Midway through my selling career I had a manager who I really didn’t get along with. Let’s call him Bob. I’d been in sales for about 10 years and had experienced some success working with Fortune 500 companies selling complex solutions and services. When I changed companies, I quickly learned that my work life had changed—and not for the better. Within 3 or 4 months I found myself dreading Bob’s “coaching” calls and was often left confused about where I stood and what exactly was expected, other than “sell more.” Ironically, I was consistently at or above quota and had a track record bringing in deals when it mattered. But none of this seemed to make any difference.
As I progressed in my sales career, both as a manager and informal coach, 3 core building blocks of my coaching process emerged as the keys to helping people perform to their full ability and developing engagement.
Trust: The first and most important element of coaching is building trust. Without trust, every recommendation, suggestion, or request will be viewed with skepticism. In a coaching situation lacking trust, your team members will constantly question your motives, making it exceedingly difficult to achieve the behavior changes that improve performance. Trust is built over time in many different ways such as backing your people with internal stakeholders, supporting their professional development and career aspirations, and course correcting when they’re not getting it right.
Consistency: One of the most challenging issues we see in most sales organizations is coaching consistency. This building block actually covers 3 different issues: planned, ongoing coaching; coaching different team members consistently; and coaching individuals consistently over a period of time. Sometimes coaching opportunities can be spontaneous, but top-performing managers make coaching a priority and devote time to coach their teams in a planned, sustained way.
While many companies have developed and implemented sales competencies and behaviors, they frequently read like they were written by a room full of consultants (which is often true). As a result, these competencies and behaviors do not fulfill the promise of creating consistency and equity across teams and in individual coaching conversations. The good news here is that there are now technology platforms available (like mCoach) that enable managers to ensure coaching consistency in a much more effective and efficient way. Tools like mCoach make complex competency and behavior models functional and actually make them high-powered coaching tools that help drive performance and enable constructive dialogue about personal and professional development.
Value: Let’s face it, coaching is not a completely altruistic endeavor. Coaching is a means to an end with the end being increased performance in terms of sales, efficiency, or some other measure. Sure, in theory you get better performance out of the process, but in order for coaching to stick and pay off, the team member has to see and derive value from coaching interactions. When we talk about planning and prepping for a coaching interaction, this should be a starting point to begin thinking about what you plan to focus on, how to react and provide feedback, and to think about what you’re likely to see or hear. If you’re able to reorient the coaching session in a way that puts you in service to your team, the likelihood of delivering actual value goes up considerably.
I ended up working for Bob only about 18 months, during which time I learned a lot about the pivotal role managers play (or don’t play) in motivating and developing team members. This chapter of my sales story happily ends at a hot technology company where I took a position that was challenging, exciting, and really propelled my career forward. Take a few minutes this week to evaluate your coaching building blocks and make sure these 3 are part of your foundation.