Recently I conducted a webinar for a large company whose sales managers had completed our Sales Coaching & Leadership Workshop a few months earlier. I started by asking them, “What is the most significant change you’ve made in your sales management style in the last 60 days?” There were two themes I heard about most.
The first was, “I start and end every day with coaching. Big change!”
Though coaching is something that sales managers tell me they want to do more often, they all seem to struggle with truly making it their #1 priority every day. Why? Because they’re too busy responding to emails, dealing with unexpected problems, answering calls and texts, finishing work from the day before, etc.
It’s not easy to break out of that cycle — in part because they’ve trained people to expect quick responses from them on any issue thrown their way.
What made the difference for the sales managers in this company was asking themselves one the key question: Are there any of those busy work activities that – if I did them effectively and consistently – would significantly improve my team’s sales results?
The answer was no. All those things may feel important or urgent in the moment, but none of them have a lasting impact on how well your team performs.
One way to tell the difference between an urgent timewaster and a truly important task is who initiates the activity. Timewasters are almost always initiated by someone else… and in responding to them, you are automatically in a reactive mode. Rather than fighting every fire alarm, fight the impulse to answer every email, every text, every call that comes your way. Become very deliberate about how you respond to tasks that others would have you do—and you’ll have more time to do coaching at the start and end of every day, just the like the managers I was talking to.
The second theme I heard about from the sales managers was that they are now diagnosing a rep’s sales performance problem by looking at two different factors: skill deficiencies and will deficiencies. As you know, skill deficiencies are easy to correct. “Just teach and show … and away they go.”
Deficiencies in will—reps’ attitude and mental approach to the job—are much more difficult to solve and is perhaps a reason why they get overlooked so often. But these managers realized they had to try because of the negative impact on the team if they didn’t change. One person with a bad attitude on the team can negatively impact everyone on the team. You cannot ignore the situation.
When dealing with will/attitude problems, the action steps had to be tailored to the specific situation of the rep.
Suppose, for example, that you have a sales rep who used to do a lot of prospecting but now the activity level has fallen off. Clearly he or she has the skill because they’ve done prospecting successfully before. Here are a few steps to help you find a solution.
Start by asking the rep why he or she is not making as many calls. Make sure you don’t sound accusatory. Really listen to the rep’s reply. Probe the issue. Maybe the rep has reached a comfort zone in terms of income, making enough money to pay the bills. Or maybe there are some issues at home interfering with the rep’s concentration. There could be countless reasons.
Then tie your intervention plan to the source of the lack of will. For example, if the problem is a lack of prospecting linked to income complacency, make it clear just how much more the rep could make by finding just one or two more sales each month.
Next, get the rep to think about what they could do with that extra income—are they saving for a house? exotic vacation? child’s education? new car? What someone can do with money is usually more motivating than the amount of money itself.
The trick to improving will is to find out what really motivates and demotivates that rep. Do what you can to remove the demotivation, and work to enhance the motivators. For example, if the rep wants to move up in the company, find ways to let him or her take on additional responsibility to prove their readiness for a position with more responsibility.
It’s pretty easy to tell sales managers to focus more on the important not urgent and learning to address will as well as skill. Those aren’t complicated ideas. But the messiness of everyday life makes it challenging to implement these “simple” steps. Still, those two changes will have such a big impact on your effectiveness every day that it’s worth the effort.
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