There are many shared, best practices between sales coaching and selling. If the evolution of selling is coaching vs. closing customers, this also applies to how you manage and develop your team. Here’s how to break free of the most toxic of coaching tactics that kills team productivity and trust.
Here’s a a global epidemic that every organization and manager struggle with. As you read through the following dialog, notice the two contrasting points of view, and how it impacts your coaching, relationships and trust.
The Manager’s Viewpoint
“They just don’t get it. I start with great intentions. I’m paying attention to the questions I ask when coaching. But once I feel I’ve given them enough questions and they still don’t know what to do, I lose patience and go right into problem-solving mode. I get impatient because they’re not coming up with any ideas, nor are they self-reﬂecting fast enough to recognize opportunities for their own development. As a result, the coaching stops and the prescriptive, directive me overshadows all coaching efforts.
I’ve tried everything to work with this person so they can improve their performance, but nothing seems to help, and I truly want to support them.”
While this manager has good intentions, when patience is lost, so is coaching and trust. And the reason why patience is lost is because you’re living in the future, pushing for the result you want in that conversation.
So, you shift to telling people what to do or you ask leading, closing questions hoping to rapidly push the person to where you want them to be.
If you were living in the present, moment by moment, you’d be more patient and able to recognize opportunities for coaching, development and improvement that typically go unnoticed.
If you’re wondering how this impacts the coachee, take a look.
“My boss knows I want to be better and I am open to coaching! But I’m still learning about the company, policies, products, and sales process—and how to navigate through the company when I need help.
“Between the complex sales cycle and extensive product line, I was told many times it could take up to a year to start performing at the level the company expects. I’m fully committed to being the best I can be. Yet, when I ask my manager for help, the conversations start well, but degrade to the point where my manager loses patience and tells me what to do.
Then the conversation ends with, “Let’s just stop. Here’s what I need you to do.” As you can imagine, this approach makes me feel inadequate and robs me of my motivation, confidence and sense of purpose.
“I’m becoming more hesitant to approach her for help. I’m trying to get up to speed and I love the company. I want to build a career here. I realize I’m still learning. So, when my boss tells me, “You learned all of this during your onboarding and initial training,” it makes me feel like an idiot.
“I feel like my boss doesn’t trust me or value my work. Without her conﬁdence in me, I see my own conﬁdence starting to deteriorate, along with the belief that I’m capable of succeeding at this job.
“It seems she gave up on trying to coach me, and instead, pushed me in a certain direction with the questions she asked. And when that stops, she just tells me what to do and the coaching takes a bad turn.”
Toxic Leadership Tactic – Are You Coaching People or Closing Them?
“Her directive approach makes me feel I’m being manipulated, because the questions she asks aren’t questions to better understand me. And the questions certainly don’t create a safe space for me to reﬂect and walk through the situation and possible solutions on my own. They’re questions that guide me to the outcome she wants in the conversation. If coaching is manipulation, then I never want to be coached again.
“For now, I’ll rely on my peers for coaching and what I can do on my own to learn and perform, since it’s clear that my manager doesn’t trust me or my abilities. And if that’s the case, then maybe this position isn’t for me.”
A Coaching Culture or a Closing Culture?
Coaching is not something you DO to someone. It’s a way of deeper more trusting and effective communication and engagement. Unfortunately, when managers collapse closing with coaching, the results can be catastrophic. To make matters worse, if you’re a sales manager who used to be a salesperson, it’s in your DNA to ask rapid-ﬁre questions to quickly drive the person to the answer you want to hear.
In your attempt to support people,
you’re either closing someone or coaching them.
There’s no such thing as CLOACHING!
Isn’t My Experience and Top Sales Performance Why I got Promoted?
Managers who transition from the role of independent contributor to sales manager have a hard time letting go of old sales habits. After all, when they’re selling, traditional sales wisdom suggests you ask questions that guide the person toward the natural conclusion of the sales process. If done well, you’ve now earned the right to ask for the order and “close the sale.”
While this behavior can win more business, it can simultaneously destroy your coaching efforts, trust and relationships, even with your best intentions. That is, instead of coaching people to create a new possibility, managers wind up closing them instead.
Manipulative Management Tactics
Here’s how to recognize whether you’re coaching or closing someone. Throughout the delivery of my sales leadership coach development program, there are many opportunities where managers authentically coach their peers. Inevitably, I always recognize when a manager is trying to coach or close when I hear this feedback:
“I had a hard time coming up with the question that would guide the person to where I want them to be. I tried asking the questions several different ways, hoping they would get it, and I still didn’t get the answer I wanted. I was getting impatient and frustrated from the conversation because all I want for them is to quickly get to the right answer that I already know!”
Congratulations, you’re strong closer! But as a manager, that’s not your role anymore! Now, the coachee leaves this experience feeling unheard, undervalued, and they never want to be coached again!
When managers use leading questions, whether by intention or habit, they’re hiding their agenda in the questions they ask.
Consequently, this pushes the coachee to arrive at the manager’s desired answer or solution, not their own. According to the manager, their direct report decided that the manager’s ideas, activities, or approach are best. That, my friend, is closing, not coaching someone!
Then managers wonder why their direct reports don’t want to be coached by them! This approach makes people feel judged and manipulated, further eroding the trust needed in every relationship for coaching to be effective.
If you ever feel like your direct reports are telling you what you want to hear, it’s because you’ve violated the sanctity of authentic coaching. The coachee no longer feels like they are in a safe and trusting environment!
You know you’re coaching someone when the process is effortless, collaborative, enjoyable, often unpredictable, and exciting! You know you’re closing someone when you feel frustrated, impatient, directive, and exhausted at the end of the conversation from exerting your energy, pushing the coachee in the direction or outcome you want them to go.
If they haven’t come up with the ideas themselves or if you know the answer to the question you ask or ask a question to get the response you’re looking for before hearing their opinion, it’s your agenda!
Interrogative Coaching—Leading the Witness
Here are a few examples of leading and loaded questions to avoid.
- Don’t you think it’s a good idea to call the customer and give them a compelling reason as to why they should buy from you?
- Wouldn’t it be a good idea if you qualiﬁed your opportunities better?
- Did you try…. –> <<rapid fire questions>>? (These are the manager’s ideas to get a yes or no response and will feel like an interrogation rather than a collaboration. Instead, use, “What did you try? “How did you do it?”)
- Why don’t you include and leverage the account manager more often? (Is this a fact, as in something they’ve told you, or is it your assumption?)
- Would it help if I called up that account executive’s manager to see what’s going on? (Putting yourself in the situation to take on the problem and solve it yourself.)
- Looking at your renewals, you need to improve the relationships you have with your customers, correct? (Sharing what you perceive to be the solution and then turning it into a closed-ended question, which, if the coachee didn’t tell you, is an assumption.)
Closed-ended, judgmental questions feel like an interrogation or an attack, put the coachee on the defensive, shut down the conversation, and provide the manager with a yes or no response.
Open-ended, objective questions create an environment of exploration, conversation, acceptance, trust, exploration, and collaboration.
If you’ve regressed to this point in the conversation through the use of these types of questions, you may as well just tell the direct report what you want them to do or give them the answer, instead of even bothering with asking these deadly, coach-killing questions. Then, have a re-set conversation shortly around what coaching needs to be.
When people come to you looking for help, the conversation is ALWAYS about their agenda, not yours.
Why Some Managers Don’t Coach and Why They Will Be
Managers avoid asking questions they may not know the answer to because they fear that, if the coachee doesn’t have the answer, then they’ll be exposed as a fraud! An imperfect coach! Impostor Syndrome kicks in! That’s the ego getting in the way of being an authentic human and being comfortable with not knowing every answer. Besides, if you did know everything, then how do you enjoy the adventure and journey of lifelong learning?
If you’re looking to create a new possibility, and you already know the answer to the question you’re asking, it’s the wrong question. After all, there are many ways to achieve a goal, train for a marathon, or travel to reach your desired destination.
You don’t have to be great at coaching to start,
But you have to start to be great at coaching.
If you want to stimulate new and strategic thinking, innovation and improve personal productivity, remember – the best questions are the ones you don’t know the answers to. Without any limited thinking or assumptions, this is where the real magic of coaching happens and where unprecedented breakthroughs will be created.