Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Curious Thoughts On Coaching, Demos, Life, the Universe and Everything… But Mostly on Coaching

I recently completed an interview with the fine folks at Refract ( that explores a range of topics, then settles down and explores coaching for presales (and demos, in particular) – and a curious thought struck me:

Very few presales managers have ever been taught how to coach…! 

This is intriguing and gently frightening…  Think about it:  most front-line presales managers are promoted from their previous individual contributor positions into their new manager roles because they excel at presales.  In many cases, they are given their new roles without any training on how to manage.  In nearly all cases, they are expected to coach their new team, but are never provided with training on how to coach.

The result is a negative feedback loop: 

VP:  “You need to coach your team…” 
Presales Manager:  “I try to tell them what to do…” 
VP:  “Well, do it better…”
Presales Manager (inwardly):  “Arrrrrrgh….!”

Interestingly, many arenas outside of the business world require coaches to learn how to coach.  Example?  Some years ago I volunteered as assistant coach for my daughter’s soccer team.  I’d played soccer for years (reasonably good goalie at one point) and knew the game – and figured I should be able to coach the girls.  However, I was surprised to learn that the league required all prospective coaches to learn how to coach – and I had to take a 2-day course on coaching.  I was even more surprised to find how useful (and ultimately important) it was to have learned those coaching skills (partly to help develop the team and partly to manage the parents on game day…!).

Brief segue:  What is the difference between training and coaching?  You can train someone to follow a process; coaching explores how well that process is being executed and makes improvements in performance.  Training introduces process; coaching improves the performance of that process. 

For example, you can teach someone how to run a 5 kilometer race:  you start, pace yourself over the first 4.5 kilometers, and then “kick” the last half a kilometer to finish.  The runner listens to the instructions, then runs the course as best he/she understands or interprets the plan.  That’s training.

Coaching is what happens next.  A Coach, who has watched and timed our athlete during the run, reviews what happened with him/her – and offers corrections and changes.  “Start a bit faster; remember to focus on smooth, steady breathing, and when you see the final half kilometer distance sign you can start your ‘kick’ – increase steadily over that half a km so that you are at top speed in the last 100m before the finish line.”  That’s coaching – working to improve the performance of the process.

Our athlete (after a bit of a rest), runs the course again, focusing on the guidance from the coach – and sees some significant improvement.  Importantly, that’s the positive feedback loop that coaching enables.

So, for you new (and experienced) presales managers, Is there hope on the horizon for you who wish to coach (or coach better)?  Why, yes!  For Great Demo! practitioners and their managers, I can provide coaching tools and guidance on how to coach – simply send me an email if you’d like to start the conversation at

Are there any additional sources for learning coaching skills you've come across?

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