do you want the coach to listen to a particular situation and lead you through actions to a specific goal? Do you strictly want advice? Do you want to learn new skills? Have the coach do interventions on apparent deficiencies (i.e., you may be listening only for a prospect's "content" cues rather than recognizing his or her unspoken metamessages, leading to faulty interpretations and wasted time) and teach you new choices? Are you ready to learn where you are less than successful and may need to change to garner greater success? Are you ready to change?
- The type of coach you require depends on the type of change you seek and the level of trust you're willing to impart. People who work with me expect me to use my decision facilitation model and lead them through any ineffective communication patterns that keep them from being excellent communication partners and decision strategists. People who choose coaches who have been consultants in large corporations get led through strategic approaches that incorporate the knowledge of job descriptions and responsibilities of different levels of people, internal decision makers and how they operate, and how to work with "internal coaches" to achieve success. Each coach has a different style. What do you want to achieve? And what type of relationship will help you get there?
I see my job as that of a neutral navigator, leading people through their own unique change processes to have them discover, choose, or learn the right skills to use at the right time. Other coaches see themselves as high-level consultants who work alongside their coachees and tell them what is going on-and what needs to happen-each step of the way.
Coaching for Change vs. Coaching for Activity
Of course, there are certainly times when it's necessary for me to give advice, especially when folks need a few facilitative questions to help clients make decisions. But I deeply believe that people possess most of their own answers as well as very competent, usable skills; they just don't always recognize when to use one skill rather than another and sometimes end up using a great skill at the wrong time.
Here's an example of taking a highly effective skill from a personal situation and transferring it to a selling situation. Let's work with a client's annoyance at a prospect's objection. I would ask my client to compare how she heard that objection versus how she might hear a small child tell her of an incident at school. I'd then have her recognize the difference in how she listens in each situation and lead her to discover how to listen with the same ear that she listens to a child with and see if that changes the choices she'll have with her prospect. Ultimately, she would end up being able to choose the best listening filter for every communication.
Not everyone wants to go through this sort of process, nor is it relevant in every situation. And some people only want to walk away with a recipe of "to dos."
As you go about the process of choosing a coach, make your best guess as to how you will know, before you begin, which coach will be flexible through time, through contexts, and through change. It's vital that you ask yourself these questions before choosing a coach.
An Example of Collaborative Sales Coaching
The foundation of my coaching style is the belief that people exhibit the same communication issues with me as they do with their other communication partners, and we can use our relationship as a model for change. It's real, it's real-time, and when something happens between us that I notice as being potentially harmful in a collaborative decision-making communication (one of the skills necessary for helping buyers make buying decisions), my client can learn new choices and make any learning mistakes with me prior to going out and trying the new skills on their prospects and clients.
In my personal belief system, if I continually tell my clients what to do, I'm giving them fish rather than teaching them how to fish. And when I can help folks learn new skills, the skills become parts of their unique styles and personalities. I've just provided the vehicle for learning.
To give you a model of one sort of coaching, I'll walk you through one of my recent sessions with a new client. Use it as a way to help you consider your own comfort zone and get clarity on your criteria for choosing the best coach for you.
Prior to our first session, my client sent me a long missive requesting a list of facilitative questions for some complex prospecting calls to "C-level" execs. The email contained several pages of types of clients and types of situations, all with requests for input from me.
"Is there a specific reason you decided to send this to me prior to our call?" I asked as soon as we began, wondering what was behind the missive, curious as to why he didn't want to wait to discuss the material together, and wondering if he expected me to do a certain amount of homework on his behalf prior to our call.
"I like to have some sort of control over my calls, to know where a call is going to end up, and to make sure I walk away with exactly what I need. I was just taking care of myself."
"Do you always do that sort of thing?"
"As often as I can."
"Does it work?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes the call gets away from me and the other person takes over, and then I don't know how to get it back to where I want it."
"And how do you know the difference-before you go into 'control' mode-between when it will give you what you want, when it won't, and when it will make the situation worse?"
"I have no idea."
And so we started our first coaching session.
Much of our session was about his need to have control-what I call an "I space" (defined as a communication directed toward getting your own needs met without considering the effects on the communication partner or the overall communication), which is very different from a "we space" (in which both communication partners work toward a win-win situation)-over his communication partner.
We then discovered the beliefs he'd need to expand in order to add "win-win communications" as a behavioral choice. I didn't want to suggest he stop trying to wield control. I just wanted him to know the difference between when it would be successful and when it wouldn't and have another choice when necessary.
I gave him homework to help him begin to differentiate between the times he would naturally gravitate toward using control tactics and the gentle, collaborative choices he usually made in his personal life in similar circumstances. From there, we built in alternative skills to use when he recognized the need for a new choice.
In the last 15 minutes of the call, I gave him some facilitative questions for an upcoming conference call with a group of senior partners. We also agreed that in the future we'd allocate the "change" portion to one half of the call and the "to do" portion to the other half.
Know Your Comfort Level.
Not every coach works this way. Nor does every coachee want to make personal changes. Working with the type of change that uncovers possibly hidden issues is risky and uncomfortable and takes coach/client trust, coach skill, and client courage.
Whatever the parameters will be, you must be as clear as possible prior to choosing a coach and get agreement on your preferred working arrangement during the first conversation. And because you'll sometimes need to shift gears, make sure you have a coach who is flexible enough to be able to offer different types of communication styles.
Your most important criterion for choosing a coach is your comfort level with respect to change. How much change can you handle? Would you rather be given answers? What will you need answers for, and what would you be willing to go through the change process for? It's vital that you be honest with yourself here so you can choose the coach to help you achieve.