Last week I took a golf lesson from my favorite instructor. He’s my favorite pro because when I take a swing he sees at least a half dozen flaws. But then he gives me just one suggestion, and that one suggestion solves many of my flaws.
This is a great model for coaching, one that I advise for any sales manager.
What typically happens, however, is that a sales manager will give a sales rep a laundry list of things they need to improve. Most of us only have the capacity to improve one or two things at any given time. Learning—and especially skill development—occurs little by little over time, not all at once. Overwhelming a sales rep with a long list of things they have to improve, is more likely to undermine their self-confidence than result in meaningful change.
A much more effective approach is what my golf pro does: pick out the “vital few” most important things for his students to work on.
Years ago, I learned a great technique for diagnosing performance problems from High Output Management, the book by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. He advises us to write down both good points and bad points about an employee and look for patterns among the items. A sales manager, for example, would make a complete list of a sales rep’s strengths and developmental needs, then look at the whole thing and try to pick out the common thread.
Suppose a rep’s strength is a high amount of prospecting activity. But weaknesses include a low lead conversion rate and a low quote-to-close rate. What is a common link between those issues? Here’s a hint: think about high prospecting activity as a warning sign of the rep’s inability to make appointments. When viewed that way, I can think of at least four possible common threads between high prospecting and low conversions:
- The sales rep isn’t asking second- or third-level diagnostic questions.
- The sales rep spends too much time talking about the exciting capabilities of your product/service, rather than focusing on underlying customer needs, problems, and solution criteria.
- The salesperson lacks the self -confidence to engage C-level prospects in a thought-provoking way.
- The salesperson lacks basic business acumen and is unable to connect with customers around their operational, strategic, or performance issues.
You would have to do a little detective work, ask more questions, and perhaps observe the rep in action to decide which of these issues was the actual root cause. Then consider:
- Is this a skill problem? If so, teach the skill.
- Is this a willingness/motivation problem? If so, help the rep understand the reasons why they need to improve.
- Is this a self -confidence problem dealing with C-level prospects? If so, encourage and coach the rep. Have them take a training program to improve their business acumen so they can converse with an executive in the executive’s terms. Role-play a number of scenarios until they are comfortable using terms and language a C-level prospect can relate to.
Following this approach has a higher payoff than trying to attack any of the weaknesses alone. Coaching the symptoms of a problem instead of addressing the underlying causes does more harm than good.
The place to start is to first define the behaviors and activities your sales force needs to know to achieve maximum sales success. That will help you know what to look for when developing a strengths/weaknesses list where you can start to look for common threads.
To help you get started, download our “Observation Checklist for Sales Managers.” This checklist is a great tool for sales managers to evaluate sales reps in a sales call situation. You’ll become a far more effective sales coach if you add more structure to what you observe and learn to think like my golf pro!
Download the checklist now!
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