Identifying coachability, the top trait of successful salespeople

BY:  Rebecca Herson
July 6, 2021
Updated on September 4, 2023

Table of Contents

When building a successful organization, a robust salesforce is key to driving growth. So, when it comes to hiring sales employees, HR managers typically aim to recruit high-performing candidates that fit with the company culture, meet their objectives, and have a competitive nature. However, a critical trait that is often overlooked is the coachability of a salesperson.

Research by the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science shows that there is a direct and positive relationship between sales performance and the overall coachability of your sales team.

With changing purchasing behavior patterns and advancing technology, sales strategies are constantly evolving. A coachable salesperson can learn new techniques, adapt to the changing business landscape, and prove a viable asset to the company.

So, when it comes to hiring the right salesperson for your team, coachability should top the list of your requirements. But first, let’s define it – what is coachability?

Coachable Definition

Coachability is neither an inherent ability nor a technical skill. It’s a mindset. Essentially, it’s the openness and willingness to learn from others and on their own. It’s also a willingness to own up to mistakes, take responsibility for them, and do whatever it takes to prevent them in the future.

Just like in sports, your salespeople need to be trained and coached to meet the demands of their game. However, no matter how good a coach you bring in, ultimately, it boils down to how effectively your team can learn from them.

As the football coach and analyst, Herm Edwards, puts it:

“There’s an attitude that comes with being coachable – they listen, they learn, they have the right attitude about performance. You can drill ’em, you can focus on footwork, but if they don’t have awareness about themselves, they’re not going to be successful.”

The same is true for salespeople. No matter how many joint calls, seminars, or feedback you provide, your strategies’ success lies in how coachable your team really is.

How to determine if a sales candidate is coachable?

Ask the right questions The right time to determine a sales representative’s coachability is during the early stages with the candidate rather than waiting until they have already been hired. There are certain aspects that can be observed by asking interview questions to find coachable candidates.

Here are some interview questions you should consider asking:

  • What is the best and worst feedback you have ever received, and why do you think it was the best or worst?
  • Tell me about something you have learned from the people that you have worked with?
  • Tell me about a behavior you changed to achieve better results and what triggered this change?
  • Tell me about a mistake you made – What was it? Why did it happen? What changes did you make to prevent it happening in the future?
  • How introspective are you?

These interview questions help you observe if the candidate is open to feedback or opinions other than their own. If you highlight the areas where they need improvement and they take it as bad feedback, then perhaps coachability is not their strong suit.

Candidates who keep an open mind and appreciate the things they can learn from others are typically coachable. Moreover, if they are open to changing their in-grown habits and reflecting on all the lessons they have learned, it can be a good indicator of coachability.

How flexible are your sales candidates?

And I’m not talking about if they can do all the yoga moves. 😊 Check for your candidates’ ability to pick up on subtlety in a conversation and if they can identify verbal cues.

For instance, if you change the discussion topic and move to a new direction, see if the potential sales interviewee is flexible and can go with the flow. Again, this can be an indication of how responsive they will be to coaching efforts.

Humility translates to a learning behavior

When highlighting the importance of coachability, sales experts always state the importance of learning from your mistakes and integrating new feedback and insight into your sales technique.

Linking back to our sports example, high-performing athletes (like salespeople) demonstrate a unique blend of hunger and humility. For example, two-time NCAA national champion coach, Jay Wright, has popularized his coaching strategy through the motto: ‘stay humble, stay hungry.’

For Jay Wright, a lack of humility is an indicator of a low level of coachability. And what good is a player if they can’t learn, improve and improvise?

The same stands true for salespeople. An effective way to gauge the humility of a candidate is to ask them about their biggest regret or the biggest sales opportunity they lost. A candidate that is open about their failures and acknowledges the gaps in their skills is typically open to learning and improving.

Assess Willingness to Learn and Apply

Another trait to analyze the candidate’s coachability involves their willingness to learn and implement what they aim to accomplish.

Try to get to the heart of why and how a candidate has made a change, what was the process involved. Did they consider the challenges or changes seriously and were looking for ways to incorporate personal learning and change how they work to achieve their professional goals?

Highly coachable candidates adopt a more proactive approach by doing their research, identifying development opportunities, overcoming challenges, asking for feedback, and paving their path to success.

Use AI-driven sales coaching software

While interviews can help you assess a sales candidate’s eagerness to learn and adapt, leveraging AI-powered sales coaching software can help you evaluate their coachability more quickly and thoroughly.

A tool like Second Nature challenges salespeople with demanding questions while giving them objective feedback in real-time to help them improve. After a sales candidate has completed a conversation with Jenny, Second Nature’s AI coach, the interviewer can ask them how they felt about the feedback they received, or even give them the chance to try again and see if they improved their score.

For the HR manager who needs to hire coachable reps, the Second Nature platform offers visibility and insights in real-time into every candidate’s performance.


When hiring to build a successful sales team, coachability should top the HR hiring checklist. A highly coachable candidate is more committed to their professional development and receptive to positive and negative feedback.

As the business landscape evolves and sales strategies transform, a sales team that is highly adaptable to change and can integrate feedback can prove to be the difference between a successful organization and one that struggles to stay afloat.

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About the author

Rebecca Herson

Rebecca is head of marketing at Second Nature.

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