Improve Sales Results with 3-D Coaching

I responded to another blog’s call for coaching ideas today, and it dawned on me that it’d be a good post for the Neuron Nexus.

I recognize that there are many variations of coaching and many professional and personal settings in which coaching can be applied, but because of my background, when I hear the word “coaching,” I usually think of work performance improvement, behavioral coaching, and specifically, sales coaching. So, I’ll share some of my work on work performance coaching and sales coaching for skill improvement. For this post, I’ll assume an employer/employee relationship throughout, and will assume you’re the coach.


  • This is the process of analyzing, diagnosing, facilitating, guiding, directing, setting goals, developing action plans, and recommending strategies and tactics to improve an employee’s work performance.
  • For this sort of coaching, the circumstances are usually imposed (not voluntary), the supervisor’s involvement is significant (50/50-ish or perhaps even somewhat greater for the supervisor), the focus is on work behaviors, and external judgment is high (by this I simply mean that the coach is actively judging the situation [not the person] and forming opinions of how to improve performance – it’s not based solely on the insights from the employee).


As a performance coach, you:

  • Act as a change agent or catalyst who helps employees shape behaviors and improve performance in a supportive yet demanding environment.
  • Identify performance gaps, win commitment to learning, construct applied practice, and drive continual application and reflection to lift competence, achieve greater results and improve work performance.


As with most organizational consulting or performance improvement work, it’s important to:

  • Identify “what is” or the current state (A)
  • Identify “what should be” or the future desired state (B)
  • Develop plans to guide “what will be,” closing the gap between (A) and (B).
  • Follow-through to ensure good execution, behavior change and improved results.


I recommend a “Pre-Observation Analysis” where you review reports and results, discuss the current situation with the employee, consider other situational factors and any circumstances surrounding the employee’s performance, and possibly even discuss the employee’s performance with others who have insight to it.  During this phase, you can begin to formulate some hypotheses to validate (or invalidate) in the next stage, “Observation Analysis & Diagnosis,” where you observe the employee working and form opinions about possible improvement plans.


When observing employees, you may experience the Hawthorne effect (people behave and perform differently, often better, when they know they are being observed).

In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much, because the goal is improved performance, so if you can validate that it’s possible, even if due to the Hawthorne effect, it’s a move in the right direction.

As Robert Mager suggests, if they can do it with “a gun to their head,” it’s not a training problem, and if they don’t perform later without the gun, you have a different issue. Robert Mager and Peter Pipe address this squarely in their book “Analyzing Performance Problems” with an awesome flowchart for choosing the best solution to improve performance. Ferdinand Fournies also nails this in his book, “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do, And What To Do About It.”  I’d highly recommend both of these books for your performance coaching library.


During the observation stage, you should be able to pinpoint several ways to improve performance. Rather than just blurt these gems out in the heat of the moment, I’d recommend a more thoughtful and focused sit-down discussion, when you can have an engaging conversation with the employee. If you’re coaching an outside sales rep, however, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t offer some coaching in the car or try to shape behavior between calls, but I’ve found that a formal meeting with focused attention will produce better results.

In the meeting:

  • Set the stage for the meeting as positive, helpful, encouraging, focused on behavior, and results-oriented. Explain your agenda and the value to the employee and confirm your goals are aligned.
  • Start the performance discussion by reviewing what you observed and gaining the employee’s perspective and consensus on “what was.” (Actually, when applicable, this is something that can be done in the car or shortly after observation, and then recapped here.)
  • Lead and facilitate a discussion to draw out what the employee thinks will help, if they have ideas. Be open to ideas that you haven’t thought about, if they seem logical and might work. If you know from experience that your ideas will produce a better result, you might try leading the employee to those ideas through questioning.  (With someone less experienced, competent or confident, you may need to be more directive.)  It’s always better to orchestrate their “A-ha!” moment, if you can.  But, don’t be afraid to also offer your ideas and then settle together on the best ideas to try. Unless you’re in a life-or-death business, there’s an integrity issue, or there is some other valid reason against it, consider letting the employee try (at least some of) their ideas, even if you don’t think they will work. Occasionally, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if it doesn’t work, the employee will likely be more open to your follow-up suggestion. I know — it’s hard — but it’s worth it.
  • Lastly, end with an action plan to incorporate the new skills as soonas possible. If possible, they should use the new skills immediately, but no later than the next business day.

To keep this from becoming a book, I’ll end this post with my 3-D Coaching process, which is a great way to teach and coach skills and behaviors, once you’ve reached consensus on the ideas (or those which are skills-related).



1. You articulate the agreed-upon expectations for behavior and provide clear instructions for the employee on what, why and how to do it.

2. The employee paraphrases the expectations and instructions back to you. *

3. As needed, provide feedback on the employee’s version until they summarize to your satisfaction.

* Do not leave this stage until the employee’s version is satisfactory.


4. You demonstrate that behavior (probably role play but perhaps live observation) to the employee.

5. The employee demonstrates the behavior (role play first) back to you. *

6. As needed, provide feedback on the employee’s version until they demonstrate to your satisfaction.

* Do not leave this stage until the employee’s demonstration is satisfactory.


7. You confirm the employee’s agreement to use the new skills, per the action plan.

8. The employee applies the new behavior in their work environment.  

9. You observe (the first few times, and then as a follow-up later) and provide further feedback and coaching, as needed.

* These understanding checks are critical for this method to produce the best results.

Later, if the employee does not do what they’ve summarized and demonstrated, you might need to conduct one refresher session, but it’s not likely to be a training issue at that point. Something else is in the way of performance. This is where Mager/Pipe’s flowchart or Fournies’ book and his 16 Reasons for non-performance will really come in handy.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. It’s been very effective in organizations where I’ve implemented it, but there are many ways to get from point A to point B… and I’d enjoy hearing some of yours, or your feedback about these ideas. 

By the way, I know a lot of people who do great work in this field, and can help both individuals and organizations improve performance through coaching. I may publish a list at some point. Would anyone find that helpful? If so, drop in a comment and let me know.

As always, thanks for reading!  Be good out there.



Mike Kunkle

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mike_kunkle @ mindspring dotcom

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