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The Art and the Science of Coaching

What is the difference between the art of coaching and the science of coaching? Why is coaching so important now and how can revenue leaders embrace a modern approach to coaching that actually works?

The art of coaching is about HOW you do it. The science of coaching is about WHAT you do and WHY. They’re both important, but the role of science in coaching is accelerating in today’s environment given the challenge of having to manage more people, more remotely, with more demands on leaders than ever before.

The art of coaching includes the techniques and tactics of giving advice and facilitating employee-generated solutions for HOW to sell or ensure customer success. For example, helping your Rep/CSM ask good questions or employ active listening techniques to maximum effect, or probing to make sure they understand the real pain of their contacts and have mapped your company’s solution to solve the problem. Ultimately, the art of coaching involves some form of the Socratic method mixed with dispensing advice and all of it wrapped up in the use of deliberate communication techniques tailored to the individual style of the person being coached.

There is an art form to knowing how to leverage techniques, tactics, questions, stories, metaphors etc. to coach and teach in that moment based on the unique set of variables. Leaders are ultimately teachers!

Here are two examples of this art of coaching, one ‘good’ and one less than ideal:

  1. The good: I once had a boss who figured out that I needed a different form of coaching than what other reps needed. (Perhaps he read my assessment and noticed it had a low score on ‘Accepts Rules and Directions.’) So the way he would coach me, across different areas, was to ask me questions so I would come to a self-generated answer. (In most cases, it was the conclusion he already had reached, but knew I hadn’t). I remember one particular opportunity area was dialing up my activity. He patiently asked me questions, like peeling an onion, until I said something like “It seems like if I simply bang out another 5 calls a day, I’ll ultimately close X more deals.” It was almost like I came up with the idea! That is the art of coaching – adjusting for the individual and leveraging great techniques, plus experience, to help the rep solve their own problem.
  2. The bad: I had another sales leader that just laid down the law: “This is what you need to do. Period, end of story.” This was in the context of trying to pull a deal into the month/quarter despite the reality on the ground. I was the one who had built a good relationship with the prospect and we had agreed to a next step that was 2 weeks after the quarter closed. I had made my number and so there was no reason to badger the prospect. They had good reasons for their sense of urgency even though it didn’t match that of my ‘clip board’ managers. There were no thoughtful questions, no vetting to make sure I had tried to pressure test the prospect’s answer and there certainly was no active listening! It was a decree. How many managers operate this way?

The science of coaching is about WHAT and WHY you do it. Science means using the data, tools and technology at your disposal to point you to where you need to coach your team member. And, most importantly, coach them based on why they are getting the results you are seeing from them. It is no different than a doctor who wants to identify the underlying disease, not just the symptom. He or she would use the science at their disposal (MRI, ultrasound, etc.) to understand the underlying cause and then leverage the science or research about treatment for that diagnosis. They would be up to speed on the latest research and protocols to ensure they are prescribing the absolute best remedy while ensuring no cross-interaction between medication or treatment. By using technology and determining the root cause of issues, you can address that cause with specific behavioral changes. And it likely differs by individual.

Here is one great example of the power of the science of coaching and the four steps we took to identify WHAT and WHY, turning that insight into ACTION.

  1. We were brought into a global B2B tech platform to help them figure out WHAT and WHY their conversions rates had dropped off. We first started with a deep dive of the data – the warning light of the dashboard was that they were closing fewer deals, conversion rates dropping significantly. Analyzing their data, we were able to trace the drop-off back to the conversion between discovery step and demo call within their process. It had dropped off quite significantly, but why? They were early users of a conversational listening platform, so we listened to calls, looked at all the data… and realized that their people were doing most of the talking during the call instead of listening. But identifying what was causing the issues was not enough to help them coach better.
  2. We had to listen to WHY their people were doing most of the talking – and the answer varied by team member. For some, they did not set the right expectations or agenda at the outset of the call. Maybe they did not want to sound like interrogators, but the result was their conversations meandered with no structure. For others, the client started asking multiple questions, leaving the rep answering questions for the entirety of the call and losing control of the conversation. Still others defaulted to giving the ‘harbor tour’ demo as their go-to move as soon as they got a whiff of pain.
  3. Unless you got down to the root cause level of WHY, no one knew exactly what to do or how coach their people to get better at these basics. When we did, we found each rep was different – so coaching had to be tailored to the individual.
  4. We put in place a plan to help their managers coach to these root cause issues individually. One first result was a change in the balance of who did the talking on these discovery calls. This resulted in a massive boost in the conversion rate from discovery to demo, which ultimately led to an increase in closed won deals. However, it all started in step 1 and the individual diagnosis.

This approach is fairly intuitive and can absolutely be done with the data from your tech stack, but ONLY if the manager has time to follow the breadcrumbs to understand what’s going wrong at high-level, where in the sales process things are breaking down, to audit specific calls by rep – listening to understand why, and to be able to turn that learning into action. And to truly be impactful, managers need to know which actions in that situation for that rep will result in improved performance, and then be able to coach effectively. Nearly every frontline manager (FLMs) tells us that they just don’t have the time or know-how to do this. That is why we built CoachEm.

Why is the science of coaching becoming more important?
In order to scale and deliver repeatable results, you need science to help. Right now, it is more important than ever because there is greater pressure on managers to deliver under increasingly difficult circumstances. With remote workers, greater span of control, a generational shift, AI technology, and challenging market trends, there are massive pressures on managers. CROs are too focused on deals, which can limit the long-term effectiveness of their teams. Good sales reps get promoted to become managers, but managers need to make sure they are not set up for failure. By embracing data and science, coaching can become a reliable, predictable engine that delivers scalable results.

If managers don’t bring some level of science, they will consistently default to generic discussions or deal coaching. In that case there is no cadence, no rubric, and no repeatable results. You can’t employ the HOW (the art) until you know the WHAT and WHY (the science). In this climate, these teams need guidance.

Here are 3 things the modern sales leader can do to build the science of coaching into his or her teams effective immediately:

  1. Focus on using the data to uncover WHAT behavioral issues, not just results or performance. For example, if the data shows that account executives aren’t self-generating enough new opportunities, managers should ask them to come to with their WHY. For example, their activity levels may look good, but a deeper dive highlights that their approach needs a change. They maybe doing too much mass email so their activity numbers look good, but are ineffective. In that case, the behavior change would be a healthier mix of outreach modalities.
  2. Know the WHY behind deal flow outcomes. Not just that you may be losing deals, but in what phase of the sales process are you losing deals. Managers can then hone in on training in how to improve that phase of the sales process with their sales enablement team.
  3. Ensure QBRs highlight the anatomy of a few won deals – in their next team meeting, managers can celebrate a win with giving their rep the limelight – but then have that rep share the detailed anatomy of that deal as a way for other reps to learn. That way, others can emulate best practices and specific behaviors on how to win a deal.

Realistically, you probably don’t have time for these 3 actions on a consistent basis. That is how we can help. Reach out to us to learn how CoachEm can provide the WHAT and WHY in an individual way to change behavior and skills, and then managers can have confidence in their coaching and their high performing teams.