One 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.