Establishing a Sales Coaching Culture

It seems that these days, especially within the sales world, the word coaching gets thrown around an awful lot. Sales managers are asked to “coach on a concept” or “coach to this or that skillset,” and at the end of the day, the idea of what coaching really means can get lost.

As opposed to just telling, directing, or making someone do something, coaching them implies that a method of asking questions rather than giving solutions is being used; that there is an element of holding back and listening, and a desire to grow someone’s skills and encourage them to discover their own solutions.

Sounds pretty good, right?

At its core, coaching is an effective way to communicate, and therefore it’s no wonder that more and more sales organizations are looking to create a coaching culture. A culture of coaching is an environment where open communication and feedback is encouraged and accepted at every level and in every direction – downward, upward and across.

Fostering Open Communication
When we talk about open communication in every direction, we’re referring to the fact that coaching is most effective when it’s a mutual task. Even the most well thought out coaching effort is useless unless the person being coached is open and receptive to being coached.

A culture of coaching dictates that anyone and everyone within an organization should be able to communicate in a coaching manner. For example: if a sales rep doesn’t think she’s receiving helpful feedback from her manager, she should feel comfortable enough to communicate to her manager how he could better provide that feedback – in a way that would be more impactful for her. Maybe he’s providing her with stats when what she needs to be effective is a performance analysis and corresponding action items. This should be openly communicated.

Another example would be a sales rep who observes a peer struggling with an element of the sales process – the observing rep should feel comfortable enough to step in and provide coaching points if it’s within an area he fully understands.

Establishing the Coaching Culture
As one might assume, the concept of an open dialogue within an organization is only effective when everyone agrees to check their egos at the door. There is a tendency for reps to get defensive when attempting to be coached by a manager, and the same tendency when a rep attempts to give feedback to a manager – no matter how constructive in nature it may be.

How can this be avoided?

Although communication is encouraged in every direction, coaching and therefore a culture of coaching, is something that must be mandated from the top down.

The first step in implementing a coaching culture is to achieve complete buy-in from company executives. Executives need to send a clear message to the organization, outlining the manner in which they would like internal communication to be handled. From there the concept needs to be endorsed and embraced at every level.

Coaching Needs to be Trained
A culture of coaching is not an idea; it’s a practice that needs to be implemented. If an organization is going to expect its members to get onboard with a new way of communicating, it has to provide the training and support required.

The benefits to creating a coaching culture are many, and they center around personal accountability for improvement. Take a minute to assess your own organization – are people accountable for their improvement and completely open to feedback? If not, what are the known and unknown ramifications? Perhaps the establishment of a coaching culture is something to seriously consider.