Fable Friday: The gymnast, the horse and a coaching tip

My October newsletter had a higher than usual open rate and many shares so I guess readers found it useful.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can find it here.  You recall that in the email to the sales team member, the sales manager incorporated five activities that were necessary to make the upcoming joint sales call effective.

  • Let the sales guy lead the call.  Don’t take over and hog it. Provide a learning opportunity for your rep.
  • Set an expectation for pre-call preparation. State that you will be looking for something of value the rep provided. The key question will be, “What did the prospect learn from you that he didn’t know before you walked in the door?”
  • Insist on a clear set of objectives or outcomes from the call, most important being agreement to the next call. “Introducing ourselves and building rapport” is insufficient.
  • Shape the call as one of learning and prospect engagement. Get the prospect talking. We’re not here to make a presentation and talk about ourselves. Have the rep send you the questions he plans to ask.
  • Make sure the rep sends out a strong agenda before the call to differentiate himself as a professional and set expectations for a meaningful conversation.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOne of the challenges to effective coaching is that it often takes place after some activity or result, when things didn’t go well. Then the coach finds himself criticizing in such a way that both the coach and the performer don’t feel so good after the session.  I’m sure it’s happened to you. Here’s a story that includes an easy tip to help you become a better coach.

A study* on the way coaches provided formative (corrective) feedback, and reinforcing (positive) feedback on gymnasts performing on the horse, shows us how people respond to different types of feedback.

In the vault exercise, the gymnast sprints toward the horse, lands on a springboard, pushes off forcefully, grips the horse briefly and continues the exercise with flips, turns and other movements, then lands on both feet.

In the study, two coaches take turns greeting each gymnast after the exercise. One coach provides reinforcing and formative feedback, for example “That was good, but next time push off harder and go higher.”  The other coach provides only reinforcing feedback:  “That was good!”  But at that performer’s next turn the second coach calls out, “This time try to push off harder and go higher.” This may seem like a slight difference, but according to the study, the second coach was both more effective and was perceived to be more effective by the gymnasts.  The second coach separates formative and reinforcing feedback, placing the formative instruction just before the exercise.

So here’s your tip.  Next time you coach one of your sales team, do it before the call, just as our sales manager did in the newsletter:  “On this call I want to see you focus on getting as much information as possible and getting the prospect engaged.  Put together some great questions and let’s go over them.”  This will be far better than saying after the call, “I didn’t think you got as much information as you could have. What questions should you have asked?” Using the “coach before” approach puts a positive vision of success in the mind of your salesperson.  Using the “coach after” runs the risk of assessing blame.

Think Like Your Customer

*Tosti, D.T. “Formative Feedback” NSPI Journal, 1978

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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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