Is the MVP of Your Sales Team like Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Who is the MVP of your sales team? Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where our office is headquartered, happens to host quite a few MVPs. Last year, Christian Yelich had an awesome breakout year with the Milwaukee Brewers as they went all the way to the final game of the National League Championship series, and Yelich won MVP for the National League. Then, of course, just recently Giannis Antetokounmpo won the Most Valuable Player award for the National Basketball Association at the end of last season. Now that basketball season is upon us, we're reflecting on what makes a sales person MVP material.

So let's draw on lessons from Giannis' MVP season and how that applies to your sales organization. When we talk to CEOs, one of the things that we hear quite often is "So-and-so is our number one sales person and has been for years." And in some cases, that sales person actually is the most valuable person on their team (but not for the reasons the CEO thinks).  Usually when the CEO picks the top salesperson it's based on revenue production.  More often than not, the most valuable sales person may not always be responsible for the most revenue isn't always doing things the right way (they just happen to be in the best territory or they inherited the best accounts). In many cases, the person who's responsible for the most revenue was hustling like an MVP earlier in their career to build out their territory, but now they've taken their foot off the gas and they're living on the success they built up over the years rather than continuing to improve.

Giannis is a model for who you should call your MVP of sales. The number one thing about Giannis is he's very humble and unassuming. He knows he's very talented but doesn't have a brash ego. Giannis goes about doing his work, lifting other teammates up, and helping everybody out without causing trouble. His humbleness and lack of ego is one of the main criteria you should consider for your most valuable sales person.

Another incredibly important quality for your MVP in sales is putting in the work. After a sales calls, your most valuable sales person is more likely to do some immediate analysis, think about what they could do better, work on that and bring that into the next sales call with them, Just like Giannis. Giannis will often be in the practice gym after a game and he'll work on his free throws, his drop step or different aspects of his game that he felt were maybe awesome by everyone else's standards but not quite up to his standards. That's why he continues to get better. He's willing to do the work.

Having that raw drive and passion for continuous improvement is key. Often sales people are evaluated by having that desire and that commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful. Giannis has that in spades, and that's another quality to watch out for in your top sales people.

Finally, being a team player is a quality attributed to most, if not all, MVP’s. It's not all about you, but even when there are times where you have to put your team on your back and get that extra sale or get that extra basket in Giannis’ case, still being a team player certainly makes you a more valuable sales person or a more valuable basketball player.

If we're going to bask in the glory of Milwaukee's MVP’s, lets think about Giannis and how you can apply what's made him the most valuable player in the National Basketball Association to your sales team. Think to yourself, "Hey, who on my team has those qualities? Who's humble? Who's willing to do the work? Who has the drive to get better and to continuously improve? Who's willing to do whatever it takes? And who's a team player that can lift up their team when they need to or will blend in with the team when they need to?" Those are some of the attributes we would advise you to consider as you look at who on your sales team is your most valuable player.

Self Limiting Beliefs in Sales and How to Coach Through Them

One of the common stumbling blocks we see holding salespeople back is self-limiting beliefs that prevent them from moving the sales conversation forward, moving an opportunity to the next step, or asking the kind of tough, timely questions that can stop a prospect in their tracks and think "Wow, I've never thought of it that way before."  And if your sales managers are not aware of these self-limiting beliefs - and the impact they can have on their salespeople - their coaching effectiveness will be significantly slower.

While we can empirically measure 64 specific self-limiting beliefs when we evaluate a sales team, there's probably over a hundred of these beliefs that we regularly observe in salespeople, and as we coach sales leaders to coach their salespeople. In your next coaching conversation with a member of your sales team, listen for signs of some of these beliefs. Here’s a few examples:

One of the more common issues that we see in salespeople is having a hard time discussing money. They're uncomfortable exploring the financial situation of a prospect. They're uncomfortableScreenshot_2019-08-19 shutterstock(1) asking about the budget they have to invest in solving a problem. They're uncomfortable quantifying the impact of a challenge that the prospect is experiencing because of their current situation that the salesperson could potentially solve. Something you can ask about when you're coaching your team is how your salespeople uncover the budget. If the salesperson says, “Well, we didn't talk about budget” then you have to figure out why they didn’t bring it up. It could be that they simply didn't recognize that that's where they were in the sales process, or it could be that they were uncomfortable. If they just didn't know, that's a relatively straight forward coaching opportunity. If it's a conceptual issue and they just weren't sure how to go about bringing up the budget, that gets to be more challenging. That takes a little bit more development. Something you can ask as a coach is, “When you knew it was time to talk about money and you didn't want to, what were you feeling?” Usually what you hear is, “I started to feel uneasy.” In this situation you want to coach them on is taking a breath, grounding themselves, and confidently giving the prospect a budget range. 

Another common self-limiting belief that we observe in some salespeople is having a negative perception of their profession. When some people think about sales, the first word that pops into their mind is usually pushy, sleazy, aggressive, slick – lots of negative adjectives. The problem with this is that if your salesperson has self-limiting belief about their profession, it's going to inhibit their ability to do their job. What we like to tell salespeople is don't think of yourself as a salesperson, reframe it to think of yourself as a helpful problem solver. When you have the mindset of a helpful problem solver, you're asking questions not to push your product or trick the prospect into buying your solution. You're asking questions to find out more about the problem you can solve. Make sure you can solve it, make sure it's the right kind of problem. If it's not, you can still be helpful by giving them another suggestion and pointing them in a different direction. You'll actually earn credibility by directing them elsewhere if you're not a good fit for them. If you have a servant mindset, that's going to make the job a lot easier.

The last self-limiting belief we will cover in this article is the fear of cold calls. This is really prevalent in sales. A lot of bloggers and social media experts have talked about how cold calls are dead, and how social media, inbound marketing, and content driven email campaigns are going to basically destroy the need for cold calls. The truth is, cold calls are alive and well and will be for a long time, yet we see sales people get paralyzed with fear and the phone weighs 10,000 pounds when they have to pick it up. One of the things you can do to combat this is scheduled time with yourself to make calls. Block out 30 to 60 minutes on your calendar and treat it like an appointment. Make sure you change up the day and time you do cold calls every once in a while as well, that way you might catch someone at just the right time. Another thing you can do to combat a fear of cold calls reframing how you think of rejection. Instead of looking at it as a rejection, look at it as a projection. When you start tracking rejections as a positive progress toward your goal rather than a negative, you start to look forward to that rejection because it gets you one step closer to a conversation that's going to go somewhere.

There are hundreds of self-limiting beliefs in sales, these are just a few examples. Hopefully this gives you a framework of what to look for and how to coach through them. If you’d like more guidance, you can subscribe to an online course designed specifically to address self-limiting beliefs by going to  And you can always contact us at or visit us on Facebook.

Want to read more about self limiting beliefs? Check out this great article below:

Creating a Client Scorecard

rAe9xrlgWe have been working with a lot of our middle market clients lately on implementing or refining scorecards for sales or sales leadership roles.  The power of a well-crafted, clearly defined job scorecard is it takes all the guess work and ambiguity out of a position.  This is the job, this is how you'll be measured, these are your priorities, here are the resources you can leverage to be successful in your position.  If you're not using scorecards for your sales team contact us at and we'll send you a sample.

All this work on creating job scorecards got me thinking - what would happen if your sales team knew exactly what you were looking for when acquiring a client?  Would your salespeople benefit from the same focus and clarity created by a clearly defined scorecard?  What would happen if your sales managers applied the scorecard concept to map out your ideal client? In our experience, too many sales teams use an “anything for a buck” sales strategy; they'll sell anything to anyone and move on. In the short term this approach will drive revenue, but remember, not all revenue is created equally. The more specific you can get about really keeping your team focused on your your dream client, the better the results will be.

Take a look at your current client base. Where are you making the most money? Who are the clients that are easy to work with? Write down your top five or six clients and what they have in common. What industry are they in? How big are they? How did the conversation with them start? What was your entry point? What's the strategic value of that client? Are they a name brand that give you instant credibility? Do they push your firm to be better?

Some clients can be a real pain in the neck. Some clients are awesome. You may have both in your portfolio, but who do you prefer? Are the pain-in-the-neck clients paying a premium? Is it enough?  Do they see the value in everything you provide? Or do they nickel and dime you and negotiate every transaction? What's their potential for making quality referrals? Can they influence you and improve your standing in the market? Are they paying you on time or do they have long payment terms? These are just some of the filters to think through.

 When you take the time to look at your ideal clients that are already in your portfolio and map out what you like about them, how you got them, and describe them in as much detail as you can, you can create a client scorecard that will help your salespeople focus on who they should be talking to, what they should be selling, and how they should be selling.

Without that focus, they'll continue with the “anything for a buck” strategy and you'll find yourself wasting important delivery cycles or production cycles trying to fill orders that really don't make sense to the overall strategic direction of your company. So get focused, develop a client scorecard, and teach your salespeople which clients to quickly disqualify because they don't meet your ideal client criteria and move on to those that do. 

Coaching Ruts and How to Get Out of Them

Every sales manager we talk to says, "I coach my team all the time."  But their idea of coaching often means quick hallway conversations or phone calls, pipeline reviews focused on opportunities that can close right away, or ride along coaching calls where the manager dominates the conversation and the salesperson just watches.  Rarely do sales managers have structured, focused, consistent coaching conversations focused on development rather than production.  That’s where we step in to teach them a better coaching methodology.  And the sales managers who implement our coaching methodology can make tremendous progress almost immediately.  They get better at asking coaching questions and the whole sales team starts gain momentum as a better coaching rhythm is established.  And then - usually around three or four months into establishing that rhythm - they hit a wall.  Usually we hear something like, "I think we're losing momentum. It's not working as well. "

Almost always, it turns out coaching ruts photothat the manager has fallen into a rut. They've become predictable. They're going through the motions and their sales team knows it. What happens is, they start to ask the same handful of questions and use the same format week after week. They start every coaching conversation the exact same way, the salespeople know what they're going to ask before they ask it, and they're absolutely sure which direction the manager is going to go. Your sales team can just go through the motions and think, "Okay, he's going to ask about this, this, and that. I'll have those answers. We can be efficient." When that happens, the manager will say to us, "We're losing momentum. The coaching calls are getting shorter."

The way to avoid falling into a coaching rut is to make sure your sales managers mix it up. Change up what they're asking. They've obviously got to cover similar topics week to week. For example, in a weekly, structured coaching conversation, they know you should take a look back and say, "Tell me about the week that just passed. Tell me what's going on with your sales pipeline. Tell me about your calendar. Tell me about any challenges you have." A lot of sales managers will ask the same backward-looking questions instead of mixing it up, so coach your sales managers to be more intentional and change the question focus. Have them try asking more specific questions such as:

  • Tell me about the call that you were most excited about that didn't turn out like you expected.
  • How about a call that you had no hopes or expectations for that actually turned into gold?
  • Which meeting are you most excited about from last week?  And why?
  • Tell me about a call where you met another key decision maker or influencer.
  • Tell me about the call that was an absolute disaster.  What did you learn that you can apply going forward?

In these examples the sales manager is still looking back at the week that just past. They're asking the salesperson, "Hey, tell me about your week," but instead of being generically predictable they're keeping the salesperson on edge by asking very specific questions about their week and what they learned.  And when your sales managers do that consistently, slightly changing the focus of their questions from week to week, the coaching conversations stay fresh and the team keeps making progress.

If your sales leaders ask generic "how did your week go?" questions they'll get generic (and unhelpful) answers like "pretty good."  Instead, the coaching conversation should explore potential areas where a salesperson may struggle and make mistakes.  And speaking of mistakes, if you have salespeople who aren't making mistakes fairly regularly, they're probably staying in their comfort zone. They're probably not trying new questions or new techniques. They're just going through the motions. When your sales managers have regular, consistent coaching conversations that discuss mistakes salespeople make (and lessons learned), disastrous sales calls (and lessons learned), calls that the salesperson thought would be easy that turned out to be quite hard (and lessons learned) as well as calls they expected to be difficult that turned out great (and lessons learned) they create an environment where making mistakes (and learning from them) is not only acceptable but regularly encouraged. 

The second part of that conversation - the "lessons learned" part - is crucial.  It has to be, "Tell me what you learned from it. Tell me what you're going to do differently next time. Tell me how that made you better as a salesperson." Then, if it’s a good example and your salesperson is comfortable with it, "Hey, would you mind sharing that at the next sales meeting?" is the next step.

A great way for your sales managers to reinforce the "lessons learned" in their coaching conversations is to ask about future goals as well.  It sounds like "Tell me about the week or the last two weeks, and then let's look forward a week. Looking at your calendar, what call are you most nervous about, and how can I help you?" Or, "Looking at your calendar, what are you most excited about next week, or what deals absolutely have to move forward next week?" Mixing up your conversations in this way does a couple of things. First, it makes it more interesting for the sales manager. You're going to explore different areas and find different weak points in what that salesperson is doing or not doing. Second, it's also going to keep it fresh for the sales person. If they come into a meeting and they're not exactly sure what direction the sales manager is going to go, it's not predictable for them. They have to stay on their toes a little bit, and they have to be ready to go whichever direction the sales leader takes them.

If your sales managers are getting in the habit of establishing a consistent, structured, coaching conversation – which every sales manager absolutely should do – ask them how they're mixing up their questions and what they focus on from call to call.  Make sure that they're not just following the same agenda week after week after week, because you will absolutely find them in a sales coaching rut and they'll be less effective as a sales leader.

Need help?   Please reach us at Intelligent Conversations by taking a moment to complete the form below.  We'll give you a call to discuss whether or not you're a good fit for our program to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth.

Goals-Based Coaching

GJAvXzIwDo your sales leaders keep it simple when it comes to setting goals for their team?  One of the common mistakes we see sales leaders make is burdening their team with too many goals or setting overly complex goals. Like many things, the manager's ability to simplify and help the team focus on two to three meaningful goals, rather than 10 or 15 goals, will have a major impact. These significant goals should be above and beyond what is expected of each salesperson in the normal course of business. Obviously, each sales team will have expectations in terms of pipeline volume (number of opportunities), pipeline movement (opportunities moving from stage to stage) to reach sales goals.  

On every sales team there are going to be expectations in terms of moving opportunities through the pipeline, documenting in the CRM, and certain activity levels that need to be hit. In this case, we’re focusing on goals above and beyond the regular order of business, without making them too complicated.

An example of a way to approach setting a goal may be mentioning to your team, "Hey, I noticed that the last couple of quarters you've been really focused on deals of this size. One of the things I'd like you to do is balance your pipeline by introducing opportunities of varying sizes." For example, some salespeople have nothing in their pipeline but small opportunities. That can be great, but you need to work quite hard to reach a big sales goal. That team member might benefit from their sales leader saying, "Hey, I'd like you to look at a few bigger targets as well. Keep doing what you're doing with the small deals, but let's get some medium and large deals in there as well." What you'll find is that your salesperson will have a better-balanced pipeline.

A good way to keep track of and measure your team’s goals is to meet once a week for coaching sessions and make adjustments or course corrections along the way. Lets say your sales person’s goal is five new opportunities per week, and since there’s 13 weeks in one quarter they’re really adding 65 opportunities over the course of the quarter if they stay on track. The reason you want to meet with them every week is because if in week one of 13 they only booked two new opportunities, that means they’re three in the hole right now. Their goal at the end of the quarter is still 65, so they're going to have to have a couple of weeks where they have to book six or seven to make up for that deficit.

A good formula to stick to is three business goals to one personal goal. It’s important to include one goal that's significant to the individual sales person such as a fitness goal, family goal, community service goal, diet goal, and the list goes on. When you include a personal goal, you’re investing in your team as people, not just coworkers. Your sales team will also be able to see your company as part of their path to completing personal goals on top of their business goals.

As you're doing your regular check in weekly, make sure you're asking them about their progress toward those personal goals. You'll find that over time everyone on your sales team will be a little more focused, execute a little more crisply, and good things will happen in and for your company.  

If you're looking for ways to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  Please take a moment to complete the form below and we will be in contact.  Thank you!

Living in the Land of Ahs

One of the things that absolutely destroys sales is when the buyer perceives a lack of confidence in the sales person. If the sales person isn't able to effectively transfer emotion and communicate their ideas in clear, crisp, concise language, if they same hesitant, if they appear to lack confidence, it absolutely undermines that sales person's credibility in the buyer’s mind.

One of the areas where sales people are often lacking in the way they communicate, whether it's in a presentation, on an initial phone call, or in a meeting, is when they use filler terms like ahs and ums. Those are just little comfort things that, wsWeCWNlwhile a salesperson is gathering their thoughts, they may not even realize what they're doing. It really muddies the waters and undermines a buyer's confidence in that sales person. They think, "Does this guy really know what he's talking about? He seems to be unsure." They press their advantage. They'll continue to ask tough questions and put your sales people in a corner. That erodes their confidence even more, and then it just spirals down.

The challenge is sales leaders are not always on the sales call with salespeople. We don't always hear or see them present. One of the tools that we've added to our arsenal at Intelligent Conversations is a very powerful platform from a company called Refract. We're deploying this across all of our clients, because it's giving us the ability to actually listen to live sales calls or to issue a video challenge to everyone on the sales team and say, "How would you handle this price objection?", or "Let's hear how you position your product or service." We get all sorts of great insight into pace of speech. We can listen to tonality. We can hear the quality of their content.

It's amazing how when people who sell every day have to get in front of a video camera, and then say what they say in front of customers all day long, seize up a little bit. You hear a lot of these filler “ahs” and “ums” coming out. You hear the hesitancy in their voice. You hear them get nervous as they talk about something they're just learning. The more you can incorporate tools, whether it's observational coaching where you have managers riding along, or whether it's using tools like Refract, you need to get that feedback loop.

Now, a note about observational coaching. One of the things to keep in mind is, when a sales leader is going along on a ride along call, it's not the normal call. The sales person's behavior changes. Frankly, sometimes the prospect's behavior changes knowing there's a manager in the room. You have to be mindful of that and factor it in. It's the Heisenberg Principle. A physicist, Warner Heisenberg, basically summarized that the mere fact that you're observing something changes the outcome. When sales managers are riding along, they're not seeing sales people in their natural state. They may not see the whole picture.

It's amazing, when sales people get to listen to themselves doing a cold call or when they hear themselves back on a recorded scenario challenge. It's a really powerful to go back, listen, and ask, "Am I using filler words? Am I hesitating when I shouldn't be? Is there anything I can do to improve my tonality, tighten up my messaging, or pause a little bit to allow time for the prospect to think?" All of these things factor into the buyer's perception of your sales people. A buyer's more likely to move forward, or at least move to the next step, if they perceive your sales person as highly confident, highly competent, and speaking with authority. Hesitation, ahs, ums, and pauses that are inappropriate can undermine that sales person's authority and will absolutely cost you sales.

If you're looking for ways to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  Whether it's one-on-one coaching with a certified Intelligent Conversations Coach or a full program leveraging platforms like refract, please take a moment to complete the form below and we will be in contact.  Thank you!

What Makes Your Sales Team Likable, Knowledgeable, and Memorable

Salespeople and sales leaders often ask us: "What can  I do to stand out?" This is particularly important when selling in a highly competitive market or facing strong resistance and fierce competition. There are a handful of things that salespeople can do to stand out from the competition to be a little bit more likable, demonstrate their knowledge and expertise, and most importantly, be memorable.

One of the things you can do to be a more likable salesperson is learn to be agreeable. Something as simple as smiling and nodding, even if you're disagreeing with the client, will make it hard for the client to wLa7SDhxgant to argue with you. Just listen to them as they're questioning your product or challenging you in some way. They're going to find it difficult to stay angry if you're open and seemingly agreeable.

Another thing you can do is simply ask questions. Find ways to genuinely appreciate them as a person, find things to compliment, give them strokes, and smile even in the face of challenging questions. 

Think about the energy you're bringing into the meeting or conversation with your client. Leave any negative calls, rejection, anything going on in your life that's going to hold you back at the door. Put that aside, and be enthusiastic. Your energy will influence your client’s feelings towards you and your company. Remember, sales is a transference of emotion, and you've got to get the prospect as excited and as passionate about your product or service as you are.

You need to understand how your product or service may impact your customer. The best way to appear knowledgeable isn't by showing up with stats and figures you've memorized from the technical manual of your product. It's about asking good, thought-provoking questions. If you can lead the prospect through a conversation they haven't had before,  shining a light into areas of their business where you can create value or efficiencies, you're going to come across as much more knowledgeable than the competitor. 

Don't be the salesperson who just shows up and starts talking. Make it about the prospect, and ask questions that make them say, "I'm not sure. I'd have to look into that. I've never really considered that." These are the things that make you memorable. You'll stand out from the competition, who just shows up and shows them a brochure, or walks through a PowerPoint deck.

If you're a sales leader looking to coach your sales team to differentiate themselves and sell more effectively in the field, or are a salesperson wondering what might give you an edge on the competition with your customers, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  We have several approaches to personal and professional development in these areas!


The Importance of Simplicity



As a CEO, one of the things you can coach your sales managers on is to really inspect the language choices their salespeople are making. Are they sounding like a brochure? Do they speak in terms of features and benefits? Do they spew facts and jargon without even realizing that they're doing it? One of the most impactful things your sales managers can do when coaching their salespeople to higher performancJwrVASdQe is being mindful of their language. There's a huge difference from a customer's point of view between knowing and understanding. Salespeople are naturally inclined to flex their knowledge and expertise. They throw three letter acronyms around to appear to have more authority, but in actuality, it undermines the opportunities they may have to build relationships and ultimately, sell.

It's much better to keep things simple when  you speak to a customer about your product or services to fit the customer's point of view. Putting it in simple terms requires a deeper understanding and a deeper level of expertise than just spewing out three letter acronyms and jargon terms. Asking your sales managers to really listen to the phrases used on sales calls, information shared in emails and proposals, and really challenging their salespeople to simplify and clarify rather than throw around formal language will have a huge impact on the quality of the sales conversations your company has and ultimately the revenue your salespeople generate.

Part of the simplification of language is dependent on the context of the sales interaction. There are times where your salespeople may be talking to a high-level executive who really doesn't want to get into the weeds of your product or service; they just want to know about the impact you can have on their company. There are other times where your salespeople might be talking to somebody who has a more technical perspective. Maybe they're in operations, or they're the person who will actually work with your product or service. They’ll most likely have a different set of questions, so being able to adapt is critical. Simplifying isn’t a one size fits all situation. Your salespeople have to be able to interpret who they're talking to, understand what's important to them, and make their language fit accordingly.

As an example, we have a client that sells financial performance management software to the CFO and that whole department. It was easy for these guys to start talking about technical finance terms, and how the workflows could improve with their solution when we first started working with them. It was always a very technical conversation about improving KPIs and driving better outcomes, but they didn't really cover the ultimate benefits of their product! The ultimate benefit was "Hey, we're going to free up your team from running these mundane reports so they can begin to work on the things that really matter."

Naturally, they would run into resistance because if you come in with a solution that's going to automate something that a mid-level manager spends 35/50 hour workweek doing their immediate reaction is "Why would I ever bring this in here? I'm going to lose my job." It wasn't until they were able to put it in terms that were simpler and convey the benefits of "Imagine what you would do with your time if you didn't have to run these manual reports every month or do a data query in this arcane fashion. You could program that in and it would happen automatically. You could actually invest your time in higher impact activities that drive more value for your customers or your company."

When they made that change and adjusted their messaging to start talking about the benefits that would appeal to middle-level managers or CFO’s depending on the audience, they started having much more productive conversations. Don't over-complicate things. Your sales team's job is to simplify and make your offering easy for your prospects to understand. If you can coach your managers to inspect the language that your sales team is using and make sure that they're keeping it simple from the customer's point of view, you'll see a dramatic change in your sales results.

At Intelligent Conversations, we implement leadership training and development programs to coach leaders on how to coach their sales teams to do this effectively. We also leverage Software which helps us closely inspect specific language choices which may be the key to unpacking why they're facing the challenges their facing with their clients! We're happy to help, simply reach out to us at Intelligent Conversations!

Creating a Healthy Coaching Environment in Sales

One of the barriers sales leaders encounter when trying to establish a consistent coaching rhythm with each salesperson on their team is they have not established a healthy coaching environment.  What does that mean? There are several components that go into creating an atmosphere that is conducive to coaching. 

1. Mutual Respect.  First, there has to be a certain level of mutual respect. The salespeople have to respect the sales leader, or they won't listen to the advice or coaching they get. The sC4o8SJsgales leader needs to feel like their advice is being followed and that they're respected, so there's a healthy coaching relationship. The manager needs to earn it, and the salespeople need to give it, but if in its absence, the coaching experience is going to be negatively impacted. If the sales leader doesn't feel like he or she has that respect, their coaching will be more tentative and less effective.

2.  Trust.  What's the level of trust across your sales team? Do your sales people feel like they can share everything with the sales leader and really come to them when they need help? Does the sales leader feel like he or she is trusted by the sales people? Part of a sales leader's job is creating a culture of accountability, managing agreements, and making sure that they hit their numbers, but when a sales person is struggling, do they really feel safe? Do they feel they can go to their manager when they're behind on their plan or not moving deals forward (or do they hide and hope nobody notices)?

The irony in this is when a salesperson's pipeline is stalled that's when they need coaching the most, yet it's also when they're least likely to ask for help if they don't trust their manager.  One of the ways a sales manager can establish trust is to take the time to get to know each individual on their team at a personal level.  The sales coach/salesperson relationship should go beyond a conversation about metrics and pipeline movement.  Your sales managers don't have to know everything about a salesperson’s personal life, but should have a general understanding of where each salesperson on their team is in their career, what their career goals are, and what their personal goals are, what's important to them, etc.  When sales managers take the time to show they care about and take an interest in each individual (beyond the numbers) salespeople are more likely to ask for help when they need it.

3.  Coachability.  Another element is how "coachable" are your sales people? If you hire salespeople who feel like they have nothing to learn because they already know everything, their willingness to implement whatever suggestions your sales manager makes will be pretty limited. Of course, that's going to be frustrating for the sales leader when they have good ideas and they're ignored. Having a team that's open to input and willing to try a suggestion even if they disagree with it is an important aspect to the coaching environment as well.  Ask questions about growth goals, what they're working on, and where they want to improve during your interview process to make sure you're hiring "coachable" salespeople.

4.  Time Coaching.  One of the biggest factors that a manager absolutely can control is the amount of time spent on coaching. We recommend about 50% of a manager's time should be spent coaching their sales people. Some of that will be in formal, structured, weekly conversations where you go through their pipeline, review their calendar, look at upcoming calls, and debrief on calls that have recently occurred. The focus should be on making incremental progress each week with each sales person, giving them that coaching. The other part of that comes from informal coaching conversations that happen throughout the week.  When a manager spends about half of their time coaching their team and being there for them, they create a really strong coaching environment.  Most sales managers say they coach all the time, but in reality they are pulled in other directions and when they do finally sit down with a salesperson the meeting agenda defaults to a pipeline review conversation focusing on what can close right now instead instead of on mid-to-long-term development objectives.

5. It's Not All About the Sales Manager.  Finally, it's not all about the sales manager. Being a sales manager is really about having a servant mindset.  They are their to help each salesperson on the team succeed. It's a bit hard if your sales manager used to be the "alpha” sales person who loves getting the win and celebrating their victories. It's difficult for that type of person to take a backseat role.  What often happens is that type of sales manager simply functions as a more productive salesperson by using their team to extend their reach and set up closing conversations.  The salespeople line up closable deals and the sales manager swoops in and mows them down.  This can be productive in the short term but ultimately limits growth as high-potential salespeople get frustrated and leave, and the ones who stay never learn how to close.

Make sure your sales manager has the right mindset and remembers it's NOT about them, it's all about helping the team win. When they do that, they'll create a strong, healthy coaching environment rooted in trust.

As a reflection, think about your sales managers and the relationships they have with their salespeople.  How strong is your coaching environment?  In which of these five areas do they need to improve?  In your next conversation with a sales leader, ask them, "When you ask a sales person to come into your office, is their reaction, 'Oh boy, what have I done? I'm in trouble,' or is it, 'Oh great, he's going to help me.'"  The answer to that question will tell you all you need to know about your coaching environment.  

Wanted – Humble Sales People

iTEJd_6QOne of the challenges when you're hiring salespeople (or coaching them) is the dichotomy between being confident and being humble. Part of being effective in sales is coming across as knowledgeable and confident, but if your sales people push that too far they'll be seen as arrogant and cocky.  What would happen if they came across as humble and curious as well as confident? You can explore this tension between confidence and humility as you're interviewing salespeople.  Ask tough questions and change topics quickly to see how can they handle pressure. Also, ask for examples of how they've grown and what they've learned - then listen carefully for stories of humility and curiosity.

From a practical sales perspective, the balance between confidence and humility really comes down to being a great listener. Nobody wants to talk to a know-it-all, and yet so many sales people spend all their time focusing on mastering the technical aspects of their product. You certainly need to know your product, but more importantly you need to know what questions to ask. It's not about having the right answer, it's about having a great set of questions – without being overbearing – that can uncover the compelling reasons for a prospect to buy and help them understand the full impact of their current situation.

An arrogant salesperson will ask a question then begin to answer it before the prospect has a chance to jump in to contribute to the conversation.  Or, they'll asks overly complex questions that make the conversation harder than it needs to be. Many salespeople falsely believe that showing off their intellect and demonstrating their technical knowledge makes them seem more confident.  Usually they are just masking their insecurity and are afraid to just have a conversation.

In our experience, the most effective questions are simple, direct, and straightforward. Most importantly, a good salesperson takes the time to pause after asking a question. There’s no need to rush in and start talking right away if the prospect is considering your question.

Humble sales managers can make a huge difference as well.  We’ve seen great sales people get promoted to become a sales manager, and suddenly it's like they walked through a magic portal with the title "sales manager" above it and forget to ask questions. The very thing that made them so effective and helped them rise to the top of their sales team was likely their ability to ask great questions and be a great listener. Yet, when they become a sales manager, they forget all about that and instead they start telling their team, "Well, here's what you need to do."

What ends up happening is rather than developing a team of diverse personalities, each with their individual strengths, they start building a team of clones. Sometimes that can work well in the near term, but ultimately they’re limiting the growth of each team member by just making them do the job their way. It's not about telling your team, "Do this, do that, here's what you need to do next in this situation," because you're doing the thinking for your sales people. Instead, think like you're back in a sales role. How can you get them to the right answer? How can you ask them questions that help them discover what they need to do next?

If your sales people come to the conclusion on their own, it's their idea and they'll start to apply it. They'll have more ownership. If you just tell them what to do and it doesn't work, they can blame you. For salespeople, be humble and ask questions. Ask questions that make the prospect think and give them a pause to answer the question. For sales managers, rather than telling your team, “do this, do that,” ask a question to help them get to the right answer. Being humble enough to ask questions rather than show off how much you know because you were once a top distribution salesperson can really make a big difference.