In the first blog of this series, we discussed the first 6 characteristics of superlative sales coaches. These were great communications skills, creation of a coaching culture, recruiting the right team members, investing in their new hires, motivation in good times and bad, and requiring accountability at all levels. In this follow up, we’ll look at the next two, managing conflict and a provide check list for how to guide effective coaching conversations.
Some view conflict within sales teams as something bad, something to be avoided in the search for harmony. The truth is, on any team, whether in an industry or sport, internal conflict is bound to arise.
However, this does not mean that the team is destined to fail; in fact, conflict may arise when team members care. If it’s members note a lack of performance and progress, they should be angry. Multiple personalities working together will likely result in disharmony from time to time. The key to successfully navigating through turmoil lies in the hands of the manager. Management must establish a foundation of confidence, structure, and support for employees to ensure the goals of the company are fully understood and equally shared. Employees who are committed to these goals will set an example for others to follow during turbulent times. When combined with effective motivation, this commitment will ensure the team pulls together and performs in times of adversity.
Unhealthy conflict is also a possibility and should be dealt with as soon as it arises. The top three causes of unhealthy conflict are personality differences, unchecked non-compliance with rules, and misunderstandings. These are easily taken care of once identified. Sales managers must become adept at assessing the mood of their teams and keeping track of what is going down the “grapevine.” It’s better to address minor squabbles as soon as they occur than to be blindsided by something more serious later.
Successful sales coaches help their team members see what went right and what went wrong in both sales meetings with customers, and in bigger picture sales strategy and planning sessions. How? By spending more time asking questions than giving instructions. For example, they gather their teams after an important sales meeting or in a strategy session and they ask about three things: does the sale person know what good looks like and do they know they are doing compared to “good”; do they know what they should be doing to improve; and do they know how to execute the right behaviors, the next time?
What questions do they ask, exactly? Here are five distinct types of questions, known as the GOALS questions, that get the job done.
1. General questions: These simple questions gather facts to gauge whether the sales rep has a basic understanding of where they are relative to the competition, other sales reps in the company, etc.
2. Obstacle, Opportunity and Outlay questions: Obstacle and Opportunity questions are used to gain an understanding of where the rep is struggling and what opportunities exist to help improve performance. Outlay questions help the rep to understand the impact these challenges have on their performance. For example, an outlay question might be “how many orders do you think you lost last quarter because of the challenge you are facing in your sales conversations?”
3. Accomplishment questions: These questions get the rep to see that a better outcome may be gained by reducing the obstacle, or taking advantage of the opportunity discussed. For example, “how many more meetings do you think you could get with customers if you just reduced this one challenge by 10%?” The idea is to get the rep to think about the benefits of improving his or her behaviors as they relate to the challenge he or she is facing.
4. Leverage questions: Leverage questions are used to change a rep’s perspective. They are best used when a salesperson is missing the boat when it comes to an issue causing a problem in their performance. Often, reps will blame poor performance on external factors beyond their control. So, a good leverage question might be, “Don’t you think that other reps are also dealing with these same issues? Then why are they able to make improvements in their sales numbers given that they are also dealing with these same factors?”
5. Summary and Solution questions: This is where accomplished coaches get sales reps to agree that they are struggling with a few issues by summarizing the issues and asking the rep if he or she agrees that these are worth addressing. Solutions questions are as simple as “What are some ways we can work together to overcome these challenges?” It’s important to use a question format since it’s much more powerful when reps voice their own solutions as opposed to being told what to do. Without real buy in or understanding, they simply working off a manager’s to-do list for improving. Real coaching is helping the rep develop their own ideas for improvement so that over time, the rep will diagnose problems and create plans for improvement without always being told what to do.
If you want to lead your salespeople to the top, start by changing the way you talk to them. Ask more questions and use less instruction when it comes to coaching conversations. The evidence is overwhelming that this will lead to drastic improvements in your team’s performance.
In part 3 of this series, we’ll examine how good coaches/managers continually teach, and conclude with how they teach their teams to be flexible and agile using the FUSE method.