Sales Coaching Blog

Sales Coaching: Never too Good to be Great

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

January 6, 2016

Bill_Eckstrom_Headshot_2014_s.jpg“The longer I coach the less I know”.

Coach John Cook has coached the University of Nebraska women’s volleyball team for 16 years. He has won three national championships (the most recent being two weeks ago), multiple conference titles, has qualified for the NCAA tournament every year he has coached at Nebraska and has been selected national Coach of the Year two times (plus he is the author of the opening quote).

You have likely heard me say this before, but I’m fascinated with coaching, specifically high performance coaches.  Why they do it, how they prepare, and what they do differently are just a few of the many questions I want to know, and what all my friends at EcSell want to know. Though our company’s focus and research revolves around sales leaders (coaches) and their respective teams, we continue to learn from everyone in a coaching role.  And, Coach Cook in a recent interview provided some powerful insights that he attributes to the performance gains of his national championship volleyball team.  I have taken the liberty of boiling it down to three changes that should be beneficial and applicable to everyone who serves in a sales leadership role.

First, Coach Cook is focusing on his own growth as a way to improve those that play for him.

“He wanted to address his shortcomings. Don't underestimate Cook's desire to improve, and the lengths he's gone to do it, as a leading reason the fifth-ranked Huskers reached this week's NCAA Final Four.”

At EcSell we often preach the law of the lid—a team’s ability to produce is capped by the coaching skills of their manager.  Perhaps intuitively knowing this, Coach Cook did what so few are unwilling to do, he went to extreme lengths to find out how HE could improve, and sought others to help him identify his coaching gaps.  It’s not at all unique when one admits they aren’t a finished product, for everyone when asked the question, will respond with “of course not”, but their behavior proves otherwise.  Whether human nature, environment or some other mysterious factor, most people will not change behaviors even when the outcome could be as drastic as death. But, Coach Cook, like most all high performers, did what others are unwilling to do, he asked others to hold him accountable to the behaviors that needed to be changed.

"When you talk about evolving, I think student-athletes 15 years ago, even 10 years ago, were much different to coach than they are now," he said. "I don't think we've lowered our expectations as a program, but I've had to adapt in many, many ways."

Coach Cook understands that if he wants his teams to perform at the highest level, he must first focus on his own development and become a better coach.  This approach is unlike most strategies taken by sales departments.  The tendency of sales leaders is to put the majority of the development focus on the sales person as opposed to those who coach them.  In order to achieve at the highest level, this thinking and resulting behavior needs to change.

Second, he sought others to help him grow. 

“Jack Riggins, a Navy SEAL commander who along with sports psychologist Larry Widman has logged an untold amount of volunteer hours during the past three years in consulting roles for Cook and his players — at Cook's urging.”

Going out on a limb here, but my guess John_Cook.jpgis the former Navy Seal and Sports Psychologist were not volleyball strategy experts, but certainly experts on human performance. Cook recognized his gap was not knowledge of the game, but understanding more about his players who played it.  And, while this may come naturally to some, it did not for Coach Cook, nor did he believe it contributed that much to the performance of his team, which is why it took the talents of those from outside the world of volleyball.

“Cook, in his extensive dealings with Riggins and Widman, has learned the value of cultivating trust throughout the program. Of building relationships. Of open and honest communication.”

Too often sales leaders limit the growth of their teams by only seeking experts who “know our business”.  And while I believe there is some value in a baseline understanding of one’s business, that lack of knowledge should not be a disqualifier.  Deliberately seek those who can help you grow in ways that most are not doing, or you run the risk of being like everyone else. 

Third, the Husker coach worked on something most sales leaders dismiss, because they wouldn’t see a link to performance, Coach worked at developing better relationships with those on his team.

“Cook long has had the science part down. You know, the technical side of the sport, the physical training, the tactical elements. He's a master of analytics. Cook hasn't always been deft when it comes to the art element behind good leadership — which involves an intuitive feel for what players might need emotionally and mentally.”

It is easy to focus on X’s and O’s, game plans, strategy, for that is what most coaches know well.  This is also a fallback position most every coach takes to performance improvement.  And while important to be able to do all the above at a high level, it should not be at the expense of intimately knowing each and every member of your team. 

“Cook, though, knew he needed upgrades in that area. Widman espouses the notion that players don't care how much their coach knows until they know how much he/she cares.”


EcSell’s research shows a strong link between how much a team sells and a coach’s ability to intimately know each of those on their team.   And perhaps as simple as this may sound, very few sales leaders know those on their team with the depth they should.  Without this knowledge of one’s motivations, passions, goals and dreams, a coach cannot help them be realized.  Simply stated—the more a sales rep feels like their manager cares about them as a person, motivation to sell increases. 

The best part of everything you’ve just read is this: you no longer have to guess if you or your team is good at coaching in sales.  Coaching is now a measurable metric, just like selling, that can be improved upon when gaps are uncovered.  Is it the X’s and O’s you or your team lack?  Is it the connection with those on their team?  Are they challenging their people enough?  Holding their team to a high level of accountability?  Are they selling for their people or coaching them to become high performance sales people?

Just imagine what the Husker volleyball team would be capable of doing with coaching analytics along with player and game statistics.  For sales teams, you no longer have to imagine…


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Topics: sales manager coaching, sales coaching, sales performance

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