Episode 262: Debbi Varela on Creating a Culture of Success With Coaching

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I’m Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Debbi Varela, the author of Put Me In, Coach, here with us today. Debbi, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience. 

Debbi Varela: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. My name is Debbi Varela. I have over 15 years of experience now in the sales enablement and transformation space before it was even really like what it is today. I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the world’s smallest startups to some of the world’s largest tech companies. After working in these businesses of all sizes throughout my career, I have honestly met some of the coolest and most interesting people. I’ve learned so much about what works, what doesn’t work, why it didn’t work, and what to do next time. 

SS: We’re excited to have you here, Debbi. Now, going back to your book, you actually discuss how coaching can create a culture of success for businesses. In your opinion, what are the key components of a successful sales culture?

DV: That is a great question. Funny enough, I actually had just published a blog on my website on this exact topic a few weeks ago. I believe the recipe to create a winning sales culture is really around five key things. The first one for me is really just having a defined vision so everyone understands what their position is on the field or where they fit into the bigger picture of the organization. I just feel this is incredibly important because it gives a sense of belonging and purpose to individuals.

The second one I think it’s a key element that I’m passionate about, which is really around skill, or sometimes I call it action mapping and motivation. What I mean by this is truly knowing your team member’s strengths and their areas of improvement and how to motivate each person. Where will they naturally excel? Where will they need a little bit more encouragement? What’s the best way to encourage them? Are they extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated? That makes a huge difference. 

The third one I think is super important, which I see time and time again in organizations, is accountability and continuous feedback. That would honestly come in as one of the most important ingredients for a thriving sales culture. Interestingly enough, with many of the companies I’ve worked with, this is oftentimes their biggest weakness. When I say accountability, I’m talking about like, do you manage behavior? Do you as a leader take responsibility or do you blame other people? Do you manage your pipeline and then do you spend enough time on pipeline reviews? Do you have a cadence that you’re holding yourself and your team accountable to? That’s what I think of when I think about accountability.

The next one is really around team building and trust to ensure that your team operates as a single unit. You can see this really play out on the sports team when teammates trust each other and they really know each other. Things just look effortless for them and they just flow together.

Finally, for me, it’s the last one on my list, but it’s honestly just as important, which is celebrating successes and learning from failures. You should celebrate every win, no matter how small it is, because it’s still a win. I feel that setbacks should be reviewed with positive intent, not to blame, but to learn any ball from those.

 SS: I love that approach. Especially today in the current environment, why is coaching critical in today’s sales environment and how does it help nurture a healthy sales culture?

DV: I think coaching is absolutely critical and honestly it’s interesting because I think that most people would agree with that statement, but then when you dig into that with the sellers or managers, they have a different response. They don’t feel like they’re getting enough coaching from their managers and managers don’t necessarily feel like they have enough time or even the skills to do said coaching. Typically what I see happen is the managers try, but ultimately find it difficult to get on a regular and consistent coaching cadence with their teams.

In lieu of that, they tend to jump in and rescue the seller during a sales call to show them how it’s done, but that is not coaching. Ultimately that leads to an unhealthy sales culture because that decreases accountability and responsibility on both sides. It also erodes trust and it undermines the confidence of both sides.

For me, if a more consistent coaching cadence was in place and managers were given the skills to coach effectively, then a positive and supportive culture would help to motivate and engage teams, which would then attract and retain their top talent. It would drive performance and deliver better results for customers. Coaching is just a critical factor in creating and developing high-performing sales teams in my personal and humble opinion. 

SS: I love that opinion. I’d also love to get your opinion, Debbi, on what a good coaching program looks like.

DV: Absolutely. I believe that a good coaching program has to have a well-defined structure and it needs to provide some type of system, whatever it is, for managers to enhance the skills and performance for the overall effectiveness of just the individuals within their team. For example, it should have clear objectives that are measurable and aligned to the specific skills or the behaviors or outcomes that they want to improve. 

One thing I just want to mention is that coaching programs really can’t take a peanut butter spread approach. You have to develop them with the individual needs in mind and there should be some kind of feedback or performance management framework in place to help provide individuals with specific things in a timely manner and also focus on the behavior that can be observed in positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism. I mean, in coaching, really, the key is continuous improvement. Goals or milestones are established and then also be adaptable to the needs of that individual. Your coaching begins to evolve over time. 

SS: Absolutely. Those are great key principles to structure your coaching program. What would you say some common challenges are when it comes to coaching and how can enablement help mitigate those challenges?

DV: I think the most common challenges that I see and hear are focused around three things, which is time, skill, and consistency. With time constraints, managers, just don’t have it. There are just way too many competing priorities. Enablement can help by providing some time management training for coaches, as well as even just like some type of structured coaching schedule. 

The next one is about the lack of skills or training, I hear this all the time that managers really want to coach, but they just don’t really know how to do it. I think enablement can offer some type of coaching skills training program or provide them with some kind of organized workshop resources and just offer some ongoing support. 

The third one I see a lot is that they will start coaching, but then it just falls off. Just a lack of consistency and inconsistency in coaching across teams always leads to some kind of uneven result. Enablement can help by implementing some kind of standardized coaching framework with cadences and guidelines. They can provide templates, resources, and checklists that will help managers keep that consistency and have that structure that can anchor them to keep it going over time. 

SS: I think those are some great suggestions. Oftentimes in sales teams, I think front-line managers really serve as the key coaches for their teams. How can enablement help prepare those front-line managers to be more effective coaches? 

DV: I think enablement teams can respond to some of the things we just talked about about the common challenges. For example, if enablement can provide comprehensive coaching skill training for frontline managers, where they focus on things like active listening, effective communication, and giving feedback, that’s often actually very hard for people to do in a way that’s effective for the person they’re giving the feedback to.

Goal setting and all the other essential coaching competencies. Developing a repository of coaching resources, as I mentioned, including guides, templates, and best practices, just so that these frontline managers have easy access to materials that can aid in their coaching efforts, make it a little bit easier for them, because remember, they have so much going on and so many competing priorities.

Offer training on goal setting and action planning. Use things like the SMART goal framework with their teams to create actionable plans to help the plans that they’re actually setting. Then establishing a system for ongoing monitoring and support. If enablement can do some kind of regular check-in with frontline managers, then they can offer them some additional training where they’re feeling maybe not as strong in certain areas of coaching and even just provide them with some type of support network that can help them work through some of the challenges that the managers had as they’re trying to build this coaching muscle in their own skills.

SS: That’s fantastic advice for frontline managers and enablement professionals. Last question for you, Debbi. How do you measure the impact of coaching on the business? 

DV: This is a great question of when that comes up all the time, measurement, and metrics. Let’s assume for a second that we’ve established the specific and measurable objectives for the coaching program so that if you do that, then you can measure impact in a few ways, in my opinion.

You can conduct some kind of baseline assessment before the coaching program begins, like gathering any kind of data on the metrics that you’re planning on using, such as individual or team performance. Whether it’s employee engagement, satisfaction, or any of the KPIs that are tied to the coaching. Once you do that, then you can identify and track those that align with the objectives of the coaching program. These could be things like sales metrics, customer retention rates, employee turnover, productivity, and anything that your company can track and actually use to hold managers and their teams accountable to these coaching programs. 

Another way is gathering feedback from participants through surveys and phone interviews. Measuring changes in their point of view, their attitudes, and any self-reported improvements in skills or behaviors. I think that’s really, really helpful. This qualitative data can give you all kinds of really great insights into the impact of what you’re doing from a coaching perspective. 

I said to conduct a baseline assessment, that will give you a kind of like where everyone starts, but also then follow that up with an assessment after the coaching program. That way you can compare against that baseline data and see any type of growth that happened across KPIs or any of the other things that you’re tracking. 

The two other ones are just around measuring employee engagement satisfaction, like are they enjoying the coaching program? Do they feel like it’s contributing positively to themselves, the organization, and their goals? Then just look at the organization’s performance metrics with industry benchmarks. That can be really helpful too. You can see maybe where the excellence benchmark is, then where maybe organizations that are similar to yours where they fall, and then where you fall. We can kind of see how you’re performing against those industry standards. 

SS: Fantastic advice for our audience. Debbi, thank you so much for joining us today.

DV: You are very welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

SS: To our audience, thank you for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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