Coaching: Helping Others Succeed

Livestock Sales

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With society’s current focus inward, the concept of helping others succeed may not seem like the answer to the perennial question, “What’s in it for me?” Yet, when one does stop long enough to contemplate the commonality of the success around us, we begin to see how helping others succeed plays a central role in our individual success.

Years ago when I first started out in my career, a sales trainer told me that my success was directly related to my customer’s success. At the time I didn’t see that as particularly insightful. After all, any salesperson with successful customers will be successful, because successful customers buy more than unsuccessful customers. Home Depot is more successful than many local hardware stores, so I initially interpreted that message to mean, sell to more Home Depots.

Fortunately, as time passed, I matured in my career, and that message took on a whole new meaning. I began to see that if I could show my customers how my products and services could help them succeed, then I could transition from being simply a salesperson to a business consultant, and maybe even a trusted advisor. Achieving those levels of relationships had a significant impact on my sales performance.

So my customers’ successes led to my success, and I was promoted to sales management and a new opportunity to test the theory that success comes from helping others succeed.

How could I, the new sales manager, help my sales reps succeed? Again, the answer seems relatively straightforward. Since I was a good salesperson I would work with my reps and close more deals for them. After six months of running myself ragged closing deals without impacting the total district sales, I realized that once again I had misinterpreted the trainer’s advice. I began to gain a real understanding of helping others succeed – coaching!

Six steps
Over time, I developed a simplified process for coaching others to acquire the feel of a skill and building enough muscle memory so that they could make it their own. The process involved six simple steps:

  1. Set Expectations. Without a clear definition of the skill, there is little hope for people to make it their own. In addition, those expectations must reference some criteria that the person can measure. How else will they know when they are successful?
  1. Demonstrate. It is a proven fact that we retain more when we “see” it in addition to just “hearing” it. Successful coaching demands more than just the transfer of information. How many of you ever improved your golf game by reading a book? Most of us require a fairly skillful coach in addition to information alone. Therefore, coaching requires enough skill to demonstrate the skill being coached.
  1. Practice. This is where most of today’s coaching efforts fall apart. Many of today’s students expect instant success. “Give me the magic pill, I’ll take it and then I’ll be successful.” That may be today’s reality, but the real problem arises when the coach buys in. If you want to be well liked you probably will not make a good coach. Expert coaches adopt that old Marine Corps drill instructor attitude – Never Satisfied. Professionals know the value of practice and pushing the envelope.
  1. Execute. Expert coaches also understand that some students are great in practice but fold under the reality of executing in the real world. That’s why it is critical that coaching extend onto the real playing field of business. This is where the coach is put to the greatest test. Sometimes failure is the greatest teacher; at other times, success holds the magic. Expert coaches decide in the moment which course of action will benefit the student most.
  1. Debrief. Every sales call or interaction is an opportunity to coach. The key to success here is what happens in the debriefing. Start by pointing out the successes. Everyone likes to hear what he or she did well. It reinforces the individual strengths. If there is room for improvement, select the one or two most critical areas and work on them first. Overwhelming the individual with a laundry list of items to be improved will only guarantee failure. Most importantly, when there is an area for improvement, point the student towards the improvement. Never criticize the error, as that will only ensure it will be repeated again. Point out the solution or point in the direction of the solution. You will find the results much more satisfying.
  1. Repeat. No one ever reaches the point where some coaching would not be beneficial. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Michael Schumacher all continued to use the services of coaches during their careers. It is the concept of “continuous improvement” played out with our human capital rather than simply against a process.

Helping others succeed is the path to our organizational success as well as our personal success. You will also find it to be very rewarding when measured against all the criteria for success. If you are a distribution sales manager looking for better results try this approach with your reps on your next ride along. If you are a distribution rep looking to step up your game, ask your manager to help you succeed by remembering that leadership is a skill, not a position.