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When you think of great sports coaches, what names come to mind almost immediately? If you’re like me, you might have visions of Nick Saban dancing around in your head. Mike Krzyzewski, Vince Lombardi, Pat Summitt, Bill Belichick, Dean Smith — they’re all doing the two-step right next to him. Well, maybe not Belichick (he doesn’t strike me as a dancer — but he’s still there). And the funny thing is, they’re not the only ones on the dance floor. We could debate coaching greats for hours on end, and in many instances, we, as sales managers, want nothing more than to emulate them as much as possible in our little world.

After all, not only are these coaches great at the Xs and Os, but they practically wrote the playbook on how to evaluate talent, communicate what they want and what’s best for the team, get the most out of their players (superstars and role players alike), build rapport and buy-in throughout the roster, and establish a model of excellence that breeds championship success every year.

So, if we desperately want to be like them and see ourselves as mini Nick Sabans, why do we struggle in coaching conversations?

There are a few reasons for this.

1. A Surprising Lack of Coaching Mindsets

To achieve a successful coaching conversation, managers must adopt the coaching mindset. You’d think that would be easy. After all, we are incredibly talented at fixing things and finding solutions to complex problems. We’ve also been in the sales rep’s shoes before and know what needs to be done—regardless of the scenario. And yet, instead of engaging in the conversation with an eye or ear on developing the rep’s skills, we are thinking about completing a task. 

The most common example of this is forecasting. Perhaps the rep hasn’t updated it yet, so the manager is focused on getting what they need — going as far as giving the rep all the answers rather than asking questions to identify the problem areas, showing empathy, helping the rep identify opportunities on their own, and elevating the rep’s skill and knowledge. 

If you’re going to be a coach, you have to understand that no single deal or forecast is more important than the players who present solutions, qualify leads, etc. Success is all about elevating the players. Furthermore, coaching is a lot like parenting. In every interaction, there’s an opportunity to help shape what happens in the future. If you ignore that or try to provide all the answers rather than coach up your rep, the problems you’re facing now will only multiply in greater numbers.

2. Instructing vs. Coaching

I already alluded to this one, but it’s worth repeating. Instructors are there to impart something—advice, direction, orders, etc. This may come in the form of “I need you to do this” or “I want you to do that instead.” Meanwhile, coaches always start with questions.

“Why are you here?”

“What do you want to accomplish?”

“What’s standing in the way or holding you back from your goals?”

“What do you think you should do next?”

All too often, managers take on the instructor role in coaching conversations. They think they are coaching, but in reality, they leap to “Here’s what you need to do better” instead of asking the right questions. You cannot add value by instructing 100% of the time. You add value in coaching conversations by doing all of the following.

  • Getting to know them inside and out
  • Meeting them where they are
  • Asking the right questions 
  • Listening more than speaking or finding solutions
  • Diagnose before prescribing
  • Creating buy-in and trust
  • Identifying where their opportunities are to improve
  • Consistent check-ins and guidance

3. Lack of empathy

If you ask a sales manager if empathy is important in coaching conversations, they’ll say “yes” every time. But to piggyback off No. 1 above, managers often become too objective-focused. Furthermore, they are accustomed to being the answer point. So, they get into a rhythm of trying to solve every problem and struggle to demonstrate empathy along the way.

To break this cycle, managers need a model — just like Belichick and Tom Brady had a model of success for all those years, and Saban had a model during his illustrious career at Alabama. You simply can’t coach if you aren’t identifying the root cause for whatever gap exists and then providing your reps with a model to help them develop their skills over time.

Without a model for success, managers always revert to what they can do quickly and proficiently. 

And that’s usually at the expense of their team.

Managers Need Coaches Too

If you agree that you want to be a coach and that your ability to demonstrate empathy, ask good questions, and use energy and sentiment to develop people is important for your coaching conversations moving forward, you have to find someone or something to objectively evaluate whether you are succeeding in those efforts. Even better, you need game film for proper evaluation.

That’s where TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that offers a unique and compelling way to activate experiential learning and eliminate traditional scenarios that are too predictable or emulate the old way of doing things. TalkMeUp profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. Like having a communications coach on speed dial, it gives you the feedback you need to understand how you communicate in coaching conversations — all in real-time. 

As you practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who you are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a coach who emphasizes effective communication.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp could help you communicate with greater inclusiveness?  Book a time for a brief demonstration.

About the Author
Bob Sanders is CEO of Axiom Sales Kinetics and has more than 30 years of experience helping organizations such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Thryv, and CommScope achieve exceptional sales results. Before acquiring Axiom with his business partners in May of 2022, Bob was the chief operating officer of Reflect Systems, where he helped implement a variety of sales, marketing, and operational initiatives that doubled recurring revenue and positioned the company to be acquired by Creative Realities. Bob has a degree in Marketing from Miami University.