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What does a coaching culture look like?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 7/22/16 1:30 PM

There is a lot of talk about how to attract and retain top salespeople, especially if you are talking about the "millennials". Personally, the things that are important to the next generation are important to a lot of us. It's not exclusive to them, but they haven't been conditioned to accept it, and I see that as a very good thing. We want to know that we have a place to grow, that will challenge us and that there are mentors and coaches in place to help us reach our personal goals.

In a conversation I recently had with one millennial, she said, "I think you hit on something there with 'millennials' as purpose-seekers. I think what can serve to combat the perceived laziness of a whole generation is the idea that what propels them to action is a sense of meaning in their work. They aren't really lazy so much as disillusioned. And because of that, they hate work-for-work's-sake."


Culture is an intangible thing, but it is the thing that determines whether what you do has meaning. And so when you are looking to determine if a company is the right fit for you, how can you tell if coaching is a part of that culture? It might seem like a hard thing to tell when you are on the outside looking in, but there are some signs that you can see from the time you start to research a company all the way through the interviewing process.

Here are some questions you can ask, and what it tells you about the company, to determine if they have a coaching culture:

  • What opportunities are available for professional growth?
    If they don’t have an answer to this question outside of “We provide you with training on our products or services.” then it’s not likely they value professional development. As Trish Bertuzzi describes in her book The Sales Development Playbook, look for a company that has a career path, a development program that aligns with that career path and of course, a coaching culture and framework.
  • How are goals set with sales reps?
    Does everyone have the same goal? If everyone has the same goal and the answer to how those goals are met is something along the lines of “We have an annual revenue goal and each rep has a quota that is rolled up to that goal.” then it’s very likely that the only coaching that occurs is after that goal or quota isn’t met. Quotas and revenue targets are not goals if they are not aligned with the reps own personal goals. If you ask this questions and the reply is “How much do you want to make? Why is that number important to you? How will it change or better your life?” then that is a good indication that a coaching culture and mindset is at play.
  • Are there individual action plans for reps to reach their goals?
    If the answer is no, or something like “Each rep is expected to make X number of calls or have this amount of opportunities or quotes in the pipeline at all times.” then expect that you are going to be on your own and that ‘coaching’ will be more like “You need to be making more calls or you will be put on plan.” Look for indications that there are evaluations and assessments done of your own personal strengths and weaknesses and that your manager’s job is to help bridge the gap between your activities and your ability to do those activities.
  • How is performance evaluated, and how often?
    How are shortfalls in sales performance addressed?
    Is there a system in place to measure between sales actions, goals and business outcomes? If your performance is evaluated only after a failure to meet quota or other sales objectives, and everyone is judged by the same measuring stick no matter what their proficiencies or competencies are, then you won’t likely be getting a lot of coaching to help you improve. If however your performance is directly correlated to; your personal sales strategy and activities, there are regularly scheduled evaluations, as well as as needed situational discussions of your own sales behaviors, it relates to your volume and the sales process, and you and your manager develop a coaching plan for improvement accordingly- then this is a company where you can grow. If the improvement plan is focused on the root cause of your sales behaviors and activities, then this is an opportunity you don’t want to pass up.
  • How are gaps in performance and sales behaviors measured?
    Just as the same standard quota for everyone isn’t realistic, the other metrics for performance shouldn’t be standard across the board. If you are not measured as individuals and according to your personal sales strategy, then you are just another body filling a seat. If the answer is that the managers discuss the gap in performance with you and reset the expectations, then this is not a sign of an effective coaching culture. If the answer is that there is an updated dashboard that shows the difference between the required activity and your actual (according to your own personal plan) that both you and your manager see and that at any time you or your manager can meet to discuss gaps and discuss behaviors that lead to those gaps, you are in pretty good hands.
  • Are managers trained and coached on how to coach?
    This is a simple yes or no. If no, then prepare to walk away. If yes, then there is hope.
  • How much time are managers allocated for coaching 1-1?
    If the answer is “As much time as they can find.” or if the answer is less than 50%, don’t count on getting a lot of 1-1 time. If the ratio of reps to managers is more than 20-1, how in the world would they even find the time in additional to their other duties?
  • How much time do managers spend reviewing early stage opportunities with reps?
    If the answer is none, count on the coaching culture to be non-existent, or weak at best. Most managers focus on deals that need to, or can close. But it’s the beginning of an opportunity that determines how likely it is to close. Companies that train and encourage managers to spend time on the earlier stages know this and are more likely to coach reps behaviors throughout the pipeline.
  • Who sets the agenda for coaching, the rep or the manager?
    Coaching is permission based and therefore if the manager is the one setting the agenda, it’s more like an evaluation or training than a coaching session. Companies that encourage the rep to set the coaching agenda know this and embrace a learning environment where managers are trained to ask coaching questions, not just tell reps what they should be doing because “this is how they did it.”
  • How often do other sales reps meet for round table discussions about opportunities?
    If this doesn’t happen at all, be weary of how strong the coaching culture is. If there is a small group coaching in place once a week, month, etc- then you will have the opportunity to learn from your peers and even teach your peers which will accelerate your own learning.

But is a coaching culture the only thing that is important to you as a sales rep? Do you want to push products or solve problems? Determining how buyer focused a company is will also have an impact on the type of culture you are possibly entering into. Some questions that you can ask to tell how customer-centric a company is might include:

  • Who is the primary decision maker?
  • What do they believe their problem is?
  • Why do they start looking for a solution? What is their trigger event?
  • How do they start their research? What sources do they turn to?
  • Who is part of the decision making committee that impacts their decision?
  • What is the process they go through internally to determine when and how to buy?
  • What is at risk for them if they don’t solve the problem?
  • What other options do they have to solve their problem?

If you are already in a company that doesn’t have a coaching and customer-centric culture, is all hope lost? I don’t believe so. It only takes one person to rock the boat and plant the seeds of change. Of course it is better and easier when it comes from the top, but you can manage up. Ask your manager if they are open to some of the things listed above because you are “committed to improvement and reaching your goals.” Hire an outside coach to help you if need be.

If you are a front line manager and wish you could do even a fraction of the things listed above, you can manage up as well. After all, you are responsible for the success of your team right? Stay tuned for next week’s post on how to create a coaching culture, or start now by learning how to be the coach that your team needs to crush 2016.

Topics: sales coaching, company culture