The Difference Between Sales Coaching and Sales Enablement with Curt Crosby

This is an interview with Curt Crosby, Partner at Velas Coaching, on the difference between Sales Coaching and Sales Enablement.

Curt, what does it means to be an executive coach?

Using a methodology called stakeholder-centered coaching, my partner Luis and I work with leaders to help them better understand what their organization, department, and teams define as their success profile. Then we help them build action plans and hold them accountable for changes in those leadership behaviors. Things like active listening, decision making, managing up, influencing others, all elements of behavior that with some discipline, humility, and courage, can be changed for the better.

It's a very exciting time because executive coaching has become sought after from companies as a reward. To recognize not only their emerging leaders, but their seasoned leaders as a way to continue to hone the skills of leadership in a positive, proactive, and sustainable way. Behavioral coaching translates to every business and every market: private wealth management service companies, retail, telecommunications, biotech, and the S&P 500 as well.

What are the most common positions that you coach?

The middle management layer, particularly for those younger managers getting into mid-level management positions for the first time. And C-suite executives who have been tapped for a succession planning program or are going to be promoted within a certain period of time. There may just be some behaviors that may slow that process down. They look to us to help them modify those behaviors in a positive way.

And while it's advantageous to promote your best talent from within, sometimes these leaders are promoted without the skills and the benefits of coaching to help them understand what they need to be successful. Right now, we are coaching a small-to-medium level organization with 20 to 25 vice presidents in their company of 800 people. They have been operating fairly autonomously for some time. Some of these leaders have never been in another company. The company recognizes the need to bring these vice presidents together as leaders to work together cross-functionally, and inter-organizationally.

How did your sales operation experience inform your current role?

I've been doing coaching for most of my 30-year career in high tech. I spent a lot of time as a sales operations leader helping my staff with their own personal and professional career development. The element of leadership development, onboarding new hires, sales training was the segway into what I'm doing now. And part of my formal education and background is in cognitive psychology, instructional design, and training.

Do you find that the sales force benefits from the executive coaching?

Stakeholder-centered coaching allows everybody to win out of the process. The leader is coached by a professional and in turn, learns how to coach as an element of the coaching process that they embark on. I see it as a way for everybody to take advantage of a coaching process.

"Sales coaching is the technique within enablement that provides disciplined approach for sales leaders to better understand how to support their teams."

What are the main differences between sales enablement and sales coaching?

I believe the two are complimentary. Think of sales enablement as the overall structure of arming the sales force with the knowledge to do their jobs. That can come in the form of courses like consultative selling, negotiation skills, communication skills, product knowledge.

Sales coaching is the technique within that enablement infrastructure that provides a more disciplined approach for a sales leader to understand better how to support their sales teams, and how to help them grow.

Many of the companies that we help, we like them to consider both leadership enablement and training infrastructure coupled with a coaching arm. As you are learning new aspects of your job, you then have also had a coach hold you accountable as a leader to integrate the things you've learned from sales enablement and training into your day-to-day activity. That's the power of enablement and sales coaching working together.

From your experience coaching and in sales, are there traits junior salespeople hold that will lead to being successful at different positions?

To some degree, a role as an SDR or BDR is a bit of a rite of passage on the way towards being a regional or strategic sales rep responsible for top customers or territories that involve much more face-to-face interaction and relationship building.

There are fundamental responsibilities. SDRs and BDRs should make sure they're setting up appointments that are held, and dialing for new prospects, and setting up meetings. Then as they progress, they need to start developing working relationships with their territory managers. They need on-the-job training from being able to shadow and follow some of those more experienced account reps.

Consistently overachieving on their goals, having a can-do attitude, their willingness to learn and develop, and having a very disciplined and strict work ethic. All elements of what I would look for in SDRs and BDRs being moved into that next level of account level reps.

Are there behavioral traits that you look out for when promoting people into management?

Your best reps don't necessarily make your best managers. The challenge that we have as managers in promoting an SDR into an account manager position is that we have to have some level of confidence that that individual can take on leadership traits to be able to successfully manage others under them, potentially for the first time.

What I look for is a certain level of communication skills, of critical thinking, decision making, techniques that would allow me to believe that they have the opportunity to continue to develop as an emerging manager or leader. And a very strict work ethic because what they will be doing is learning from the managers that they report to, and translating that into their own style of management and leadership with the new assignments they take on.

There's no one thing that you can pin down. But I think all those things combined give you a confidence level that you've got the right individual that can move into a management level position.

"As a leader, how your body language is exhibited is very important."

Do you find there are undesirable traits in current leadership, that emerging leaders can work on today?

We run into what we call a lot of unrecognizable habits in seasoned and new leaders.

One behavioral example is active listening. The way that you as a leader listen to individuals one-on-one or in group settings, can be perceived as truly attentive, or really not important.

Because you continue to interrupt me before I've gotten all of my thoughts out. Or, you've added an additional amount of input that leads me to think that what I really had in mind as a creative solution to a problem didn't really count as much.

As a leader, how your body language is exhibited in a staff meeting is important. You may be pulling out your phone while your other staff members are talking, and looking at messages, or where you think you need to be in your calendar for the next meeting. Your body language, unfortunately, shut down that individual's confidence that what they've put forward was something that you felt had merit.

There are all these behaviors that either individually or collectively impact the people around. For emerging leaders and those that are moving into management positions, value what your people bring to you in terms of ideas and actively listen; which means not trying to come up with the answers before that individual has finished their thoughts. Give them time and give yourself time to process what they've said before you answer.

The ability to change behaviors really relies on three major tenants. One is the courage to recognize that you have behaviors that need to be changed. The humility to admit to your staff, 'Hey, I've got some things I want to turn around. I know you're aware of it, and I am dedicated to making some changes.' The third is the disciplined action to make the change. Those three elements, courage, humility, and discipline, are the tenants of what we use to help coach leaders get through some of these unrecognizable habits and change the behavior for the better.

Companies are hesitant to invest in someone who's likely going to change jobs in the next two to three years. What are your thoughts on the millennial workforce?

I think there's been a lot of research and articles around the millennial workforce being impatient with staying with certain types of companies. It points to a concern on their part of whether or not they have true value and a company is spending resource to help develop them. There's a certain element of truth to that concern.

Those companies that actually get it are doing just the opposite. They are recognizing the value of investing in training and providing structured, detailed, and continuous types of enablement programs. I contend that you would see your employees, regardless of age or experience, staying a lot longer in those companies that are investing that infrastructure early and at all levels.

Along those lines, you have to be coaching your leaders so they are able to coach your team. Spending time with each individual staff member around their own continuous learning, their career, and professional development. It may mean asking the questions, what is your ultimate dream job? Your passion?

While you may not be able to provide that ultimate job at the time that they described it, your roles and your job as a leader is to help them along that path. Engaging them in things that touch on those areas that are their passions, that give them the motivation, the confidence, and trust in you as a leader that you are helping them develop towards their future. These are the companies that keeping the younger generation with them.

Before we wrap, I wanted to get your recommendations and resources.

Must follow on social media:
I have a particular interest in psychology and how the brain works. I'm fascinated by the science of neuroplasticity. That looks at the proven science behind how the brain has the ability to flex in relation to continuous learning as adults. I would follow Dr. Laura Boyd at the University of British Columbia. She's a leading brain researcher in this space. Check out her YouTube TED Talk video on neuroplasticity.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the preeminent leader in stakeholder centered coaching, and one of my mentors. He's published many books on executive leadership, considered one of the top leadership gurus globally. He's an extremely valuable individual to follow to better understand how to be a coach and how to be coached.

Favorite podcast:
I find Tim Feriss' podcast quite entertaining and includes often some real pearls of wisdom around psychology and social interaction. He has some fairly famous books called 'The Four Hour Work Week,' and 'The Tribe of Mentors.' He brings people to his podcast to deconstruct what makes these world-class performers tick.

Favorite book:
I'm a voracious reader of anything and everything, both fiction and non-fiction. I'm going to give you two. In the fiction category, I particularly enjoy High Rise by JG Ballard. A fascinating look at how a society forced to live together deal with the pressures associated with that. I'll say no more.

Secondly, in the non-fiction category would be Marshall Goldsmith's 'Triggers.' Extremely valuable resource for leaders to better recognize what gets in the way of their ability to stay focused daily as leaders, and then what to do about it.

That leaves us with our last question. What is your favorite 90s dance song?

'Baby Got Back.' It was written in 1992 by Sir Mix-A-Lot. My then eight-year-old son decided that was his favorite song on the radio, and could recite every single lyric in that song, We're very glad that he really didn't understand all of the different nuances. That's the song that sticks with me.