Fishing can help your coaching

Recently I was observing some new sales management coaches assessing their newly gained competence. They were meeting with actors who were asked to play one of their sales people. The actors were briefed to play a certain part and to have a few problems which affected their performance. Some had a lack of motivational drive, some had paperwork issues, some lacked skills in certain areas, and some had personality clashes with other members of the team.

The actors really brought the whole meeting to life and if you’ve ever thought about bringing actors into your training role play and have stuttered due to cost, don’t. They’re worth their weight in gold.

What was being missed by my new coaches was their inability drill down to the root cause of the performance problems. They probed a little bit but were faced with the usual salesperson excuses. At the time I was reminded of a very useful mnemonic to help all coaches in this situation.


Focus on the problem, identify the cause, solve the immediate problem with a quick fix and decide how to do it differently going forward.

  • F –focus on problem
  • I – identity cause
  • S – Solve it
  • H – How to do it next time

Simple on the face of it, like most things, however a coach needs to ask questions and guide their coachee through discovering the four parts of FISH. Often the hard part is identifying the cause so use good questions which will subtly bore into the cause of the problem. Here you need to be extra sensitive, show dollops of powerful listening, empathy for their situation and good old fashioned curiosity…to get to the root cause.

The second hurdle I’ve seen sales coaches struggle to overcome is getting their coachee to volunteer their problems. The plain truth is that they won’t! Remember sales people bristle with emotions and pride and the last thing a salesperson will admit to is a problem.

Sometimes simply revealing the problems you’ve uncovered or noticed and asking for their thoughts and opinions is a lot better than dancing around the issue trying to suck it out of them or leading them to admit a failure. Most salespeople can spot a leading question a mile off. Coaches don’t have to ask questions all the time.

So remember to fish to bring about lasting change in your coachee’s behaviour.