Imagine being a professional athlete in the heat of battle and not performing at your best. To make matters worse, the scoreboard reflects you're falling significantly behind your competition.
As you walk to the sideline, you anxiously await insightful coaching to pull you out of your slump to help turn the game around. Unfortunately, what you receive are harsh words from the coach along with a directive offering you nothing more insightful than "you better score more points or you are going to lose".
Sounds crazy, huh? And it probably wouldn't happen that way in reality because professional coaches are acutely aware of the fact that behavior produces results and capacity, commitment, skill, and knowledge drive behavior. They know this and provide feedback accordingly.
The Problem with Sales Performance Reviews
Unfortunately, this singular focus on end-results is exactly what happens during most one-on-one meetings between sales reps and their managers. Most of the sessions I've observed begin by having the sales manager go into great detail on the rep's monthly sales performance.
Managers will tell reps they're missing their sales number and that the rep must focus on producing more sales in order to achieve his or her target - as if the sales person didn't realize that was the objective. To be fair, some sales managers will also go through the rep's sales funnel, often in painstaking detail, asking several questions about each forecasted opportunity.
Even then, the sales manager is likely to point out any deficiency in quality or quantity of opportunities but do little if anything to determine WHY there is a performance gap. By encouraging or requiring the sales rep to "do better," we are essentially sending the same person into the same environment armed with the same skill and knowledge but EXPECTING that person to produce a different result.
How Sales Leaders Can Be More Like Professional Coaches
Professional coaches understand the futility of this approach. If an athlete is performing poorly, the coach doesn't just look at the scoreboard and order the player to score more points. The coach gives very specific instructions that hopefully improve the athlete's behavior.
Coaching might include specific instructions on how to read a defense in certain situations, how to shift their weight against an incoming knuckle ball, or how to penetrate a never before seen defense in basketball. Moreover, if the athlete isn't yet proficient with the skills needed to execute on the field, effective coaches will give assignments and drills throughout the week to better prepare the athlete for the next competition.
As it is for athletes, selling is a "performance profession." We have to compete against other companies and their sales people in a game where the buyers ultimately decide the score. Unfortunately, many sales managers do nothing more than tell people to produce a better result, and then wonder why sales don't improve. If sales managers would step back from the daily grind and examine what they were doing, most would realize the error in this approach.
Sales people with all the innate talent (capacity) and drive (commitment) for success often fail simply because they receive little or no effective sales coaching. Can you imagine ANY professional sports team recruiting top talent and then employing a coaching staff that did nothing but keep score? That wouldn't happen in sports and shouldn't happen in sales.
Often as a result of poor coaching, Sales Reps fail miserably. Sales Leaders blame the poor production on the people and then replace them with a new crop only to continue having the same unproductive conversations over and over again. Call it the bad coaching turnstile.
Poor sales coaching produces poor performers, who then produce poor results, which produces a new crop of players and the cycle repeats itself. Ever notice how the best professional coaches find a way to win even when they lose star talent?
How to Turn It Around
There is no secret to effective coaching. Define the ideal behavior and the skill needed to execute it. Measure results, but analyze how they're produced to uncover the gaps in behavior that are leading to the gaps in performance. Then, identify the root cause of the behavior gap, with special emphasis on skill and knowledge deficiencies, before assigning developmental tasks that will improve the player's skill and knowledge.
This is the model followed by effective coaches in a wide range of competitive endeavors. If we learn to apply it to sales management, we have an opportunity to develop a team that wins significantly more often and does so with dramatically lower turnover.
Tony Lannom is Sales Director at AXIOM Sales Force Development. He works closely with Sales Leaders, Sales Trainers, and Sales Operations teams help sellers and managers to implement a radically different sales training approach that drives top sales performance.