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

What do real estate agents know about pricing anyway?

If you want to seriously influence your prospect’s sense of value, and therefore his willingness to buy at a given price, then you should study the effect of “anchoring” more closely.  I introduced this topic in my newsletter this week, and today I’m going to share two more experiments to show just how powerful it is.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIf you either sell real estate or have bought a house, check this out. In a very well-known experiment real estate agents were given an opportunity to assess the value of a house that was already listed on the market.  They visited the house and were given an information booklet which included the listed price.  But half the agents were shown a price substantially higher than the real asking price.  The other half were shown a price way lower.

After the agents had toured the house and reviewed the booklet, they were asked their opinion on the best list price. They were also asked the factors that influenced their judgment, but none stated that the price shown in the booklet influenced them at all.  Of course they were wrong, as those who saw the higher price estimated 41% higher than those who were shown the lower one.  This is an excellent example of anchoring, as the agents were unconsciously influenced by the price they saw in the booklet, yet would not acknowledge it to be so.

Here’s another one, done in a lab experiment.  Psychologist Todd Thorsteinson reports this in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Participants in the experiment were given an applicant’s previous salary of $29,000 and were asked to come up with a new offer for the candidate. If the candidate offered a low suggestion or made no suggestion at all, the participants’ average offer was $31,000.

However, when the candidate requested a new salary of $100,000, obviously as a joke, the participants came back with an average offer of $36,000.

Dr. Thorsteinson commented that this could help you in a job interview. You are asked “What kind of salary are you looking to receive?”  If you guess too low, you’re throwing away money, but too high and you might offend.  But you might respond facetiously, “Well, a million would be nice.”  And because you’re obviously saying this in jest, your employer won’t be offended, but it will influence the salary you do receive.

Learn more about anchoring and how it can help you improve your sales techniques.  I got the real estate experiment from Daniel Kahneman’s great book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” and in a future post I’ll tie together how it is that the brain functions in this irrational way.

If you want to get better at selling to your customer, you have to…

Think Like Your Customer

Newsletter follow-up: How would you coach these salespeople?

You gave your sales team a goal of selling $1 million this year but because you’re a great coach, you also asked the most important question, “What do you hope to achieve?” or “What do you want to do?”

That was the premise of my newsletter earlier this week, and I suggested that your team members may well have given you four different possible responses. Here they are:

1)      I’ll be happy if I can just make goal. I don’t want to fail at this.

2)      I know I can make this goal if I work hard and practice, and I will, but there’s a lot I need to learn.

3)      I’m confident I’m going to exceed this goal. I’ve always blown through my goals and I see this only as another challenge.

4)      What incentives are available to me if I surpass this goal. If I do $1.2 million, how much more will I make?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedI asked you to comment on how you would coach each one differently, and I heard back from one very experienced sales manager, who had such useful insights from his own management experience, that I’m going to just quote what he said, a day off for me!

“The responses you suggested are very similar to what I would hear in one-on-ones at the beginning of every month. Countrywide [his former employer] lived by the motto, ‘if you’re not growing, you’re dying’, and while that constant drive to improve month-over-month burned some people out, it was also why coaching and goal-setting were so important.  I heard a lot of the 2, 3 and 4 answers. I loved working with the #2’s as I often hired people outside of the “box”—blank canvasses with a track record in another field, good attitude, intelligence and coachable because they were new to our business.

I’d sit them right by my side, or I’d spend hours in their cubicles with them on live calls, listening in, or having them listen to me, perfecting open-ended questions, listening skills and setting daily, weekly and monthly performance goals. That salesperson is telling you he wants to learn, and you have to invest your time.  You owe it to these people; they’ll be your superstars.

Your number 3 gives you an opportunity to incorporate some best practices.  If her sales results show a track record of blowing through goals, you can do two things. First is she needs a carrot. You can’t have a $2 million producer rewarded or deemed satisfactory for hitting $1 million, even though that’s the goal.

Do two things with her.  First empower her to facilitate learning among her peers. Certainly there are behaviors which have become habit for her that would be great to make uniform across your team. Identify them and give her an SME role on the team, and if possible try to create additional incentives for achieving a more difficult, advanced goal. I always had layered incentives beyond the standard bonus program to curb complacency and create some hierarchy, added rewards for the upper echelon that would give the newer, less talented or less motivated an additional level of incentive to achieve more.

The last guy has told you, ‘I can do the million but show me why I should do more. What’s in it for me?’ Your job as a coach is to keep this guy focused on levels of goals, and motivation is the number one key.  Right or wrong, I found my top producers reveled in their status of being in the top 3. I let them be big shots, and if handled correctly, they’ll refuse to give up that status while they help you coach the next tier up to their level.

It always comes down to knowing each salesperson, what makes him tick, knowing when to apply a hug, a kick or something else.  Common to all of them is to make them understand that you have a keen interest in their development by establishing a relationship of trust.  A good coach can say truthfully, ‘If you give me 100% of what I invest in you, you’ll get where you want to go.’”

Not only did this sales manager nail the answer and save me the job of writing, I also found it gratifying and a bit of a thrill that the email came from someone I love and respect very much, my own son.  Thanks for today’s input Garrison LaMothe. You’re a great sales manager.  Love, Dad

Think Like Your Customer

Debriefing the teller referral “nightmare” story

Today we’ll skip Fable Friday in order to debrief the Teller Referral case from Tuesday.

In analyzing human performance, you must look at obstacles to success.  There are six of them:

  • goals and objectives
  • work process
  • capacity
  • knowledge
  • skill
  • motivation or incentive

 Here we will focus on just two:  capacity and motivation.  Motivation is simple. The tellers were not motivated to make referrals.  But the question should be asked, “Did they have the capacity to make referrals, or were they too busy?”

 The fact that referrals jumped to such a degree suggests that there were no capacity issues at all.  The obstacle to performance was that the tellers did not like to make referrals.  Referrals were considered to be “nightmares.”

 This short case is highly instructive about the six performance issues above:

  1. Goals and objectives may have been announced, but there was no evidence of buy-in.  The tellers virtually refused to engage in the behavior needed to achieve them.
  2. The work process for making a referral was described in general terms (“the teller suggests a credit card, an expanded account, an ATM card, or any other of the banking products we offer”).
  3. Knowledge and skill were not issues, as the task was quite simple but a “nightmare.” This nightmare was probably the fear of asking questions or sounding intrusive.
  4. We eliminated capacity as an issue when we saw the results for referrals jumping to 40.  Had capacity been an inhibitor, our narrator would have commented on it, such as “we were so busy we never had time to make a referral.”
  5. Motivation is our answer.  Once properly motivated, teller behavior changed at once.

You will often hear it said that motivation comes from within, which is true.  But it would be naïve to think that as managers we have no control over employees’ lack of motivation.  In fact we can develop a number of interventions that help employees to become more motivated to do the work we desire them to do. 

You could create a work environment in which workers decide for themselves to be motivated or not.  “Every time you fail to pack 72 boxes in an hour, you will get an electrical shock.”  But for silly workplace rules concerning cruelty to employees, this would be a good motivator to get employees to pack boxes more quickly.

 Whenever I’m faced with an issue concerning motivation, my client will always start by asking about incentive compensation plans, as if this is all we need to consider.  I like to first look to see if salary and incentive compensation are fair, then look to other drivers, then come back to salary and incentive compensation to see if any refinements should be made.

 One final quick example.  When you give someone a salary increase, he is excited by it the first time he sees it in his paycheck and is quite motivated, but after that he becomes used to receiving the increased pay, and his work effort returns to the level it had been before the increase.

 But we also know that people will be highly motivated if they feel they are working for someone whose values they respect, or where rewards vary immediately because of performance.

 On Tuesday my newsletter goes out, so there is no blog post, but next Friday I’m going to give you one more story, about what a friend of mine learned while selling for Fuller Brush. 

Meanwhile…

 Think Like Your Customer!

What motivates people to do the work expected of them?

Because I do a lot of my work in training, coaching and consulting, I often ask myself how you get people to do the work, so I thought today we could look at an individual case and then discuss some of the factors that contribute to performance.

 Basically, the questions you must ask when determining why some desired behavior is not evident is, “why would anyone want to do this?”  Or, “what might be bothering the individual that he doesn’t seem to want to do this?”

 Whenever I do a needs assessment for sales training, I interview salespeople so I can learn how they sell now.  As you know, effective selling involves asking questions of customers about needs.  I am no longer surprised when I learn that banks employ many people in sales positions who will freely admit that they hate asking questions of customers. 

 Let’s look at an example that retail banks deal with, requiring tellers to make referrals. The following text was part of an internet posting from a college student and her summer job as a teller.

 “I spent this summer working at X Bank as a teller and the responsibilities I had greatly surprised me.  Not only did I have to run transactions ten hours a day, but I was also expected to run coin through the coin machine, record and process the night depository transactions, answer phones, and submit check order forms on an on-line database.  And, in addition to ALL of this, I was expected to get “referrals”.  Referrals occur when the teller suggests to a customer that he consider a credit card, an expanded account, an ATM card, or any other of the banking products we offer.  To say the least, this is every teller’s worst nightmare.

 In June, I managed to get a single referral.  Personally, I could have cared less if I even got that one referral.  (The referral I got was from my mom!)  However, the bank did care that the teller referrals were exceptionally low.  Not only was our performance impacting the business of the bank, but our entire office missed our monthly goals.  The manager of the bank and the teller supervisor met for several hours and the next day, things began to change.

 In order to increase productivity, the leaders of the bank recognized they had to use some sort of reinforcement to encourage achievement.  Our teller supervisor invented a contest entitled “What’s the Scoop?” in which each teller received a construction paper “scoop” of ice cream for each referral initiated.  Igniting the competitive drive in me, I became determined to “win” the contest.  In addition to having personal goals, the teller line had a team goal, and our location had an office goal.  It was important that these goals were both realistic and specific.

 As reinforcement, my supervisor used secondary reinforcers and positive reinforcement.  At the end of the first month, the teller line referral count had gone from a handful to over 40.  I am proud to say that I was responsible for over half of those referrals.  The positive reinforcement I received included praise, attention, and money.  Because of their awareness of the influence of reinforcers, the bank utilized their knowledge of operant behavior to increase the efficiency of the tellers and the success of the entire bank.”

 What conclusions can you draw from this overview of the referral process, from almost no referrals to over 40 per month?  On Friday we’ll examine the factors that influenced the change. What are your thoughts?