What’s the worst word you can use when coaching your sales team?

When you hear the word “coach,” what image comes to your mind?  Do you conjure up a picture of a guy in shorts and a polo shirt with a baseball cap, a clipboard and a whistle around his neck?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIt’s too bad the word “coach” has moved from the world of sports into corporate life, because other than the definition of coaching as a collaborative effort to improve performance, there aren’t many other similarities. And in fact there is one huge difference.  In sports coaching, the performer is generally highly motivated to achieve.  The athlete is trying to make the team, play Division One ball, qualify for the Olympics, be on TV, play in the pros, win a Super Bowl, and so on.

Accordingly, the coach can be very prescriptive and dogmatic, as the athlete’s motivation is strong. But in the corporate world, the coach must be an outstanding facilitator and try to draw from the performer a solution to the work problem.  Generally speaking, the average worker in a company is not as driven as the athletes we see on TV, so the methods their coaches use have no place at work.

You recall last week’s post with the under-performing salesperson?  The manager attempted to coach him to meet his goals because the salesperson had performed so strongly in the past.  But it was clear he went about it the wrong way. The salesperson was resentful and said he didn’t need to be coached.

So if you were this manager, the first mistake you made was in telling the salesperson that you were going to coach him through it.  In fact, while I’m on this topic, why do we use the word “coach” at all?  Why not just establish periodic “check-in” or “update” meetings?

That’s what good sales managers do.  They say, “Phil, it’s time once again for us to sit down in a one-on-one and see how you’re progressing and deal with anything that might be in the way.  Let’s you and I do that tomorrow.”  There is no need to tell him you’re going to coach him. If he’s skilled and experienced there’s a good chance he will wonder what it is you know about the job that he doesn’t know, and you’re off to a poor start.

My own hypothesis about what’s wrong with the salesperson is that perhaps this is a temporary burnout situation, which may resolve itself once attention is drawn to it, or the salesperson may need some change to take place.

In my check-in meeting with the salesperson I would try to explore his interest in doing something else.  Without asking such a question directly I would want to know if he is looking for a different position or role within the company, how happy he is with the job right now, and do the conditions of the job meet his needs for motivation. He might jump at the chance to keep his sales position while taking on the role of mentor for some of the younger, less experienced members of the team, for example.

One reader of this blog wrote to suggest the manager ask the salesperson’s input on possible changes to the incentive plan.  A good question might be, “I’m giving thought to making some changes in our incentive comp plan for the sales team. What do you think they would want? Based on your experience, what ideas would work for you?”

And finally, never discount the possibility that the salesperson is going through a difficult personal problem, perhaps marital or health-related.  It takes a skilled facilitator to uncover an issue like this, and it must be attended to with compassion and loyalty to the team member.

So be careful about telling people you’re going to coach them.  Instead, put on your kid gloves and ask helpful questions.

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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