Phone Coaching vs. Sports Coaching…. What’s the difference?

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Nicole Marcellino

“EXCELLENCE IS THE GRADUAL RESULT OF ALWAYS STRIVING TO DO BETTER.”
– Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat

There are obvious differences, of course, and yet many clear similarities, between a sports coach and a phone/sales coach. Sometimes, this analogy can be useful in understanding how “Coaching” and “Training” differ, and why Coaching isn’t optional anymore…it’s essential. 

Here are some of those similarities:

  1. Like the world’s leading athletes, without exception, your salespeople, including your top salespeople, need a coach to help them become even better at their game.
  2. Like the coaches to the world’s leading athletes, phone coaches and sales coaches aim to get the best output from the potential skills of the salesperson. *Because one size definitely doesn’t fit all
  3. Coaches observe scrupulously the salesperson’s performance (behaviors, language, attitudes, approach to the work, etc.) and reflect (feedback) what is seen and heard to the salesperson.
  4. Coaches suggest how a specific action (such as word usage or tonality) could replace a limiting action that is undermining the salesperson’s results.

    An example might be the tendency of many salespersons to ask open-ended questions (which we’ve all been taught to use, in some part of our training). When the salesperson is coached to overcome that learned habit, and instead uses closed-ended questions, or Either/Or choice questions, the caller finds it easier to focus, to decide quickly on their appointment time, and both parties get their results faster.

    (It may seem counter-intuitive. Part of the magic of an active coaching model is how powerful “counter-intuitive” can be…) 

Another common (all too common!) example is to start an inbound call by immediately asking for the caller’s personal contact information. It puts an already hesitant caller into a defensive state that can permeate the call. SOME FREE ADVICE: Try to start by asking some questions about what they want, not who they are!

Much like the skills of supreme athletes, the salesperson’s skills will improve—far beyond their own expectations. And much like the coach for a top athlete, the phone coach is not a better performer than the player. The coach is not “teaching” the player. Rather, the coach focuses the player’s attention on blind-spots, or limiting beliefs, to see and hear things they may have been missing. 

“THE COACH DOESN’T HAVE TO PLAY THE SPORT AS WELL AS YOU DO. THEY HAVE TO WATCH YOU AND GET YOU TO BE YOUR BEST.”

-Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

The personal coaches of star athletes, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Raphael Nadal, Tom Brady, or LeBron James are not better performers at their sport. But their skills are in noticing where and how the player can improve, and more importantly, in knowing how to communicate that insight, so that the player changes, and it sticks, it becomes a new habit, a new mindset.

How does the insight become an ingrained part of how the player thinks and acts?

Habit.

Repetition.

Practice.

Feedback.

More Practice.

More Repetition.

More Feedback.

New Habits.

…Rinse, and Repeat. i.e., ongoing active coaching…

Those are just some of the unique characteristics of coaching, which Training cannot achieve. Especially brief, one-off Training, which has a different function than Coaching. Whether it’s a one-day, half-day, or week-long classroom event, or days on an online training platform, what changes behaviors, habits, and mindsets is what happens Next…

The secret of the gap between training and coaching is the integration of knowledge into action—not just once, but consistently.


Is training valuable, yes. Does it provide a much needed “shot in the arm,” yes.


Coaching has to be regular, consistent, and incremental. We raise the bar, even higher, until the salesperson achieves excellence. There is always a higher bar to reach. Most of us don’t/can’t reach it alone. That’s where Active Coaching earns its value.  That’s why it’s an investment, not a cost. That’s also why you can’t afford not to coach your sales/phone teams.

POSTSCRIPT:

If you’re one of those people (like me) who don’t relate to the analogy of sports coaching and sales coaching—which is a perfectly reasonable position—you can compare it to the world-class leadership coaches, such as Tony Robbins, Marshall Goldsmith, or Bill Campbell, the Trillion Dollar Coach.

Bill Campbell, the ex-football coach, coached some of arguably the best world-class business leaders, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Google co-founder Larry Page, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the current CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, as well as CEOs of Twitter, Flipboard, eBay, and many other companies. 

The analogy is that like phone coaches, Bill didn’t know more, or lead better, than his coaches. He listened more than he spoke, and he was willing to tell the truth to them, with respect, with honesty, and without judgement. 

“A COACH IS SOMEONE WHO CAN GIVE CORRECTION WITHOUT CAUSING RESENTMENT.”

-Coach John Wooden

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