How to Identify the Most Coachable Sales Reps

Hiring the right sales rep can be difficult. The selection process is costly and time-consuming. Selecting the wrong person to add to your team is even more expensive, by the time you consider the cost of compensation, recruitment costs, and training expenses. After you’ve invested 3-4 months to find the “right” candidate, onboarding and sales coaching begins. And, if your new hire doesn’t work out, you end up starting the process all over again! According to CSO Insights, 47% of companies say it takes 10 or more months for new sales people to become fully productive and 67% said it took 7 months or more. Want to estimate ramp time for your business? We talk more about that here.

There’s often limited availability of top-performing, seasoned salespeople looking to make a change. What remains are inexperienced (or less experienced) options. This means you’ll need to do more training and then coaching so your new rep will be able to hit quota. For a smooth onboarding process, you’ll want to be sure that the person you choose to hire is coachable. Merriam-Webster defines coachable as, “capable of being easily taught and trained to do something better.” Let’s take a look at how to identify the most coachable sales reps.

Characteristics and behaviors of coachable reps

Truly open to feedback – Sales reps who don’t accept feedback are never going to reach their potential. Their stubbornness can hold back your entire team and negatively impact their performance.

Excellent listener Your new team member needs to be able to listen carefully so they are able to understand and apply the coaching that they receive.

Possess a willingness to learn – If your new hire isn’t willing to learn, and they’re stuck in their old ways of doing things, then they won’t be teachable. So, make sure that they have the desire to learn and are able to adapt to suggested changes.

Committed to making time to improve their skills – It usually takes time and repetition to change and improve performance. If your new sales person isn’t willing to put in the time to learn and practice new skills they aren’t truly coachable.

How do you recognize a coachable candidate?

During the interview process there are certain things that you can do to determine if you have a coachable potential team member in front of you.

  • Ask your prospective new hire:
    • To tell you about a recent example of feedback they were given and how they acted on the information.
    • To list their personal goals – you’ll want “continued improvement” to be one of them.
    • To discuss a challenge they tackled in their present or previous position. Ask them what they learned from the experience.
      • Don’t be quick to judge if a previous “coaching” experience they share seems to give you the impression that the candidate is uncoachable. It may be that they worked in an unhealthy or poor sales environment in the past where coaching was used against them.(Thanks to one of our commenters for this insight!)
  • Have them do a role-playing exercise with you that simulates an actual selling situation. Set the scene, ask if they have any questions, and tell them to proceed when they are ready.
  • After the role-play, ask your candidate to tell you how they think they did. This will allow you to evaluate their ability to self-diagnose. See how well they are able to review their own performance, including what they did well and what they could improve. The coachable person will self-reflect, diagnose, and propose improvements to their role-play.
  • Once they have completed their self-evaluation, you should provide them with some coaching. Be sure to provide both positive feedback as well as areas for improvement and how to improve them. Pay special attention to if they are listening intently, possibly taking notes, and asking clarifying questions. If so, this is a good sign they are engaged in the coaching session.
  • After you finish coaching your prospective new hire, confirm that the process you explained made sense. Ask that they redo the role-play with you, incorporating some of the coaching you just provided. At this point, the candidate may be distracted or nervous — they may even believe the job is on the line. But what you’re looking for in this second role-play is effort, not perfection or improvement.  When you see the candidate making an effort to do what you discussed during coaching, they are most likely coachable.

Looking for these attributes, and following this process, will increase the odds of selecting a coachable new hire. This can make a huge difference in how quickly they ramp to optimum performance, which can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

About the Author

Melissa Halim

Melissa Halim oversees Marketing at RingDNA. "Full-stack marketer" is a trendy term, but she feels it describes most marketers today that have to know and do it all. Having dabbled in product management, Melissa's a huge customer advocate and sees it as the most rewarding (and conversion-driving, revenue-generating) "strategy" for all things related to Marketing. Oh, and she asks a lot of questions (journalism major), but if you answer with "puppies" or "dogs," you'll be good.

2 Comments

  1. Hey there, Melissa! Great tips here. I totally understand where a non-coachable rep is coming from if they’re operating in an environment of fear. They never want to be called out because they could be on the next chopping block. I’ve seen that happen to people sitting right next to me in the past and I think it instilled some anxiety around being coached. Thankfully, I’m at Lessonly now and have psychological safety in my work culture. I know that I can be coachable here because the coaching has “we”-not-“me” intentions behind it. So, I wonder if it also makes sense to ask about prior environments and understand that if they’ve had a poor environment in the past, that could be the reason they seem uncoachable and could be solved. That’s not to say it’s an excuse, but it might be the explanation.

    • Hi Mitch, thanks for the comment! That’s really great to hear about the healthy sales environment at Lessonly. It’s unfortunate that something like coaching can be used for other intentions. You make a really great point about asking about prior coaching experiences – I think that’ll give more insight to the manager so they can best help the rep succeed. In fact, I’m going to add that suggestion in this post.

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