Sales performance is at an all-time low. Missed forecasts have been a problem for as long as I’ve been in the sales business, but the pandemic and resulting shifts in buying behavior and customer needs has caused performance to plummet almost across the board.
Many organizations are starting to bounce back from losses sustained in 2020, and others are gearing up to address challenges by investing more in their sales teams. As they do so, many will likely start with sales training.
But that may be a mistake.
“The evolution of sales training is not more sales training. It’s better coaching.”
That’s Keith Rosen, the CEO of Profit Builders. He has coached thousands of salespeople and their managers to world class performance. He is a proponent of sales training and sales process, but:
“Sales training does not develop sales champions,” he says. “Managers do.”
A healthy, proactive sales environment, in his view, begins and ends with a healthy, proactive coaching culture. In a company with a strong coaching culture, everyone on the team becomes more valuable to the company every day. I caught up with him on my show, Stop Killing Deals, to learn more about how to develop the kind of coaching culture that results in exponential growth.
Most sales managers spend a lot of time talking, thinking, and analyzing sales numbers. They push their people to engage in more activities, get more leads, grow their pipelines. But Rosen says this approach is wrong. It’s not a coaching culture.
“Managers run around reminding people of their goals, and they think they’re being inspiring and motivating,” says Rosen, “but really they’re just annoying people.”
Instead, successful coaches help their salespeople develop a success formula, and they coach to the process, not the result.
“You coach the who, the what, and the how,” he says, “and the results follow.”
Although ultimately the process is what yields results, Rosen says that effective coaching can’t start there.
“We have been saturated in a fear-based culture at work and home,” he says. “The results-driven, metrics-obsessed culture is driven by this uncertainty and fear.”
And it’s only gotten worse in the uncertainty of the pandemic.
But pushing harder isn’t the answer. When people are experiencing fear, they default to unhealthy behaviors.
“The primary role of the manager right now,” he says, “is to go to their people and ask: ‘How can I best support you in your work? How are you taking care of yourself, setting boundaries for yourself, and how can I be the best manager and coach for you?”
Salespeople who are overwhelmed, tired, scared, and frustrated can’t focus on process anyway. And the old processes we used to use don’t necessarily work now. So the manager’s first job is to make sure that the human who is selling is taken care of, so that they can focus.
You can’t coach without credibility, and you can’t build credibility by asking of your people what you’re not willing to do yourself.
Coaches who ask their salespeople to engage in self-care, must also be engaging in self-care. Coaches who ask their salespeople to improve their attitudes must also work on their own attitude. The same goes for mindset and behavior and process and time management. It’s also true that coaches who want their people to be open and authentic and vulnerable must be willing to do the same.
Likewise, organizations that want to foster a coaching culture can’t expect it to happen unless the coaching goes in all directions, from the top down and up and sideways. In other words, CEOs who want a coaching culture must be willing and eager to invest in coaching for themselves and others in the organization, as well as to encourage lateral coaching.
However, Rosen is quick to point out, that doesn’t mean that managers and directors who want to foster a coaching culture have to wait until their managers do the same. You can start anywhere. Start by asking your manager to help you find a good coach. Start by providing good coaching to your direct reports. Let the coaching culture spread outward by advocating for it from where you are.
But don’t get wrapped up in which is which.
Mentoring, says Rosen, is about helping people gain clarity about what they want from their careers, and how they want to go about it. Coaching is helping them find the gaps between where they are and where they want to be, and filling those gaps in. Managing is holding them accountable to company goals for them.
Rosen says that great managers and coaches can be any of the three at any one time, and must be willing to move fluidly among them. Some companies get hung up on separating the three, and it becomes too complex and top-heavy.
Many managers, when asked to help with a problem, will immediately try to solve it for the salesperson. Rosen encourages managers to slow down and think twice before doing this.
If you always solve the problem for the salesperson, they won’t learn to do it for themselves. Instead of offering directions and suggestions, he suggests that coaches ask a question. Even if the salesperson has asked specifically for advice or problem-solving, he urges managers to resist.
He suggests the following conversational approach:
“I’m certainly happy to share my ideas with you. But you’re so much closer to the situation than I am, and trust you and your ideas. What’s your opinion on the best way to move forward?”
He says that framing this as opinion gives the salesperson the opportunity to think the situation through safely, without having to come up with a “right” answer.
Managers are responsible for holding their teams accountable to sales goals, as well as activity numbers and general performance. Rosen says the challenge for many is how to hold salespeople accountable without becoming a micromanager or dictator.
The answer is to help them hold themselves accountable. Again, he offers a conversational framework for doing this. It consists of two questions, directed to the salesperson:
How can I be your accountability partner in a way that will be supportive of you, and not micromanaging or negative?
How do you want me to follow up with you if you don’t honor the commitments you make?
These questions allow the salesperson to choose the accountability structure that works best for them. And, having chosen it, they are much more likely to hold themselves accountable to it.
“People believe what they say, but resist what they hear,” says Rosen. “When they set the rules, they own it, and then you’re just supporting them.
When you have a thriving coaching culture, customers will receive better care. The same techniques that work to help salespeople, coaches, and others reach their potential inside your organization work for customers too.
It all starts with care.
“If you’re not demonstrating care,” says Rosen, “then you’re not giving you, your people, or your customers what they need.”
He encourages coaches to foster intimate, vulnerable conversations. To lead with the personal, and focus on the support that people need.
These same conversations with customers help customers to feel heard, build trust, and help salespeople understand how best to help them.
In addition to these seven tips, Rosen shared a great deal more wisdom about fostering and maintaining a coaching culture in our conversation, which you can access here. You can also reach out to Keith via LinkedIn or learn more on ProfitBuilders' website.
What do you think? How is your organization performing as a coaching culture? Where would you like to see improvement?
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn