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Is cognitive behavioural coaching your missing ingredient?


Bryan McCrae examines cognitive behavioural coaching and asks: is this the missing ingredient for sales development?

Motivation underpins all employee performance and research shows that within sales roles, motivation and resilience are the primary factors in long-term success. Faced with the continual challenges, setbacks and rejections it is essential that people in sales roles are able to quickly bounce back and stay self-motivated.

While extrinsic motivation is undoubtedly valuable (good management, rewards, benefits and recognition), helping employees to motivate themselves intrinsically has huge cost benefits (decreased performance management, stress, absenteeism, and turnover and increased engagement).

It is well established that one of the most effective ways of increasing self-motivation is to learn to actively manage one's thoughts and feelings. In turn, developing these skills to increase emotional intelligence leads to more effective outcomes and helpful behaviours as well as increased engagement and motivation. Cognitive behavioural coaching is one of the most proven and effective ways of bringing this about.

Thinking success for sales people

Whilst there is an overwhelming range of sales skills training available and many excellent assessment tools to select the individuals with the best chances of success, there has been little explicit attention paid to developing the underlying thought processes used in the salesperson's day-to-day work and how to improve them.

Cognitive behavioural techniques, which are among the most proven and effective forms of psychological intervention, are based on the understanding that our stress or anxiety levels are affected by both our thoughts and behaviours. Our thoughts, assumptions and beliefs affect how we feel and what and how we do it (our behaviour) and vice versa. The benefit of this approach is that we can change the way we think and behave to feel better even if the situation itself does not change.

There are a number of common unhelpful patterns of thinking, or 'thinking errors' that can affect our feelings, behaviour and body reactions. Training to identify and challenge these ways of thinking can help to improve our stress or anxiety levels, associated behaviours and body reactions, and improve our motivation and resilience.

Based on the principles of cognitive-behaviour therapy together with organisational training and development, this new approach aims to assist sales people by helping them develop more useful thinking patterns, to become more motivated and resilient when faced with adversity. Specifically, it teaches cognitive strategies (in particular, how to identify and modify assumptions about success and failure) and work practices that are designed to enhance psychological health, sales productivity and job retention.

Recent large-scale research in the UK demonstrates that sales people would like to have more coaching made available to them to help improve their performance, indeed this is one of the most highly demanded inputs requested, ranking at number two out of a list of sixty possible items.

Coaching has consistently been shown to be very effective in many fields of development, but has been primarily delivered as an expensive face-to-face activity, although more recently supplemented by telephone and email based approaches.

The computer says 'Yes'

Whilst cognitive behavioural coaching is an effective approach, it has several drawbacks in its traditional form;

  • Costs are relatively high when delivered face to face
  • The results are dependent on the fit between the coach and coachee
  • The participant must be in the same physical location as the coach
  • The coach and the participant must be available at the same, pre-scheduled times

As a result coaching tends to be used only with higher value or management employees, where the high costs are more easily justified.

In computerised cognitive behavioural coaching the computer program guides the participant through his or her own individual coaching sessions in an engaging, experiential, entertaining, interactive way, at each step driven by and based on the participant input. Text, graphics, audio and video are all used to appeal to different learning styles.

It is delivered over the internet in 'bite-sized' chunks that take thirty to forty minutes to complete, containing videos, quizzes, and reading material interspersed with exercises for the participant to complete and report back on at the following session. Progress is automatically tracked and can be seen by the participant.

Isn’t this just more boring elearning?

Much computer-based training and elearning has a well-deserved reputation for being dull and uninspiring, with high rates of drop out and low completion rates.

To overcome these challenges and to be as effective as possible, the cognitive behavioural coaching programme is presented as a series of demonstrations and assignments incorporating video of sales characters whose stories are followed throughout the program, adding human interest and increasing the desire to see the next 'episode' for each character.

Several highly effective advanced behavioural techniques are utilised, including thought diaries, thought challenging, generating alternative psychological strategies, identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking patterns and habits, incremental behavioural planning and goal-setting, graded task assignments and behaviour scheduling. Crucially all assignments are designed to integrate into the users normal working activities so that new habits quickly become second nature.

The timeframe around working through the program will vary from person to person, but can be expected to be around six weeks with a follow-up phase to reinforce the material and new ways of thinking. It can also be reviewed at any time to reinforce previous material before moving forwards and it can also be utilised as a coaching catalyst and framework by management.

So what is the return on investment?

This approach has been tested in within a large major UK insurance corporation, with 166 salespeople as participants. There was detailed measurement and monitoring of results using a carefully designed experimental methodology. The results were that the participants;

  • achieved a 20% improvement in the proportion of salespeople 'on target'
  • demonstrated a 27% reduction in the proportion that showed signs of stress
  • rate of resignations reduced by a factor of three
  • all felt very positive about the programme

When delivered through the computerised cognitive behavioural coaching approach the costs per person are very attractive when compared with either face-to-face coaching or traditional training and there would not need to be any scheduled 'downtime' to participate. This approach has also been shown to be just as effective as face-to-face coaching. The payback can be expected to be positive within a matter of weeks, through improved job retention, reduced stress levels and improved sales results.

Maybe this really is the missing ingredient for sales development.

Bryan McCrae, an experienced sales coach, established Sales-Motivations to provide highly effective and affordable business performance enhancement solutions based on advanced psychological techniques. Sales-Motivations offer a range of evidence based, proven, sales psychology solutions to help people who sell to grow their motivation, resilience and ability to deal effectively with challenges and set-backs, leading to higher sales performance. These solutions, delivered as face to face coaching, workshops or e-learning, are effective for anyone who sells, whether this is their full time role or just a small part of what they do

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