There are 100 worldwide IBM coaches with extensive backgrounds in
sales and marketing. It's their mission to embed a coaching
behavior and approach throughout the sales ranks. Ingrained in
their High Performance Selling Initiative is a coaching philosophy.
Coaching at IBM is defined as
- A skill and an art requiring commitment and practice
- A relationship enabling people to unlock their potential
- A leadership style that pushes the boundaries to reach
According to Cheryl Jensen, a certified co-active coach and manager
in IBM's American Sales Transformation team, "We want to leverage
the value of coaching throughout the sales organization. In
teaching coach-like behavior to our sales leaders, territory
managers, and executives, we help them reach their goals more
To provide real-world coaching scenarios to practice their skills,
managers use Web conferences, case studies on the IBM Website, or
interactive "coach simulators" to handle scenarios. Some examples
of the coach simulators include
- how to dialogue with a new mobile employee who needs
reassurance that he/she is doing the job properly and fitting in
with the team
- how to have a difficult conversation with an employee who is
not performing to expectations
- how to work with a new manager who seems overwhelmed and is
using coercive behavior with his/her team.
To build support, the coaching approach is emphasized in the
training environment at all times. For example, 20 sales managers
in Washington, D.C., attended a performance appraisal system class
at which coaching "sparklers" were sprinkled throughout the class.
The sparkers ranged from listening skills, open-ended questions,
the 80/20 rule, trust-building techniques, and the 7-second rule.
During the course, the pervasive message of using coach-like
behavior was encouraged. The managers were offered follow-up
coaching in order to reinforce what was learned at the training
Tom Donahue, the east region vice president of sales in the
distribution sector, is a strong proponent of this coaching
transformation. "When I first started doing opportunity management
system reviews with the cluster directors, they were mainly
inspections. Now, I have a more collaborative approach with my
directors. I ask more questions and do more listening rather than
telling. It's amazing the positive shift that subtle changes have
had on the team. People come to the end point without being told.
They do it on their own."
How does IBM measure the effectiveness of the new sales coaching
culture? Sara Smith, another IBM Sales transformation manager and
coach, said, "A number of coached sales situations have landed
significant deals. However, to attribute success to any singular
factor, such as coaching, would probably not be accurate. We have a
growing body of evidence that supports the value of integrating
coach-like behavior into the sales process. We know that coaching
has had a positive effect on the sellers, managers, and our IBM
IBM's belief is that by teaching managers how to be more effective
with their reps, the reps will be more effective with their
customers. This is another way that IBM has differentiated their
salesforce from the competition. "We leverage the value of coaching
to get the right people in the right jobs and to be the best that
they can be," says Sara Smith.
With more and more companies including coaching as part of the
sales managers' responsibilities; it's easy to see how IBM is a
leader in this growing movement.