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Top 5 Tips to Maximizing Your Top Down Selling | Infinity

Making more money for your business is always a high priority.  More money means your business is growing. It allows you to hire more people, pay higher wages, offer better benefits and of course, increase profit margins.  The challenge is finding new ways to increase revenue as well as your return on investment.

In today’s world many successful businesses are implementing a strategic sales approach known as “Top Down.”

Top Down Selling

The Top 5 Tips to Maximizing Your Top Down Selling

To put this simplistically, in a top down world, a sales person begins at the highest price available and works down until they and the client are able to come to an agreed upon price for the goods or services offered.

Consumers see this approach in several different industries, most notably when purchasing a vehicle from an auto dealer. Auto dealers purchase vehicles at a low price known as wholesale or trade in value. The automobile then goes through a reconditioning process and is put on the lot at a premium price in order to maximize profit. However, the real magic happens during the sales process.

When a buyer goes to the dealership the first thing the sales person does is conduct a needs analysis. The biggest challenge is getting a customer the vehicle they want. This is a critical step in top down selling.

A consumer will always pay more money to get what they want and need, rather than what the dealer wants to sell.

Next, the vehicle selection process begins. The sales person generally starts with the vehicle that has all the bells and whistles included, knowing it is the highest price point.  This sets the bar on the rest of the cars and prices the buyer will see.  A consumer is more likely to use this price in comparing every other offer placed in front of them.

If the dealer were to go in with the standard make and offer the lowest price available, the consumer will be less likely to want to spend more for added features.  Or even worse, they may want the price of the standard with all the extras included.

The final step is the negotiation process. The dealer starts with an elevated price. Typically there is some back and forth and the dealer has leverage based on what the customer said they wanted out of their vehicle. In the end the customer feels like they win because the dealer “discounted” the vehicle from the asking price. The Dealer also wins because they sold the vehicle above cost, usually for a healthy profit.

How can top down selling impact my sales team?

The same tactics can go a long way for a premier sales agency.  At Infinity this allows our Account Executives (AEs) to be more strategic throughout the sales process and increase their level of ownership.

When an AE starts at the highest available price they set themselves up to have the room to negotiate should the buyer feel the price is too high.  If the client does not object there is obviously now a higher profit margin than if the lowest available price was offered initially.

Having a floor price (the bottom line) allows the AE to know which product will make them the most money. They can use different product and pricing options to negotiate the sale, ensuring they maximize profit. Since AE’s work on commission, this allows them to be responsible for their own income and helps breed an environment of ownership.

Top 5 Tips to Maximizing Your Top Down Selling

The 5 Tips to Maximizing Your Top Down Selling

There are five key tips to maximize the effectiveness of top down selling.

  1. Conduct a needs analysis. Customers pay more for want they want. This also allows the sales person to identify “hot buttons” to aid in the negotiation process.
  2. Always fully demo the product/service being offered. This is where value comes in to play. It’s not just about price. Buyers will pay more if they believe they are getting more value for their dollar.
  3. Provide the AE with floor pricing. This allows them to be flexible with pricing and negotiate on their terms, which encourages ownership of the deal.
  4. Go for “No.” Don’t be afraid for the customer to say no to a price. The goal is to get them to pay as much as possible. If they agree to the price right away there is a good chance that money was left on the table.
  5. Always get a commitment when dropping price. If the customer says they want to pay a certain amount use phrases like “If I can, will you?” This helps make the customer stick to the agreed upon price instead of trying to renegotiate after the fact.

In Conclusion…

When sales people have the ability to offer customers a higher price and negotiate down, businesses will see increased revenue, higher average order values, and will continually exceed monthly goals which will add extra coin to everyone’s pocket. All this while making customers feel as if they won by getting a better price.

Top down selling is a win for everyone involved.

 

The 3 Categories of Sales Coaching

“Their calls are a mess.  I have no idea where to even start.”

This is a common refrain from Sales Managers.  Sometimes there are people on your team that have so many opportunity areas that it seems easier to just move on and start over with someone else.  That can seem like an easy solution.  However, removing someone from your organization can be a huge risk as it costs a lot of time and resources to recruit, select, and train the ‘next person in’.  Even worse, the next person might have the exact same issues.  We like to think that firing someone and hiring someone new will solve all of our problems, but how often does that actually happen?  It’s usually safer and more efficient to develop someone than to start over from scratch.

That said, even when you have world-class training and development you will still have ‘problem children’, which is another way of saying you will always have something to work on from an education standpoint.  It never ends.  Once you accept that education is a constant part of the job, it gets a bit easier to deal with the frustration of having a team member that is not where they need to be from a sales skills perspective.

In order to build a development plan for an underperforming salesperson you need to get organized mentally. The best way to do that is divide all of the skills necessary to do the job into three main categories….”Call Basics”, “Cosmetics”, and “Behaviors”.  This enables you to create a list of their opportunity areas, rank them by priority, and start creating a plan for improvement.  Let’s talk about each of these categories.

The 3 Categories of Sales Coaching

3 Categories of Sales Coaching - Call Basics

Call Basics – “What we say”

For starters, I realize that your salespeople may not make phone calls.  They may do outside sales or conduct webinars for instance.  So if you aren’t in the inside sales world, modify this category to “Sales Skills”.  Either way, it’s still the “what we say” category.

Call Basics are mostly black and white.  You can listen to a salesperson speak and check a box next to a call basic that says, “Yes or No”.  There might be varying levels of skill and polish that can used to grade their effectiveness and comfort with a call basic, but overall it’s either happening or it’s not.

Some examples of sales skills that are call basics are:

  • Opening/Introduction
  • Gatekeeper Handling
  • Using features and benefits in the sales presentation
  • Offering a product demonstration (if applicable)
  • Closing (aka “asking for the sale”)
  • Responding to objections
  • Asking questions

I feel safe in assuming you have defined best practices and there is a “best way” to do something in your environment.  If you don’t, you might want to stop there and use this as a guide to build a set of best practices.  There needs to be a roadmap to success.  That could take the form of a script, a call flow, talk track or checklist, but there needs to be something documented that defines what your call basics are and how to perform them.

The other thing about call basics is that this is very likely the area you should address first when building a development plan.  Regardless of how they sound or what they do, these are the building blocks to success.  It’s often easier to get someone handling a gatekeeper or overcoming an objection first and then worry about how they sound later.

The analogy I use here is when you clean the house.  You take care of the obvious stuff first, like clothes lying around, dishes on the counter, etc.  Once that is taken care of, you do all of the polishing and address the special touches last.

It really doesn’t matter if that counter is spotless and shiny if you have piles of dirt lying around everywhere else.  So, address the call basics first.  The important thing is that they are installing call basics and through simple repetition they will generally get better over time.  Then you can worry about the polish.

Now, I did say that usually call basics are mostly black and white and they are either doing it or they aren’t.  It is also true that sometimes you can perform a call basic, but it sounds so bad that it actually has a negative effect.  When that happens, it’s usually time to move to our next category.
3 Categories of Sales Coaching - Cosmetics

Cosmetics – “How We Say It”

Regardless of what type of sales you are in, you have to talk.  I’ve yet to encounter a salesperson that could sell a product or a service without talking.  Sure, you might do your business via e-mail or through some online portal, but even then there is a cosmetic aspect to the words you choose to use, how they are emphasized and the implied meaning of your words.

I could sum this concept up by saying “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”

Cosmetics are mostly a gray area, which can be frustrating when trying to define a set of best practices in regards to cosmetics.  I have had great salespeople that sound horrible, and I have had horrible salespeople that sound fantastic.  So, perfecting how you sound and how you say your words is not mutually exclusive to success.  This is why this category can be so difficult for a coach and for a salesperson.

Some examples of what I mean by cosmetics are:

  • Key Word Emphasis
  • Controlled Pausing
  • Voice Projection
  • Voice Pitch
  • Pace of Conversation
  • Grammar / Pronunciation / Use of Slang

So, how do we approach this topic?  First, I have found that it is mostly a waste of time to work on cosmetics before we have salespeople performing call basics at a level that you would at least consider ‘adequate’.  The reason is because if you change what they say, their cosmetics are going to have to be adjusted again anyway.  It’s sort of like adjusting the satellite dish to get that perfect signal before it’s fully installed…you are just going to have to re-adjust anyway.

A good rule to use when approaching cosmetics is to ask “Is this broken?” I have encountered countless examples where a well-meaning Sales Manager attempts to “fix” a successful salesperson’s cosmetics, only to find they hurt their overall results.

Sometimes, salespeople are very successful using cosmetics that are different from what you would expect to be successful.  If someone isn’t getting sales and their call basics are solid, then address cosmetics.  If they are getting sales with solid call basics and their cosmetics could use work, consider leaving them alone or only making minor, periodic tweaks to what they are doing.  Don’t mess with success too much.

Now, you do have those cases where someone says what you want them to say, and they sound great, but they just don’t seem to do the things you want them to do consistently.  This brings us to our third category.
3 Categories of Sales Coaching - Behaviors

Behaviors – “What we Do”

“I shouldn’t have to babysit these people.”

“I don’t want to tell them what to do.”

“People need to manage themselves.”

I agree with all of those statements.  But consider this…if all of your people said what they were supposed to say every single time, sounded great every single time, and always did what they were supposed to do every single time…well, then why do they need you?

At the end of the day, your job as a manager is to set expectations and then inspect to ensure those expectations are being met.  That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but it’s pretty accurate.  Part of that process is defining what behaviors are successful in your environment and encouraging everyone to emulate those behaviors by using The Three Pillars of Sales Coaching.  It’s not enough to just tell people what to do, you have to create a culture and environment that positively reinforces the successful behaviors, and minimizes or eliminates the unsuccessful behaviors.

Some examples of the behaviors that I am speaking of:

  • Attendance
  • Consistency
  • Accuracy
  • Efficiency
  • Ethics
  • Citizenship
  • Attitude

Now, that’s a big list and there’s a lot that goes into each one of those items.  For instance, what is “citizenship”?  For me, it’s the concept that all members are part of the team and that job number one is that we support each other, help each other, and all contribute to the success of the organization.  For you it might mean something different, but the point is that you need to identify what behaviors are indicative of the core values of your team and your organization.

A good way to go about determining what behaviors are important to you and what behaviors are necessary for success is to really observe and even interview your most successful people.  Figure out what they do every day.

  • How do they act? 
  • What is their approach to the job? 
  • How do they spend their time? 
  • What are they willing to do and what are they NOT willing to do?

One of the most difficult things to do is to coach someone on their behavior.  Even when you use The 10 Vital Steps to a Successful Coaching Session you will still have people that have behavior issues.  Sometimes, people just get complacent and develop bad habits or get away from behaviors that made them successful without even realizing it.

The key is documentation.  You have to be diligent as a manager and document instances when a person was not behaving in an acceptable way.  Document the behavior and what happened as a result.  Keep emotions out of it if possible.  Behaviors have outcomes.  If I miss work, I will not make as many sales.  If I don’t fill out my contracts properly I will have fulfillment problems.  If I treat my co-workers rudely, it impacts our results and creates new problems.  The key to getting someone to buy-in to adopting a successful behavior is to show them what will happen if they start doing it, and then positively reinforcing that behavior whenever you see it.
3 Categories of Sales Coaching - Start

This is All Great, But Where Do I Start?

It all starts with setting expectations.  Make a list of all of the call basics, cosmetics, and behaviors that are vital to success in your organization.  You might even rank each list in order of what is the most vital.  Then, rank each of your people in each category.  Another good exercise is to have all of your people self-evaluate and rank themselves in each category as well.  What this will do for your team is that it sets expectations of what you expect and gives your team a basic framework for self-improvement.

What it does for you is that is creates a roadmap for you to determine where to start, and a basis for that coaching conversation to take place.  Don’t try and fix it all at once.  That’s impossible.  It’s a long journey and it never really ends.  Just focus on the most important things and really address them and don’t stop until it’s no longer an issue.  And then move on to the next one.  Over time, the list gets shorter and you will find that you have more positive examples to point people towards.  That momentum gives you more options to choose from when you coach people.

In future articles I will break down more of the items in these three categories and really dig deep as to what you should be coaching to and how to improve each one.  But for now, this will give you a place to start.

Achieve Maximum Growth with Team Synergy | Infinity

The Power of TEAM SYNERGY

TEAM SYNERGY is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. Nevertheless, it does not just happen on its own. It is a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Business leaders should lead this effort by sharing the company vision, mission statement, core values, goals, and targets.

Good leadership begets good followership and garners trust, respect, and passion to achieve next level performance through team synergy. Team synergy must be managed and it is a continuing evolution not a destination that you just arrive at.

If a team is experiencing synergy problems then it is likely they are experiencing a difference in habits, ego, talents, communication, and any number of discrepancies that are keeping the team from reaching its maximum performance potential. Realignment must occur within the team so that every team member knows and understands their roles and responsibilities in helping the team reach a peak performance level.

Team Synergy

A synergized team can reach new heights and 10X their performance when investing in the value of each other’s strengths and leveraging those to improve efficiencies. Talented performers generate exponentially more value on the team.

Identify those people on your team, create a profile of your top performers, and top grade the team with those who can potentially perform above expectation while weaning out low performers. The hiring process would dictate that if you are able to find the candidates that fit the profile of the team.

Then ideally you would be creating the ultimate 10X team. 10x teams have the ability to adapt to multiple changing priorities, produce creative ideas, and execute on them.

When you multiply your mindset, you multiple your ability to succeed and build a roadmap to high performance. 10X teams have members who naturally acquire certain roles. There will be some whose primary focus is task and target accomplishment, some will focus on process, planning, and organizing, some will nurture, encourage, and be the leaders on communication, some will be creative and innovative, while your “special flowers” on the team will encompass all of these attributes.

Team diversity is a value-add when reaching into the team’s individual backgrounds to bring forth opportunities that benefit the group. This allows teammates to seek out their peers ideas to acquire new viewpoints and strategies.

A synergized team kindles creativity and creates access to a broadened range of talents, strengths, skills, and backgrounds. The collective skill set of team members brings value to the team. In addition to skill set, creating a team with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and cultures creates a strong team foundation.

Well-rounded high performance teams understand the need to take and incorporate all the elements of what each team member has to offer to attain team goals. High performance work teams create a significant competitive advantage to businesses.

Team Synergy

A synergized 10X team has the ability to accomplish something bigger than their individual self-interest. These team members need little supervision because they are self-motivated, predictably execute strategy to meet their goals and are empowered and accountable for their performance.

Leaders of high performing teams must be results driven and have the ability to create and drive a transparent and goal oriented environment. When highly competitive people are in a transparent environment, it drives up performance and productivity.

Everyone should know what the best salespeople are doing so that they can continue to 10X their own performance. Set the bar high and make it worth pursing for the team.

Achieving 80% of a stretch goal is better than 100% of a mediocre goal. Teamwork culture is paramount to the success of any business and is a key ingredient to the success of Infinity’s Sales Teams. Go synergize your team!

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How to Conquer the Comfort Zone | Infinity

In the professional world there is no greater enemy than a fear of change. Managers can coach how to deal with change, encourage you to overcome it, and paint a lovely picture of how change leads to an evolution which breeds success. In the brain of a professional, all of those factors are known; well known. However, at the core of every human, the fight to stay where it is familiar and safe is as deep as our DNA. So how then do we get people out of their comfort zone?

Conquering the Comfort Zone

Conquering the Comfort Zone

There have been countless articles and journal publications about fear and the effect it can have on an individual’s energy level and sense of balance. In the workplace, fear can disable someone from moving forward or moving up, when in fact, they possess the talent to do so. When one becomes comfortable in their world, sales tend to trend toward stagnation. It is when we try something new that sales can soar. Something as simple as changing the way a word or phrase is delivered can dramatically change sales numbers. If a higher revenue goal, new talk track, or promotion are some things we can see outside our zone, how do we then attain them?

When someone is on the inside looking out, seeing those things they want, it is not easy to just get out and grab them. Stepping outside of a well-established comfort zone can literally feel cold and lonely. It can become a place that is hard to navigate and eventually can force a person to move backwards. They will slowly get back to the routine they tried to escape, and it begins all over again. Every time they move back it gets harder and harder to escape their routine. Energy levels will sink and productivity goes right down the drain.

I speak to our sales people directly about this and use imagery that helps them to “see” what fear of change can be and what it feels like to overcome it. I strive to illustrate to them the wear and tear of fighting with fear and how to properly redirect that energy in order to move forward. In a large sales environment, there are many things that can keep someone in their comfort zone or box.

Conquering the Comfort Zone - Fear

The motivational tool I utilize to try and prevent this cycle is referred to as “the wall analogy”. I try to get my teams to envision a wall in front of them. The wall is their fear and it is stopping them from moving forward. It’s heavy and hard to push through. It is large and cannot be knocked down or gone around.

I tell them they need to pick it up, put it over their heads, and place it behind them. Let the energy of pushing against it allow it to now push them forward. With it behind them and between them and their comfort zone, there is now nothing to stand in their way.

Illustrating motivation isn’t easy, however, expecting your team to just “power through” or “push through” won’t work either. Reinforcing the belief that stepping outside the box as the only way to succeed is crucial. Allow your team to feel pushed forward, but also supported as they move into a new journey. The redirection of energy is the key to a healthy transition out of the comfort zone and into the future.

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10 Vital Steps to a Successful Coaching Session | Infinity

The single most important aspect of developing a strong inside salesperson is to provide them with insightful coaching opportunities.  In today’s high-tech digital world we can provide new levels of analytical insight that shine a light on opportunity areas that would have previously gone undiscovered.  We can access that data from the cloud, present it on nearly any device, and utilize technology in ways that redefine our roles in the industry.  That said, despite revolutionary statistical analysis and the leveraging of amazing data mining technology to determine where we can be more efficient, our ability to use that data to drive change still depends on one ‘old school’ skill:  Our ability to coach someone to make the change necessary to be more successful.

I often say that coaching is simultaneously the most important and most difficult skill to master in our (or virtually any) industry.  I have worked in this industry for just under two decades.  I don’t want to even think about how many coaching sessions I have conducted or observed.  The number almost certainly is above 10,000.  I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Based on that experience, I have determined that there are ten vital steps to ensure your coaching session is as successful as it can be.  Before you read these steps, it might be helpful to learn a bit more about The 3 Pillars of Sales Coaching that I discussed in a previous article.

The 10 Steps to a Successful Coaching Session

Successful Coaching Session - Document Your Goal

Step 1:  Document Your Goal

Many managers have a big heart and mean well, but do more damage than development because of a poorly executed coaching session.  Before you get into a coaching session, realize that most of the work is done before the session even starts.  No matter what skill or behavior you are trying to get your salesperson to adopt, the most important part of any coaching session is to have a clear goal of what you are trying to achieve.  As part of your planning process, write down a brief phrase that clearly states the goal of the coaching session.  You will need to refer to this after the session is done.

If you can’t clearly state the goal you are probably trying to achieve too much in a single coaching session.

Successful Coaching Session - Start with a Positive

Step 2:  Start with a Positive

On the surface this seems extraordinarily easy.  Just start by saying something nice about their calls, their efforts, or their results.  However, many managers will gloss over this step or simply say something so superficial or sarcastic that it actually comes across as a negative.  Think about what your salesperson values and say something positive about that.

Some managers ask, “Well, what if I can’t find anything positive?”  In response I say, “Look harder.”

Successful Coaching Session - Explain the Area of Opportunity

Step 3:  Explain the Area of Opportunity

This is where the coaching session really gets going.  Talk about how and why you identified the opportunity area and ensure that you have made it very clear to your salesperson.  Resist the urge to try and bring up multiple issues.  It’s ok to talk about other opportunities as you summarize your thoughts, but don’t let it become a list of things they need to do.  Arrive at the single most important issue impacting their results and explain that opportunity area is what you want to work on in the coaching session.  If they have multiple areas of opportunity, choose the one that will make the biggest impact or the one that is derailing the rest of their efforts.

If you have trouble identifying which opportunity area is the most pressing, ask yourself this:  “What single improvement would impact their results the most?” 

Successful Coaching Session - Choose and Apply the Coaching Method

Step 4:  Choose and Apply the Coaching Method

There are many different methods of coaching available to you, and you need to have many techniques at your disposal to address the myriad of personality types and opportunity areas that you will have to address with your people.  In the planning stage before the session begins, think about the personality of your salesperson.  Think about their values.  Think about what they like and don’t like.  How can you relate to this person?  For some, a simple explanation will suffice.  For others, they need to see it visually or hear it audibly demonstrated.  Another powerful tool is using an analogy to help relate the opportunity area to something in their everyday life they are passionate or knowledgeable about.  Sometimes watching or listening to someone else who performs the skill well is a smart way to go.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what methods to use.  It all depends on what is being coached and who you are coaching.  You have to let your knowledge of the person and how they respond to different techniques be your guide.

Most importantly, realize that you will likely have to use multiple coaching methods over several coaching sessions to fully make the new skill a habit.

Successful Coaching Session - Demonstration of Skill

Step 5:  Demonstration of Skill

It is imperative that you find a method of demonstrating the skill being performed, and being performed well, to your salesperson.  Too many times your salesperson has every intention of incorporating the new skill but the true message of our coaching is lost in translation because it’s not 100% crystal clear what we want them to do.

So, make life easy on yourself.  Find someone doing this skill and use them as an example.  Listen to a recording.  Listen to them live.  And if neither of those things is a possibility, create a scenario and roleplay with them and demonstrate the skill yourself.  Not only will this help with your next step, but it also will help keep your skills sharp as well.  Don’t rely too much on explanation.

Even the best communicators have trouble getting their message across.  Don’t tell them.  Show them.

Successful Coaching Session - Gain Buy-In

Step 6:  Gain Buy-in

While it’s easy to assume that everyone we coach goes in with an open mind and the best of intentions, the reality is that you are likely working with someone that has a large ego and a lot of pride.  That should not be taken as a negative.  Frankly, it’s why this is the business they’ve chosen (or the reason they ended up in this business)!  Keeping in mind that you are dealing with someone that has a lot of ego and pride, you will have to sell them on the reason why you want them to change.  You will have to plan this out before you coach them and sometimes you will have to make adjustments on the fly.

Do they understand why they need to change?  Do they believe it will help them?  If the answer to those questions is “no”, then you probably aren’t going to get them to change.  Your reasons need to be compelling and not based in a culture of “do it or else”.  You want them to sell?  Sell them first.

Successful Coaching Session - Check for Retention and Practical Application

Step 7:  Check for Retention and Practical Application

I have a saying I am very fond of:  “If you haven’t seen or heard them do it, then they probably can’t.”

This isn’t to say I don’t trust people; it’s quite the opposite.  I absolutely take people at face value when they promise to use a new skill.  That said, I have grown to be cautious in a sales agency because the only thing more abundant than results is the promise of results.  People will say or do just about anything to ‘escape’ a coaching session.  Talking about yourself and admitting that you need to do things differently is difficult and uncomfortable.

So, how do you check for practical application?  Ask them to perform the skill you just coached them on.  Ask the salesperson to repeat back to you what you want them to do and require that they demonstrate the skill.  Explain that the session won’t end until they do this.  This may seem harsh, but it’s a part of coaching.  You tell them what to do, and then you have them do it.  Their demonstration of the coached skill may not be perfect and it might not be adequate at this stage.  The effort and your encouragement are really what matters.  They’ll get there eventually, but make sure we are on the right path.

Successful Coaching Session - End on a Positive

Step 8:  End on a Positive

Encourage their efforts.  Thank them for their time.  Make them feel good about what they’ve just done and what will happen as a result of their commitment to continuous improvement.  Positive reinforcement is the single most powerful tool you have.  The thing that people crave more than anything in life is praise and recognition.  Do not allow your session to end with a negative tone, because the hard work is yet to come.

Now they have to implement the skill and they will need you by their side encouraging them every step of the way.

Successful Coaching Session - Set Expectations for Follow-Up

Step 9:  Set Expectations for Follow-Up

Many coaches walk away after ending on a positive.  This is a colossal mistake.  Imperative to the coaching effort is the agreement you make with your salesperson on how they will use the skill and when you will follow-up to inspect and make adjustments.

Most important to your efforts should be an understanding that people don’t like to change.  And if they know that no one will check in and evaluate, they probably won’t change unless you really did a fantastic job at every other step.  Even when a person knows a change will help, they will still resist.  How many people have you met that agree that they need to exercise, lose weight, be more healthy, spend more time with their kids, etc, and yet they don’t change?  It’s human nature.

How do you break the cycle?  Explain what you expect and when you will follow-up.  Do not threaten them.  Don’t speak about consequences unless this session is for disciplinary reasons (I will address how to give corrective action in a future article).  Encourage them and make sure they know that you will be there to help them.  And then simply deliver on your promise.

Successful Coaching Session - Evaluate and Plan

Step 10:  Evaluate and Plan

So, how did it go?  Refer back to the goal that you documented back in Step One.  Did you meet the goal?  If yes, don’t forget to follow-up and work to make that new skill an unbreakable habit.  Most importantly, make sure to praise them and encourage them every step of the way.  If no, then evaluate where it went wrong and create a plan for your next attempt.  When will it happen and what will you change?

Don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements and get a second opinion.  Coaching is difficult and sometimes it takes a village.

Successful Coaching Session - Coaching is not an Event

Coaching is not an Event

Most importantly, realize that coaching is not a thing that happens once in a while.  It’s a way of life.  It’s a philosophy.  It’s a way of communicating.  You are coaching people with every action and non-action.  You are on a stage.  Everything you do and everything you say is in itself a small coaching session.  While you can’t follow this process in everything you do, if you follow these steps and are honest with yourself about your own performance, when you have more formal coaching sessions it will bear fruit. Best of all, your team will thank you…in the form of better results.

The 3 Pillars to Successful Sales Coaching

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

I know you’ve heard that one before.  It’s the favorite mantra of the manager that can’t seem to get their people to do what they want them to do.  For the record, I don’t agree with the sentiment.  Here’s another one that makes me cringe:

“I told them what to do but they just aren’t doing it.”

As someone that has spent the better part of two decades obsessing over how to develop sales superstars I have learned that those two phrases generally mean big trouble.  Having an underperforming sales staff and frustrated sales managers is bad enough.  But that’s not the worst part.  The worst part is that when those phrases start getting uttered, management starts mistaking education issues for motivation issues instead of looking at the real problem.  This usually leads to disciplinary action, terminations, and decreased team morale.  It’s easy to think that “they” are the problem.   Isn’t it easier to tell yourself you have led them to water but they just won’t take a drink?  That you are great and they just aren’t capable of your level of greatness?

So what is the real problem?  Take a deep breath…

Most likely, the problem is that you aren’t coaching them properly.

It’s hard for anyone to hear, so I understand if you are shaking your head in disagreement right now.  It’s not surprising.  I have yet to meet a sales manager that told me they weren’t a good coach.  Yet I have met many that are horrible coaches.  I’m sure you have too.  So, somewhere in between “I’m a great coach” and “my team’s results are below goal” is the truth.

So what is the truth?

What if I told you that the number one problem in most sales environments is that the people you rely on to develop your salespeople are not focused on the true objectives of education?  That they are more worried about providing coaching to satisfy the need, but aren’t really thinking about how to achieve the true objective:   Results.

No matter what line of work you are in there are three basic pillars that must be built in order to successfully teach someone a new skill.  Achieving each one is a science in itself, but at a fundamental level if you stay focused on making sure these three pillars are in the forefront of your mind you will be successful in your efforts to develop a skilled and motivated sales team.

Think of a coaching session as a ceiling supported by these three pillars.  If you don’t have all three, the ceiling might stay up, but eventually cracks will form and the whole thing collapses.

The 3 Pillars to Successful Sales Coaching

Sales Coaching - Understanding

Pillar 1:  Understanding

Ask yourself this question:  Does the person I am coaching understand what I want them to do?

Many coaching sessions begin with this pillar.  And in all honesty it probably is the easiest pillar to build and the one that you are the most comfortable with.  After all, what is a coaching session if not about explaining to someone what you want them to do?

Unfortunately, many coaching sessions also end at this step as well.  I have witnessed countless sessions where a manager explained what they wanted and walked away feeling confident that it will get done.  If the manager goes back to determine the salesperson’s progress they can be surprised and frustrated that there been zero change and the salesperson has reverted directly back to their comfort zone.  If this cycle repeats enough, sometimes you hear them actually getting worse instead of better after you coach them.  Each time you try to change behavior by “telling people what to do” they get demotivated.  Do that enough, and it won’t matter what you do because they simply don’t care what you have to say anymore.  Nearly every manager has had this scenario play out.

To ensure you build a strong pillar of understanding limit the focus of the coaching session to one topic.  Don’t try and achieve too much, as multiple topics muddy the waters and impact your ability to build the next two pillars.  Be very clear about what you want to see happen and use creativity in how you explain it.  Demonstrate the behavior, allow them to hear someone else doing it successfully, or tell a story about how you learned to use the desired skill or behavior to your advantage.  Don’t just give them an order.  Make it interesting.

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Sales Coaching - Buy-In

Pillar 2:  Buy-In

Ask yourself these two questions:  Does the person I am coaching believe what I want them to do will be effective?  Do they understand why they need to change?

Some coaching sessions include this pillar, however, in my experience too many managers rely on what I call the “or else” method of buy-in.  You have to do X “or else” you will miss your goal.  You have to make this change “or else” you will get disciplinary action.  Most people, especially salespeople, don’t respond positively to “or else” statements.  In the moment, you feel like you are explaining the consequences of non-compliance and essentially you are, but the problem is that you aren’t really giving the salesperson a way to positively incorporate the change into their belief system.  It’s a forced change.

Let me use an example…let’s say I ask you to read a book and write a book report.  You will probably roll your eyes a bit, but if I give you the freedom to choose what you want to read and how you want to submit your report, you will probably come around to the idea and might even get excited about doing it once you realize you get to decide.  On the other hand, if I dictate what book you will read and place strict parameters on how you submit the report, you will loathe the entire process even if you enjoyed reading the book.  The difference is buy-in.

So how do you achieve strong buy-in?  This is where most of your planning comes in, and in all honesty this pillar is predicated on a basic assumption:  That you have taken the time to learn about your people, their tendencies, and their interests.   Without that knowledge, your attempts to get buy-in might fall short or seem superficial because you won’t be able to truly relate to your people and find ways to get them to want to do what you are asking.

The most powerful tool to achieve buy-in is to use analogies.  You have to work to develop a strong analogy for each aspect of your sales process.  For instance, I have a lot of success getting sports fans to buy-in to improving aspects of their sales calls because there is a strong correlation between sports and sales.  I will explain how not responding to customers’ objections is like a basketball team making no effort to rebound a missed shot.  It resonates with them, makes the conversation fun, and most importantly helps them to see the process in a different light and allow them to make a change without adversely impacting their confidence.  In short, you have to get them to want to do it.  It’s not easy, but you haven’t coached anyone to do anything until they believe as strongly as you do that it will be effective.  This step will likely have to be repeated with your salespeople that are the most resistant to change.

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Sales Coaching - Practical Application

Pillar 3:  Practical Application

Ask yourself this question:  Have I physically witnessed this person performing the skill or behavior that I am asking them to do?

If the answer is no, then by definition you do not know if they are capable of following through on your coaching.  Without a doubt, this is the pillar that is the most neglected in coaching sessions.  Really good coaches will do a great job building the first two pillars and conclude the session feeling great about the interaction, only to be surprised later on that once again their salesperson has not changed a thing.   This is where many managers will start resorting to the “or else” method of coaching and things start to go bad.

For some reason, many managers are uncomfortable asking the salesperson to demonstrate what they learned in the coaching session, whether it be in a roleplay scenario or simply by monitoring their first several attempts with live customers.  Or, they simply fail to follow-up in a timely fashion to ensure that they are working to implement the new skills or behaviors.   You must understand human nature, and human nature is that we are uncomfortable trying new things and sometimes won’t do what we agreed to do if we know there will be no one watching.  This aspect of human nature can’t be ignored.

I have seen many examples of people agreeing to try something new and even talking about how well it’s working and upon inspection they made zero attempts to make a change.  In other cases they tried a few times, struggled, and immediately revert back to what is comfortable.  Either way, the mistake that was made is that we didn’t stay with them in the critical phase when they actually make the attempt.  Coaching sessions aren’t finished when we stop talking.  They finish when the salesperson successfully incorporates the new skill and uses it consistently.

This entire pillar can be summed up in one phrase I have come to rely on:  “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

A football coach would never install a new play and then not watch their team run the play.  A parent doesn’t just take their child’s word that their room has been cleaned, they go and make sure before rewarding them.   Ask the person you are coaching this question:  “Will you do this on every call?”  If the answer is anything but yes, we haven’t fully built all three pillars yet.   Commit to following-up and also understand there will be missteps and half-steps backwards.  If it was easy, they’d probably already be doing it.  Stay with them until the end, and if you do you will see the skills and behaviors you are trying to teach become habits.

Build the Pillars

Before your next coaching session, build these pillars in your mind.  Ask yourself the key questions.  Commit to following up and understand that most skills and behaviors take multiple coaching sessions to improve and there will be setbacks along the way.  Commit to building these pillars into all your interactions with your team, and soon it will become part of your culture.  And when that happens, you will realize that not only can you lead the horse to water, but they will drink all on their own.

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