Coaching can be a challenging task for anyone, but it is especially difficult when the person being coached is not a direct report. Why? Brutally speaking, the person being coached does not have to listen. So often in a matrixed organization, many managers find themselves in a position where they are tasked with coaching responsibilities. Unless the salespeople take personal ownership for their own development and are genuinely interested in what their “dotted-line” coach has to say, there is often little accountability on the other side.

For example, before attending a new program, it’s likely the salesperson will ask himself or herself, “Why should I change? What’s in it for me?” The mandate from executives who have signed off on the program is to have coaches answer these questions and clarify the expected outcome, providing context and value to the salesperson. The coaching equation provides answers: “I am here to help you achieve X, Y and Z!” The key to the coaching equation is the executive mandate; if you are a dotted-line coach, go no further without that mandate, as you will only be spinning your wheels!

There are a few key principles that can help you as a dotted-line coach to create stronger relationships with salespeople:

  1. Be realistic in your expectations for change. Accept inches of change for miles of improvement. Small changes can snowball and lead to larger scale changes as people see the benefits and the risk of change is reduced.
  2. Credibility is key to coaching in a dotted-line relationship. However, it needs to be earned through deep knowledge of the subject matter. The ability to apply it in a practical manner and in a way that’s accessible to the salesperson will foster credibility and trust.
  3. Get skin in the game. Credibility can be earned with deep knowledge, and it is reinforced when you have something at stake as well. Coaches who get out on the road and do joint calls in front of customers or who are included on deal teams are positioned to do real-time, anytime coaching.
  4. Acknowledge that different people will need different coaching emphases. There is no one formula that will work with all salespeople. Some will need motivation. Some, skills. Some will need you to play devil’s advocate to test their thinking. Be flexible. However, never allow flexibility to compromise alignment of expectations.

These principles work together to create a trusting relationship between the coach and the salesperson with the ultimate goal of driving improvements to produce successful outcomes and positive change.

As an additional resource, click here for a video that profiles a few best practices in coaching. I would love to hear from you; share your challenges and successes as a dotted-line coach.