I’ve met a fair few coaches in my time and most of them, like a lot of consultants, do not relish the idea of selling their services. I actually think that this may be more to do with an inability to articulate the real value of coaching to a potential customer than a lack of behavioural skill, because often the value of coaching is intangible and can only really be identified after the event. This creates a real headache when it comes to shaping a value proposition for a coaching intervention.
But when it comes to the verbal behavioural element of coaching I am increasingly of the opinion that effective coaching skills are very similar to the effective consultative selling skills that Huthwaite have been teaching for years. There was a time in fact when Huthwaite trained the SPIN® model as a coaching model as well as a selling model and unsurprisingly, it was extremely effective. This is because coaching, like sales, is usually focused on getting another person to commit to some kind of change. So motivation and persuasion are likely to be as key in a coaching conversation as they are in a sales conversation.
Below is a summary of what I see as the top similarities between effective coaching and effective selling.
- The ability to listen. I have said this before, but I’ll say it again. I’ve heard people refer to SPIN® as a questioning model, but the initial SPIN® discovery did not unearth question types – it discovered the importance of what I call the SPIN® listening behaviours. There is no point in asking effective questions if you don’t listen to the answers, and this is as true in coaching as it is in sales. Good coaches can ask powerful and challenging questions; they also listen closely to the answers.
- The courage to throw away the script. We know scripts don’t work in selling, yet how many salespeople are wedded to their presentations? The challenge I face when coaching SPIN® and talking about the importance of planning is that sellers complain that when they go into a sales conversation with a well-rehearsed set of questions they often don’t get to use them because the customer takes the conversation off in a completely different direction. Now I do support the notion that planning and preparation is useful before a sales call or coaching conversation but I have also learnt that often the most important thing to do with a plan is to cast it aside when it becomes clear that the agenda has moved onto something else. It is the ability to stay with the coaching client or customer and follow where they want to go that is most important. Often this can involve flying by the seat of your pants and thinking on the spur of the moment but often that is where the most creative insights and breakthroughs can come from. So as coaches and salespeople I believe that we should be bold and prepared to go where we have never gone before just to see where it takes us.
- Bringing insight and reflection to the table. Giving another person the space and opportunity to talk is a luxury. I often find that in coaching conversations clients say that the best thing about them is that it gives them space and time to talk about things that they can’t really discuss anywhere else. The sales person has the potential to offer the same to a customer where a trusting relationship exists; the customer can articulate problems and needs that they may not find easy to share internally. The salesperson’s role can then be the same as the coach in terms of offering up a mirror on which the customer can reflect. In some cases it may even be appropriate for the sales person and/or coach to offer advice and insight of their own, or ask challenging questions based on their own knowledge.
- Asking questions that make the other side think. In SPIN® we distinguish Situation Questions as being less effective than the other types of SPIN® questions because they simply ask the customer to recall facts, whilst the other SPIN® questions require the customer to think. I watched a really good, experienced coach in action the other week, and then watched someone with little coaching experience try to emulate that performance. In both cases the coach asked a lot of questions, but there was a big difference in the type of questions used. The impact of the questions asked by the experienced coach is you could see that the coachee was really thinking through the scenario being discussed and getting a different perspective on it. The questions asked by the inexperienced coach simply asked the coachee to recall facts about the situation. The result was astounding; you could see that the first coachee came out of his coaching session wowed and motivated; the second coachee did not.
So next time a sales manager says he can’t coach, or a coach says they struggle with selling, take a look at what behaviours they are using in their current role. They might not find it as difficult as they first thought.
Dr Janet Curran, Head of Thought Leadership, Huthwaite International