Sales Managers — How do you tell a sales rep they aren’t as good as they think?
Effective sales manager/coaches understand that providing accurate and candid feedback of their sales reps’ abilities is the primary tool for continuous sales improvement. However, what if your sales rep does not agree with your honest assessment? The following is an all too common sales coaching dilemma:
Consider Cindy, a top performer on Matt’s team. She and Matt do some sales role-playing, and Matt offers her a candid assessment about where he feels she could improve. Cindy quickly responds, “I normally do much better in front of a customer—you just make me nervous! Look at my numbers if you want to see how great I’m doing.” Matt must admit that Cindy regularly exceeds quota, and wonders how he can argue with success.
How do performance-driven sales coaches address observed sub-par sales skills, regardless of whether a sales rep has met sales quota, or not? Mastering the following three performance coaching skills provides sales managers the confidence and competence to gently, but directly, address this universal dilemma.
Performance Coaching Skill # 1 — Know what great looks like and hold people accountable for exceeding expectations.
Competent tennis coaches know what the body biomechanics standard is for a great tennis serve. They coach and train the athlete to meet and exceed that standard. Just because the athlete might be a current top performer, a coach worth her paycheck would not allow the player to rest on historical performance laurels.
A sales skill, such as handling objections, can be broken down into fundamental elements, repeatedly trained, and provided with real-time feedback. Sales managers must know what it looks like when sales skills miss, meet, or exceed expectations.
“Constant, incremental improvement is the mantra of great coaches.”
Performance Coaching Skill # 2 — Coach to lead indicators, not lag. Lag (the “numbers”) is easy to measure but difficult to influence. Lead activities, or inputs, are controllable and predictive of future success. Effective sales coaching should focus on the behavioral change, skill development, and knowledge acquisition that leads to desired results.
Even if your company “only cares about the numbers,” you as an inspiring leader ought to broaden the definition of results with your reps to include professional capabilities such as leadership, collaboration, strategic thinking, building resiliency, and adapting to change.
“Under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” —Navy Seals adage, Harvard Business Review
Performance Coaching Skill # 3 — During training role-plays, remain confident that the sales skill ability you observe is the rep’s dominant response under stress.
The above scenario where the rep states, “I normally do much better in front a customer, you just make me nervous,” is wrong according to social facilitation theory. This theory confirms when a person’s performance is being assessed they experience psychological arousal, or stress, and this pressure produces the individual’s dominant response, which is the most authentic and trusted representation of their skill ability.
Respected business leader Max De Pree claimed that “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality,” and social facilitation theory provides managers the confidence to do so.
This theory is so well validated that it guides the rigorous training of fire fighters, martial artists, law enforcement, military personnel, and other professionals who must perform at high levels under dangerous conditions while making split-second decisions. Successful sales managers have internalized the value of training like other elite professions.
Telling sales reps a targeted sales skill is below expectations can be challenging, particularly if they are meeting their sales goals. However, trust that what you see in that moment is the rep’s highest capability under stress. Be sincere, be caring, but insist the rep continually practices under gentle pressure to build up skill levels under stress. Master coaches understand that this is a trusted training pathway for sustained high performance.