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Creating Tension and Desire

Effective sales coaching conversations strive to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. The sales rep needs to feel her best interests are on the table while the sales manager is accountable for business outcomes. Achieving this coaching sweet spot requires the coach to intentionally create two emotional states in the sales rep — tension and desire.  This is the bulls-eye of the sales coaching target.

Tension is a natural psychological / emotional state when one is engaged in learning new skills and knowledge outside their current capabilities. The effective sales coach uses the three-zone learning model to gently, but purposefully, guide each rep into their learning zone.

Stretch your reps, but don’t over-stress them. Create trust and psychological safety so the sales rep feels safe taking the risks necessary for growth and development. Be vigilant that your sales rep doesn’t creep into the panic zone by implementing the below three core coaching skills for building safe learning conditions:

  1. Be empathic  “I understand being stretched in this area is uncomfortable for you.”
  2. Be a great listener  “It sounds like you’re not convinced that growth in this area would help you achieve your sales goals, is that accurate?”
  3. Make statements of confidence and support  “I feel confident if you commit to strengthening your pre-call planning skills, your customers’ engagement with your clinical messaging will increase significantly.”

Learning tension is the equivalent of a car’s engine— its engineered structure provides the mechanical foundation but it requires combustion for thrust. In a coaching conversation desire provides this fuel.

“The fundamental organizing principle of the brain is minimizing threat and maximizing reward.”  Dr. Evian Gordon, Neuroscientist

Any goal worth pursuing requires a deep well of intrinsic motivation. Carrots and sticks may work on assembly line workers but are wholly inadequate with today’s highly skilled knowledge workers, aka sales reps!

Building on Dr. Gordon’s quote, in biological terms desire, combined with tension, creates a powerful chemical cocktail in the brain that stimulates the arousal to work or learn. Brain scientists note the presence of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine. Combined, they provide the water slide of motivation and commitment.

Performance coaching is aimed at building a strong reservoir of desire, while minimizing the dangers of taking learning risks.

Effective sales coaches understand that guiding their sales reps to internalize deep desire, requires adopting the Navy Seals mantra — go slow, to go smooth, to go fast.

Mastery is built upon the fundamentals. Ask simple, focused, open-ended questions, to help create personal insights. Note the questions below all intentionally begin with “what” or “how.” These generate much more information than when, where, whom. Caution — use “why” delicately. It almost universally causes defensiveness.

  • How would success in this growth area benefit you?
  • What personal values will your commitment actively support?
  • How would success in this area support your long-term goals?
  • What NNI leadership competencies does this goal support?
  • At your best, what strengths and capabilities do you bring to this growth area?
  • What about the potential success in this area most excites you?
  • How is this situation similar to other professional barriers you’ve had to overcome?
  • On a scale of 1–10, how motivated are you to achieve success?

Master coaches are comfortable being uncomfortable. Intentionally inviting your sales reps into potent developmental conversations requires coaches to be resilient. Feeling the tension of being in the learning zone is threatening for sales reps. After all, you are deliberately asking them to fail in front of their boss as they learn new capabilities. Be understanding, yet be firm; after all you have your sales reps best interests at heart.

Finally, as experienced sales managers know, coaching is not a panacea. Some sales reps are just not open to being stretched and developed. However, for your team members who crave effective coaching, creating tension and desire are crucial emotional states for achieving higher performance.