Customer Conversation Challenge 5: Coaching

CoachingIt can be exhilarating to be elevated to the role of “coach.” But that rush can give way to a crash—for the coach, learner, and organization—if the coach doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

When it comes to customer conversations, I find that good coaches are few and far between. Several factors are at play: flat or reduced training budgets, leaner teams (in terms of headcount), and often little understanding of the skills needed to build good messengers. Taken together, that can mean both inadequate time devoted to coaching and ineffective use of the little time that does exist. Sales managers and other team leaders often get pushed into a coaching role for which they are under-supported and ill-prepared.

I was recently was recruited to be an assistant coach on my son’s 5th/6th grade football team. Believe me, this was not due to any stellar playing career or coaching acumen. I think it’s because I have friends on the staff and I appeared available (primarily the latter).

When I was showing these wide-eyed boys a proper three-point stance, it occurred to me that my own fundamentals might not be perfect. I’ve since been brushing up. No one wants to be exposed as a fraud, especially by fifth graders.  

I’m much more at home when speaking to and training business professionals! When it comes to managing one’s professional colleagues to enable better customer conversations, there are several elements that make for a good coach:

  • Offering motivation. Coaches can encourage, share successes from across the organization, and create an environment where people expect to succeed. However, pure rah-rah alone won’t produce lasting improvements.
  • Setting the example. People need to see managers’ behavior, both to know “what good is supposed to look like” and to know that managers appreciate the difficulties in customer conversations firsthand. But again, simply modeling good behavior won’t cut it.
  • Providing for skill development and practice. There are certain skills (such as empathetic listening, dealing with questions, storytelling, drawing a picture, and the like) that great messengers have. These skills don’t come naturally, and they require practice.

Who is serving as the conversation coach(es) in your organization? Are they in the role by default (like a certain assistant coach) or is there a clear plan for producing organization-wide the specific behaviors they need to coach?

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