Why You Should Hire for Coachability in Customer-Facing Roles

Why is coachability so important when you hire? Because it changes everything about your talent pool, and by extension, gets results.

When a company hires for sales, or any customer-facing role, they typically recruit candidates based on a standard set of skills and attributes. Yet, organizations don’t want generic employees that tick all the boxes. They want talent that rises to the top. The problem is, they aren’t asking the right questions to reveal whether a candidate is a future superstar.

What if You Hired For Coachability?

Coachability is the ability to accept and act on feedback. The feedback might come from a manager, a colleague, or even a customer. A coachable person is able to lean into, ingest, and apply the feedback they receive.

Coachability is a simple concept, but the impact of coachability on an employee’s ability to succeed at their new job is incredible.

Think about the criteria listed in a standard job posting: experience, customer service, technical skills, quota attainment. But a lot of external factors can impact a candidate’s previous performance. What if you could hire for a trait that assesses a candidate’s ability to adapt to new environments, continue to learn, and increase their performance level over time? You can–it’s coachability.

The typical traits we think of when picturing a high-performing sales rep can be misleading.

Consider how often a sales representative was able to meet or exceed quota in their last position. It’s entirely possible your new hire worked hard and met their numbers through sheer grit and perseverance. It’s also possible they got lucky with their territory or hot leads.

Just because someone can show a certain set of results doesn’t mean they have the attitude, work ethic, and emotional intelligence that’s required to attain those numbers again. This is why hiring coachable employees in customer-facing roles is so important.

Organizational Benefits

By looking for coachability in the interview process, your entire organization benefits. Here’s how:

Coachable employees want to learn–in fact, they crave it. They never assume they know everything. Professional growth and development is a priority, and they take ownership for it. They’re open to feedback, but not just open – they actively seek it out. They want to get better, so they ask questions, listen to feedback, and actively adjust their activities and behavior to account for what they’re learning.

Coachable reps are humble. Humbleness means a person can see, acknowledge, and lean into their weaknesses AND strengths. They see areas where they need to grow, and they are able to receive coaching from managers and peers who point out ways they could do better. Humble employees also own their strengths. They understand that they also have the ability to contribute and help their teammates improve.

Coachable employees embrace hard work. These reps don’t make the assumption that they’re going to be at the top of the performance ranks. They know it takes hard work to be successful. This means bringing a level of thoughtfulness to their work. When a prospect raises an objection, can your sales rep be fully present and engage with the customer, asking questions to learn more about the external factors influencing their concern? This is different from following a script; it takes a rep who rises to the occasion, someone who is well-prepared, but also nimble enough to respond to new circumstances as they arise.

Coachable reps are team players. Candidates who can be coached bring a positive attitude to work. This doesn’t mean the employee is happy all the time. It means they understand the role that emotional intelligence plays in getting results.

Intentional, attuned reps can provide some of your most innovative ideas. Employees in customer-facing roles have a unique perspective into the ways your service may be falling short of customers’ expectations. They can often see how a small tweak or adjustment to a service would add tremendous value to the user experience. Embrace this attention to detail among your employees and reward it.

How to Spot a Candidate's Openness to Coaching

Here are three things you can do during the process to assess a potential employee’s overall coachability.

1. Ask interview questions that assess a candidate’s ability to self-diagnose.

Interviews can feel awkward, and candidates–especially sales reps –often resort to overconfidence and overselling themselves. Pay attention to how a candidate is responding and adapt your questions accordingly. Give them space to self-diagnose how they could improve or do better. For example, if you notice that a candidate is quick to give all the right answers, slow down the conversation. Ask for specifics about a time when things didn’t go as planned. How did they respond? What could they have done differently? What did they learn from that experience?

2. Role-play a customer conversation, then offer feedback.

The purpose of a role-play conversation in this context is not to set a trap or try to trip up the candidate. The intent is to get a feel for how they respond in specific scenarios and see if they’re able to lean into coaching when it’s received. Even when we’re performing well, we can get better. Coachable employees know this.

3. Give candidates an opportunity for self-reflection.

Give the person you are speaking with an opportunity to self-reflect. Would they change anything about their interview answers thus far? Do they show appreciation for your feedback, or do they gloss over it or seem resentful? Can they articulate how they might need to grow or adapt in order to better fit your company culture?

Hiring for coachability is one of the biggest competitive advantages available to you. By stacking your team with reps who want coaching, you are enabling your organization to develop them into top-tier employees. The company’s culture will also benefit from having humble, eager to learn, and hardworking team members.

By seeking out coachability in your hiring process, you’ll be well on your way to building a coaching culture and in turn, driving results.