What is coachability? When I ask sales managers in my sales management workshop this question most of the time there is confusion as to the correct definition of coachability. Just because a salesperson seems to have an agreeable and receptive nature doesn’t mean they are coachable.
At one level, determining coachability is simple: if a sales rep changes what they are doing based on feedback and your constructive suggestions, then they are coachable. If they smile and nod and thank you for the great advice but don’t subsequently make any changes, they aren’t coachable.
However, that simplistic version overlooks the possibility that the rep may be highly coachable… but you are a poor coach. Maybe it’s your coaching-ability that is at fault. That why any evaluation of coachability should look at both sides of the equation.
Let’s talk about your role first. What do you think it takes to be a good sales coach? There are five areas I look at:
1) Observation & Diagnosis: A good coach is someone who takes the time to observe players both on and off the field. They don’t just look at results —they look at the methods the player uses to get results. A coach then uses those observations to diagnose specific issues for each player and to look for patterns that indicate root causes.
2) Questioning. The most effective coaches don’t just teach new skills to a player; they help players get better at learning how to improve. They don’t provide all the answers; they help steer a player towards the right answers through questioning. Players will remember insights they discover on their own (well, maybe with a lot of guidance) much longer than lessons imparted from someone else.
3) Priority and goal setting: A good coach also helps a player define specific improvement goals and set priorities. What areas of improvement will most help a particular player achieve more?
4) Skill-building: A coach’s role is to help the player perform better on the field. That takes skills, and skills must be practiced before game time. In a sales office, skill-building practice might include role-plays with the coach.
5) Follow up. Even the most diligent players are unlikely to bother with changes if they think no one is paying attention. So an effective coach must hold players accountable for implementing changes. You need to look for sustained behavior changes, not short-term efforts that fall flat after a week or two.
Now that you’ve had a chance to think about your own skills as a coach, let’s talk about the coachability of your players.
In my experience, coachability is tied to personality traits such as a rep’s willingness to change, openness to feedback and ideas from others, acceptance of constructive criticism, interest in continued improvement, and the motivation to succeed and constantly strive for new challenges and results.
If a rep doesn’t have these kinds of traits, your coaching will have little impact. So you’ll first have to communicate your expectation that their willingness to be coached is just as critical for long-term success in your company as their sales skills.
Generally, however, a more effective strategy is to hire the candidates with the right wills and then make time to coach their skills. Ask job candidates to talk about a recent example of feedback they received and what they did with that advice. Ask about their personal goals and see if “continued improvement” is part of the mix. Ask them to describe a challenge they undertook in their current or former job and what they learned from it.
Improved coaching-ability and improved coachability is a powerful combination for improved sales results! Check out our upcoming Sales Coaching & Leadership Workshop.
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