Sales coaching has a proven ROI and profound impact… when it’s genuinely coaching. Many sales managers don’t understand the difference. They’re mentoring, not coaching.
One business coaching pioneer explained it this way: Mentoring views us as empty vessels into which knowledge can be poured. Coaching sees us as acorns. Inside each of us is already the potential to be a mighty oak tree. It’s all there. We just need nourishment, encouragement and exposure to light to grow into our full potential.
Mentors teach what they already know to someone with less experience or knowledge. Mentors have subject matter expertise. Coaches help people re-discover and apply what they already know. Coaches have coaching expertise.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
The first use of the word “Mentor” was in The Odyssey when Odysseus entrusted a loyal advisor with the care and education of Telemachus. Mentor was the name of this guardian and role model.
In ancient Greece, this was common practice. It was customary for boys to be paired with older males. Mentors were chosen by the father based on their values and example. It was a great honor to be chosen as a mentor.
This aspect of mentoring is important. These mentoring relationships were necessary for survival. Humans learn skills, culture and values directly from others they look up to and admire.
Mentoring is found throughout history. In the Middle Ages, craft guilds were set up for the professional development of merchants, lawyers, goldsmiths and such. Apprentices worked with masters. The master was considered excellent in the given trade. The apprentice worked and lived with the master, ascended to journeyman level and, eventually, became a master in his own right.
Early Industrial societies shifted from mentoring to employer/employee relationships. Long-term development of employees was no longer the focus.
We’re left with informal mentoring, often initiated by the Mentee. There is a renewed interest in mentoring, largely driven by Millenials who are unafraid to ask for what they need.
Mentors teach by:
- Providing training on technical skills.
- Sharing relevant experience and advice.
- Providing resources for learning more about a particular department or function.
- Allowing the Mentee to job shadow and observe.
- Asking questions to challenge the Mentee’s perspective.
- Role Models
- Subject Matter Experts
- Patient teachers
- Making time for teaching and demonstrating
- Familiar with the organization, products, and systems and skills needed
- Highly respected
Benefits of mentoring:
- Mentoring helps Mentees and Mentors to continue developing their capacity.
- Organizational strength is enhanced when Mentors share knowledge & expertise.
- Improves the retention rate of top talent.
- Sellers understand how sales managers want sales to be made.
One of the seminal works on business coaching, The Inner Game by Timothy Gallwey, defines coaching this way. “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
The origin of the word “coach” comes from two sources. From Old English, it meant “one who guides,” and from Latin, the root word means “to extract.” Taken together, coaches guide people by drawing out of them what they already know. Coaching gets people to determine their own solutions, set their own course, and commit to their own action plans. Consequently, coaching yields high levels of buy in.
Coaching for development is more effective in driving sales performance than coaching for performance. The former focuses on the long-term, growing individual competence and confidence. The latter intervenes when an individual is struggling and focuses on immediate change. Coaching for development is for everyone. Coaching for performance is for under-performers. When coaching for development is part of the routine and sales culture, there is far less need to coach for performance.
Coaches teach by:
- Asking questions to promote self-discovery.
- Extracting what’s already known and facilitating application of old knowledge in new ways.
- Providing a “safe” way to work out challenges.
- Clarifying development opportunities.
- Allowing idea generation and experimentation without judging or steering.
- Empathetic listeners who ask thought-provoking questions.
- Restrained, rather than immediately giving answers and solving problems.
- Emotionally intelligent.
- Able to challenge and stretch others
- Skilled (preferably certified) in coaching competencies
Benefits of coaching:
- Coaching expands individual capacity and autonomy.
- Organizational strength is enhanced when the culture includes Coaching for Development (vs. Coaching for Performance alone).
- Coaching promotes self-discovery and learning agility. The critical thinking skills a Coachee acquires help in future problem solving and decision making.
- Coaching is proven to deliver a 5.7x return on investment. (Manchester study)
- Coaching is contagious. Communication, self-reflection and mindfulness will improve.
Sellers need both mentoring and coaching from sales managers. Showing sellers how it’s done is mentoring, often mis-labeled as coaching. If your coaching doesn’t include the description above, it’s not coaching. Learn to be a coach. As you do, you’ll expand your own skills and, in turn, those of the sellers on your team.