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by Terry Ledden

I sat on a panel recently for a local chapter of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals alongside three other coaching professionals and industry colleagues. The topic of the discussion was the real issue of getting our coaching, as managers, to stick. A common frustration among managers is spending time coaching team members only to watch them revert back to their old behaviour.

One of our panelists , Kwesi Loney, is a dedicated full-time professional university level sports coach (former Ottawa Fury and current Carleton Ravens). Part way through the panel discussion, Paul Yuck, Priority Management, asked Kwesi what level of certification he had achieved as a coach. His four levels of certification were a basic requirement for the job.

Now Kwesi is a full time professional sports trainer and coach (more on the difference between training and coaching later), so we get the logic and importance of his professional coaching accreditation. Makes sense.

Now take the example of my twenty something daughter.  She's been teaching and coaching snowboarding part-time for over ten years. She too is required to attain and maintain her required levels of certification. Her accreditation process involves weeks of intensive study, on snow training and live demonstration of proficiency in front of an elite, intimidating judging panel of national level industry examiners through several progressive levels of advancement over the years. The commitment to the process earns her the right to where a badge and uniform that establishes a powerful and immediate TRUST with her clients. She and hundreds like her hold down real jobs to cover what usually amounts to a negative income from their part-time instructor and coaching passion. Yes, years of practice and accreditation to earn a sub-minimum wage income.

So, what's the connection, you ask?

We'd never entrust our kids to sports trainers and coaches who can't first prove they've got what it takes, right? We want our kids to be the best they can be and we need to TRUST his coach to make that happen. We look at their formal accreditation for that assurance. Then we observe (judge, evaluate) the art of his coaching effort.

Yet in contrast, everyday in business, we take top performers out of the job, pay them more money, hand them a new briefcase and business card with an exotic title AND usually more money.  Then we expect them to establish immediate TRUST as a leader and do what the last failed manager was unable to do .... coach, cajole and clone his X-teammates into new breakthrough levels of performance. That former top performer becomes disenfranchised, fails and the cycle begins yet again.

Here are a few practical coaching techniques that might help you to GET YOUR COACHING TO STICK especially of you're one of those leaders and coaches in sales or business in general who have not been the beneficiary of professional management training and development. Maybe, like most, you've been left to figure it out on your own and might be relying on what your former manager (coach) "did to you."


First, it's important to recognize the often overlooked difference between TRAINING and COACHING. TRAINING develops a base line level of skill - competence acceptable to perform the task. COACHING takes that skill and develops a higher level of finesse to improve execution and ultimately a better result. The emphasis of coaching is on improved application of the skill toward a better result. Coaching is about continuous improvement. If the skill of the individual is not yet at some basic level of requirement, how can we reasonably expect the coaching to stick if the ability of the person to execute is limited.

My daughter coaches snowboarders for competition. She'll observe for gaps in technique like stance, balance, pressure control, steering and will bring the individual back to basic training, drills and practice around these foundational skills before moving forward in coaching application of these skills in a "cliff drop" ... and probably a good deal of mental preparation as well!

As a leader driving growth in performance we have a responsibility to:

  • Determine if this situation requires TRAINING or is it a question of COACHING? We've tested him. He knows what to do, yet is not doing it for some reason




  • Next, determine if the roadblock is conceptual or technical in nature, before launching into a coaching role. Conceptual impediments are grounded in beliefs, attitudes, confidence in one's ability to execute the task. What's the likelihood I'll follow-through on my coach's advice if that voice inside my head is saying .... "If I drop in here, I will die" OR "If I discuss budget, pricing, investment right NOW in this conversation before generating a proposal, my prospect will tell me it's too expensive and I'll lose the deal. I just need to get a proposal in front of him and he'll see all the value." Technical coaching of our salesperson in use of bracketing or third part stories as a technique to tease out a budget commitment prior to developing a solution just would not stick. Our salesperson just is not mentally - emotionally ready to execute.

Is what you're coaching them to do actually outside of their comfort zone?

It's our job to determine if the coaching effort required is related to "Conceptual - Comfort Zone" (Soft skill) or "Technical - Technique (Hard skill) and direct our coaching accordingly.


Effective coaching is a balancing act between ART and SCIENCE.


If we can understand and replicate the science or the process of coaching, we can apply it across the board in any business context. One of our panel members, Colleen Francis, Engage Selling, referred to the SCIENCE as the WHAT. and the ART as the HOW. I tend to think of the SCIENCE as the WHAT or the mechanics involved and the ART as the coach's ability to read the individual and manage the human dynamic involved. In our management and coaching training, we invest a balanced level of attention on both the SCIENCE and the ART.


Here are a few coaching best practices taken from our Sandler Management - Leadership playbook:

1. Protect the "INDIVIDUAL" - coach the "ROLE BEHAVIOUR."

People are often defensive by nature. They've been negatively pre-conditioned by the frequency on which feeback is delivered as some form of criticism of attack on the person. Depersonalize your coaching by being certain to draw the distinction between the individual as a human being and the actions within the particular role.Set the environment for coaching.

2. Set the environment for coaching

- Establish an environment of trust.  We often find our clients' sales people will share their feelings and vulnerabilities with us before opening up to their formal manager - coach. Let them know it's OK to fall short of perfection. The lessons to be learned come out of the failures. Make it safe for your people to take a risk and feel safe disclosing the outcome of their efforts.

- Don't tell, coach. Instead of telling them what or how to do something, ask them questions to help them develop their own inherent ability to self-discover the what they need to do next or differently. Ask them what they did, what they could do better, what lessons they learned etc. These questions will also help you as the coach determine if they have a vision for what and how they could or should have done. Any absence of thought here suggests a training solution, not coaching.

3. Set mutual expectations for coaching conversations, up front

Gather your team and have a discussion regarding each others expectations for the coaching conversations you have. You might consider sharing this checklist with them. Remember that once it's on the table, there's no going back so make sure you mean it.

- It's OK to ask questions.

- Human nature says we listen more for what we don't agree with, not for what we can improve upon.

- Takes notes

- Do not defend. Put another way, "Give up your right to defend your point of view."

- There are lessons learned in failure. It's OK to fail.




There are Lessons Learned in Failure. Make failure comfortable.





4. Change how you give feedback

- In terms of Transactional Analysis which defines the frame of mind and related intention behind your message, make it clear to the individual that you are coming from your ADULT ego state (analytical, non-emotional state of mind) and that anything you're saying is being directed to their ADULT state of mind. Let them know that this is no time for their "Child" state of mind (emotional, reactive) to think he/she is hearing something from your Critical Parent sate of mind (Critical, judgmental). If you notice you're becoming angry or frustrated, end the conversation and schedule soon after you've had a chance to clear your emotions. People will become defensive if you're coaching when you're angry or frustrated.


5. Give coaching face to face

The most effective in-depth coaching happens more easily, face to face. In a face to face environment you have the benefit of physiology as a means of interpreting the individual's buy-in and commitment to the actions being considered. Short of that, the environment of trust and level of rapport between the coach and the individual takes on even higher levels of importance.

6. Coach a lot

Infrequent coaching is a sign of bigger problems.....only coaching when something goes wrong.  Make coaching a routine, continuous improvement process that accepted as a standard practice within the organization.

7. Use reverse questioning techniques

After the individual, for example, gives you a dialogue, use reversing to ask more guiding questions: "And after you gave the presentation, what did you realize?" is better than, "You should have set up an up front agreement (Up Front Contract in Sandler language) with the prospect before you moved into the presentation." And "How would you have attempted to make an up front contract?" is better than, "Your Contract should have sounded like ...... " Good coaching is like good reversing. The pressure to provide answers (light bulbs, in this case) is always on the other person.

8. Leverage your experience

Use your experience and knowledge to help the salesperson discover the "truth." If a salesperson has run out of light bulbs and you know there are still a few points to be made, again suggest answers.

9. Specific Feedback

Make your feedback as specific as possible, and use current examples not old ones.


Coach as close in time to the "event" as possible. If "time kills deals," then "time also kills memory."

11. Limit your focus

Work on only a few (one is better) areas at a time. Don't try to "fix" everything in one coaching conversation.  People can't work ten different subjects at once, let alone absorb them in the first place.

12. Be a model

You are a model for your staff; they are watching you. You must be open to their feedback, and you must adhere to the same guidelines you've asked them to use to receive your feedback.

13. Be authentic

Let each of your staff know you understand what they're going through because you, yourself went through it, too.


The ART of Coaching is based on your relationship with your staff as a leader and HOW you execute the SCIENCE of coaching. Leadership can emanate through positional power inherent in the title. The effectiveness of coaching is related directly to the individuals' level of receptivity to the leader as a coach, not a supervisor. Positional power has leverage in a supervisory performance management role, not in coaching. The individual must see value inherent to them in a coaching relationship with you.

The ART behind the process kicks in, right up front, at the bonding and rapport stage for the snowboard instructor - coach as she greets her new client for the first time. She and others in her position invest in continuous training, learning advanced communication skills in order to adjust style to match that of their clients and approach the coaching conversation in a way that protects the "OKness" feelings of the individual.

Her client, preparing for competition, must push the comfort zone to achieve her performance goals. She must believe in her coach when she says, "You CAN do this. You've GOT THIS." standing in front of that first "cliff jump."



Are your staff ready to make that "cliff drop" coming out of your coaching conversations?





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