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Avoid These 2 Common Sales Coaching Mistakes

“A man (or woman) who is trained to his capacity will gain confidence. Confidence is contagious and so is lack of confidence — and a customer will recognize both.” This is a quote from the immortal Vince Lombardi, considered by many to be the greatest coach in football history. It’s also a quote that should be taken to heart by sales managers.

It often happens that when sales managers sign up for that leadership role, they often are lacking in the skills of one major responsibility: imparting the knowledge of what made them successful. While sales managers attend many sales training workshops, few if any, attend workshops that teach how to train and coach a sales team to the next level.

Because of this lack of training, there are two common mistakes often made by sales managers as they set out to develop their team’s selling skills. The result is usually frustration and stagnant growth.

Mistake #1: Missing an understanding of the difference between coaching and training. While training is the imparting of knowledge, and ensuring your team knows what to do and how to do it, coaching means making sure that knowledge has landed, is understood and can be applied.

These are actually two distinctly different skills that require application at different times and situations, for the purpose of improving sales rep performance. This is also where the soft skills of reality testing and self-awareness are important.

Lacking such emotional intelligence skills, a sales manager can misdiagnose performance issues. Often a sales manager’s first instinct, when observing a salesperson’s incorrect application of what they’ve learned, is to re-teach the principle, process or procedure. But the problem might not be a lack of knowledge–it instead might be a lack of confidence or a buy-in issue. Telling the salesperson what to do one more time won’t shift behavior or improve skills. Instead, ask good coaching questions to learn the root cause about why they’re not applying the knowledge or skills they’ve learned. Questions such as:

  • Did you forget to ask the question during the sales conversation or were you uncomfortable asking it?
  • Is your assumption that the prospect will respond negatively to these questions based on perception or data?
  • What’s your biggest worry about________________________?

Know when to train and when to coach. Work on the right end of the performance challenge.

Mistake #2: Heli-skiing training. I live in Denver, Colorado, where skiing is a major activity. When I learned to ski, my instructors slowly elevated my learning, skills and hills. We started with the bunny slope, progressed to the green ones, then the blue slopes. If you mastered these skills and hills, you were ready for black-diamond skiing. And once you mastered them, you were ready for heli-skiing.

Sales managers often make the mistake of taking their team heli-skiing when it isn’t ready. They teach a sales concept once or twice, and assume the salesperson gets it. Then they teach a more difficult selling skill and the salesperson struggles because she never mastered the blue hills of selling; she is still on the greens.

Sales managers, apply your delayed-gratification skills, and put in the work of role playing and drill skills to make sure your team has mastered the fundamentals. Without such mastery, they can’t learn and execute more difficult selling skills.

Here’s a quick example: You’re teaching your team how to make an effective outbound call. First, teach the framework and talk tracks. Then have your team role play and practice this new skill at least 144 times. This repetition ensures your sales team sounds confident, conversational and comfortable. (Think of a great basketball player mastering free throws.)

Once the team has mastered the fundamentals, introduce more difficult skills such as handling objections that occur right at the start of a phone call. Model great ski instructors and determine which slopes and skills your sales team needs to master before introducing black-diamond selling skills.

Great sales managers are great teachers and coaches. Elevate your skills and you will raise your team’s sales results.

Good Selling!

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