A sales management coaching tip from Lou Holtz

Some time ago I had an interesting conversation with Nancy Lieberman, the greatest female basketball player of all time, an Olympian, a pro player, the only woman to coach a men’s pro basketball team, and a Hall of Famer. Our conversation got around to coaching, a subject she knows a thing or two about, and I was fascinated by this story she shared from Lou Holtz, the former college and NFL coach and another superstar of motivation.

HoltzCoach Holtz positions this challenge.  “Say you have a big thick length of solid wood, about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, and you place it over a couple of cinder blocks a foot or so off the floor.  You blindfold your player and challenge him to walk from one end to the other. He’d say, ‘That’s easy,’ and stroll right across. So his thoughts would be only about success.

But now suppose I tell him I’m going to raise the platform. I’ll put the wood between two buildings 50 stories high.  Now the player thinks, ‘Uh oh. I could fall.’  The challenge is exactly the same but the athlete’s confidence is now lower.”

Nancy adds, “So as a coach, you have to see that when goals are low, confidence is high, and when goals are high, confidence can start to slip away, even when the skills needed to succeed are exactly the same.  Your job as the coach is not just setting high goals. You also have to work on the player’s confidence, by keeping negative thoughts out of his head.”

Now back to you.  How well are you doing that as a coach?  Do you find fault, assign blame, point out the negatives, suggest what could go wrong? Or are you skilled at developing positive images of success in the minds of your team? When your sales team listens to you in meetings or one-on-one coaching sessions, do they walk out knowing exactly what to do, or are they more likely to be fearful of failure?

Let’s examine the business priorities.  You want to challenge your sales team with aggressive goals and you want them to be successful in achieving them, to make more money and profit for your company, your team and yourself.

But remember:  High challenges can cause low confidence.

In every coaching conversation with your sales team, work to build their confidence.

“I know you can do this.  You’ve done it before.”

“Focus on success.”

“Let’s talk about what you need to do to win.”

“I can’t wait to hear you tell me how you nailed this call.”

“How can I help you achieve your goals?”

Learn to think and feel the way your team does, in order to coach more effectively, just as you…

Think Like Your Customer

Sales Tip: Frame your customers’ choices and watch your sales jump!

Here’s a quiz for you.  There’s a directive on a drivers license to indicate if you are an organ donor, in the event of accidental death.  In the year 2003 the rate of organ donation was close to 100% in Austria but only 12% in Germany. It was 86% in Sweden but only 4% in Denmark.

Why do you think that was? What could account for such huge differences between countries so close in geography and culture?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThe differences are in fact caused by the framing effect, which influences the way people respond to questions.  The high-donation countries completed a form that allowed them to opt out if they did NOT want to be an organ donor, so they had to proactively check a box to say no.  The low-contribution countries completed an opt-in form, so they had to check a box to say they wanted to donate. 

So we know that the best single predictor of whether or not people will participate in organ donation is how the default option is created, rather than their concern for their fellow humans.  Saying yes means doing nothing.  To say no you have to check a box.  That’s all there is to it.

In his 2008 outstanding book “Nudge,” the economist Richard Thaler cites numerous examples of how social programs can be enhanced to benefit the population through the use of these carefully designed “nudges”, which encourage people to do things that are in their best interest.

One quick example.  You get a new job, and the choice to join a pension plan is presented to you as the default option.  You can always opt out if you want to, but joining is the default. More people sign up as a result and that is a good thing for society. People regard the default as the right thing to do, and fewer opt out.

This process is known as “choice architecture” in that you can be intentional about the way you frame choices for others. If you are in sales, you should already be thinking about how choice architecture can benefit you by influencing the way your prospects or customers make buying decisions.

Framing is very powerful.  Which of these meats are you likely to buy:

“Our meat is 90% fat-free!”

“Our meat contains 10% fat!”

Same meat; different framing. If you’re like most people, you saw the first choice as being healthier.

In my work I often help financial institutions sell services to their customers.  Let’s suppose I’m explaining our checking account services to you, and I say, “Our checking account comes with fraud protection, an online statement and a credit card, all for one low monthly fee.”

When framed this way it is then awkward for customers to ask how much it would be if they didn’t get fraud protection. In fact, in previous posts I’ve written about how powerful a driver loss aversion is. No one ever says, “Oh don’t give me any of that fraud protection. I’d like my identify to be stolen!”

The bundling of products and services is commonplace for this reason, and you can think of many examples in your day to day purchases, such as razors that “come with” a starter supply of blades to get you started on a revenue stream for the company.

If you sell a product or service that has a number of add-ons, or additional services you would like to cross-sell, consider how you might bundle them to create a framing opportunity in the presentation.  This is far superior to saying, “And for just an additional ten dollars a month you get…”

Think Like Your Customer

More from Lou Holtz: How to coach positively

Sit with me for a few minutes in today’s Fable Friday as we watch a college football game. Lou Holtz, the legendary NFL and college football coach and subject of this week’s newsletter, is doing the color commentary.  I saw this game several years ago and it made quite an impression on me, as the learning point is consistent with our theme of the role of the coach, to teach positive behavior.

Late in the game one team was leading by four points, and all they had to do was run the clock out and not turn the ball over to the other team.  The play-by-play announcer, on seeing the coach of the leading team conferring with his quarterback said, “I imagine he’s telling him not to throw an interception here.”

At this, Holtz jumped all over him.  “That’s the absolute worst thing to tell him.  You never want a player out on the field with negative thoughts in his head. If he wants the kid to avoid throwing an interception, then what he should do is tell him exactly what to do with the ball, not distract him with thoughts about mistakes.”

So right after this coach-player conference, the game resumes, the quarterback throws an interception and the team loses the game.  And Holtz ranted about it some more when the losing coach told the TV interviewer that he had specifically told the quarterback to move the football down the field but not to throw an interception.

Think about this.  Does it make any sense to you that your sales team can learn anything if you spend your time telling them what not to do?

I was lost once while driving and stopped for directions.  Some guy tried to get me back on track.  Here’s what he said, “About a mile down you’ll see a gas station.  Don’t turn there.  Keep on going until you see a McDonalds on the corner.  Don’t turn there either; just keep on going straight.”  I had so much trouble trying to remember what I wasn’t supposed to do, that I could hardly remember the right directions.  That’s how the human mind works.

I once ran a workshop in which I taught a group of managers how to coach an outbound phone campaign.  They practiced fine in the workshop but once they began coaching the callers, all they did was find fault.  I called two of them aside and asked, “Do you remember what we discussed and practiced in the workshop?  How does that compare with what you’re doing now?” And it was like a light bulb went off.  They knew what they should have been doing, but once on the job they fell into their old habits of negativity.

If you’re a trainer or sales manager, consider how you give people feedback after some performance.  Is it, “You forgot to do this.  You didn’t mention that.  You left out the question about…”?  Or do you position it like this:  “Here’s what I want to see you do more of, as you do it so well.”  Then your team will focus on all the right things, and not worry about the consequences of doing the wrong ones.

On Tuesday we’ll discuss some additional tips on training and coaching.  Meanwhile, I’m off to Philadelphia.

Think Like Your Customer!

Can you inspire your team without giving them opium?

In today’s Fable Friday we’ll go back to 1797 and the Romantic Period in English literature, with a story about the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  You probably remember him from high school when you had to suffer through the long narrative poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Coleridge had wanted for years to write a long poem about ancient China, and good scholar that he was, he had done a lot of reading and research. No Google for him!

But as they say on the internet, “There was a problem!”  Coleridge suffered from tuberculosis, called consumption in those days, and he was sickly and weak all his life.  There were no antibiotics or modern medicine for help, so he tried to relieve his discomfort with frequent doses of laudanum, a tincture of opium dissolved in alcohol. So it’s fair to say that Coleridge often had quite a buzz on, and his addiction caused much heartache for him and his family.

After a long day of reading about China, Coleridge took a dose of laudanum, and fell into a dreamlike sleep, in which he conjured up the most beautiful visions of Kubla Khan’s domain, and the imagery and language to describe it.  He woke with these images still in his head and immediately sat down to write.  His first lines of the poem, written in iambic tetrameter, are so beautiful and melodic you can almost sing them:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”

And as Coleridge feverishly wrote in this dreamlike state, he was interrupted by a knock on his door, the tailor returning a suit he had sent to be mended.  After accepting the suit and paying the man, he sat down again to resume his work, and to his horror realized the vision was gone. He barely recognized that which he had written.  Bitterly disappointed, he stuffed this brilliant poetic introduction of just 54 lines into his desk drawer, revisiting it from time to time over the years, but never completing it.

It was a much younger aspiring poet, the great George Gordon, Lord Byron, who upon reading the fragment, encouraged Coleridge to have it published, which he did in 1816.  It was immediately a popular work.

I often think when I read this poem and the history behind it, that all of us are capable of great achievements if we are properly inspired.  For Coleridge, the combination of immense literary talent, a Cambridge education, and the intake of opium resulted in the brilliant Kubla Khan.

But the people who work for you today are not Coleridge, and let’s hope they get no inspiration from drugs!  So how do you inspire them?  As a coach, what do you do to bring out the best in your people, so they come to work in the morning with a clear vision of how to make a difference, and let nothing distract them?  Because you have to figure that out you know.  It’s your job.

In my newsletter on Tuesday I’m going to share with you a story about Lou Holtz, the great college and NFL football coach and some of his techniques for getting the most from his people.  I hope you’re signed up for it. If not just click on ActionSystems Training on the right, and when you get to my website mouse over the N at the top right for “Newsletter” and click on it, then send me your email address.

Think Like Your Customer