The Secret to Coaching Salespeople and Why It's So Scary 

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 @ 05:09 AM

If you have time to read only a single one of my articles this year, read this one on the great business disconnect that was published on LinkedIn.  You won't be sorry.  And if you want to see just how awful Microsoft's latest Office 2016 for Mac is, read this off-topic post here

I was speaking at the AA-ISP event in Boston earlier this month when I learned something very interesting about how sales leaders feel about coaching salespeople.  

I was leading a session on how to coach Inside Salespeople.  The session had the same components as I would normally include for showing sales leaders how to coach salespeople.  We discussed Shaping the Sales Environment, The Different types of Sales Coaching Conversations, the Importance of Role-Playing and then we listened to an actual coaching call.  Under normal circumstances, each of those topics would get at least an hour before reviewing actual calls.  Under the best of circumstances, like during my Sales Leadership Intensive, we spend the better part of two days.  At this event I had just 30 minutes...

So what is the surprising lesson I learned at this event?

I learned that the way in which sales leaders react to the exact same material differs exponentially in accordance with the time we have to discuss it.

After two days, testimonials suggest that my Sales Leadership Intensive is simply the best sales leadership training on the planet and that we cover the topic differently and more effectively than anyone, anywhere.

However, when we have only two hours, sales leaders like what we are sharing with them, but that's it.  They only like it.

And when we had only 30 minutes, sales leaders simply hated the exact same material.

I'm interested in what you think about that.  What do you make of it?

Of course, I have my own opinion.

The difference may be very similar to this ocean analogy:  In our two-day scenario, we slowly wade into the icy cold water, give our bodies plenty of time to acclimate, and gradually move deeper before going for a swim.  

In the 30-minute scenario, we are on a fast-moving motor boat when we are dropped into the icy cold, deep, dark sea without a life preserver or wet suit.

When getting "dropped in", sales coaching seemed difficult, scary and confrontational to the 30-minute gang.  When wading in and slowly acclimating, the two-day groups understand that while sales coaching may certainly be challenging, there is ample time for them to recognize how powerful it is and despite how different it may be from how they have coached in the past, there is plenty of time for them to get comfortable.

Why is sales coaching so difficult and for some, so scary?

In a word, Role-Playing.

You must be able to do what we do.  You must be handle any scenario, in any stage of the sales process, with any set of challenges, with the toughest prospect imaginable, and demonstrate through role-play how it would have sounded had your salesperson executed properly.  You must also be able to demonstrate how to solve any selling scenario that your salespeople find themselves in.  This isn't telling them what to do.  This isn't providing them with a strategy.  This is being able to conduct the sales side of the conversation and ask the right questions to get a desirable outcome.  It's hard.  We do it all day - every day - in 200 industries.  Sales Leaders must do this all day - every day - with each of their salespeople.

We can teach you how to do this.  If you would like to become really effective at coaching salespeople, I am hosting an overflow Sales Leadership Intensive for those who were unable to make the August dates work.  This will be a much smaller group, with more one-on-one attention.  The dates are October 13-14 outside of Boston. You can learn more here and register here.

My new eBook is also available.  63 Powerful Tips for a Huge Increase in Sales.  Free Download here.

Have I learned my lesson?  Not really.  On October 7, I'll be conducting a 45-minute Webinar on Sales Coaching that is sponsored and hosted by Handshake.  Stay tuned for more details.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, inside sales, sales management coaching, aa-isp

Are Sales and Sales Management Candidates Getting Worse?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 09, 2013 @ 21:09 PM

drop in rateThere are more sales experts, self-professed and otherwise, than ever before.  There is more free content on sales and selling than anyone could have imagined.  There are probably twice as many books on the subject than just 10 years ago.  There are categories of sales tools and CRM applications where none existed a few years ago.  Companies are spending more money on sales force evaluations, sales training, consulting, sales leadership development, sales process, infrastructure and sales recruiting services than 5 years ago.  And selling has changed more in the past 5 years than ever before.

With all that, shouldn't the quality of sales, sales management and sales leadership candidates be on the rise?  Yes, it should.  

But there's a problem.  The quality has not risen.  It seems to have worsened!

Look at this trend where the average percentage of recommended sales candidates has dropped 6%, while the average percentage of recommended sales management candidates has dropped by 15%, in just the last 3 years:


The small dotted line is the trend for the percentage of sales candidates who were recommended by Objective Management Group from 2009-2013.  The darker dotted line is the trend for the percentage of sales management candidates who were recommended by Objective Management Group for the same time period.

There are four possible explanations for this considerable drop.

1.  The first dates shown on this table - early 2009 - represent a time when the country was deep in recession.  When their industries were negatively impacted by the economy, many salespeople and sales managers were laid off or left voluntarily to search for better opportunities.  There were some very good salespeople and sales managers among the mix of the total population of candidates.  During the past 12-18 months, good performers have been a rarity among both groups with mediocre and poor candidates being the norm rather than the exception.

2.  During 2009, only those companies with cash and a willingness to spend it - mostly mid-market companies - were hiring salespeople.  They tend to pay more than smaller and larger businesses and their recruiting efforts, compensation and incentive plans are designed to attract stronger salespeople.  In the past 2 years, the large and small companies have resumed their recruiting efforts, but their less-impressive compensation plans don't appeal to strong salespeople at a time when weak sales and sales management candidates make up most of today's available pool.

3.  Despite the factual nature of explanations 1 and 2, when you also weigh the availability of content, books, video, training, evaluations, consulting and development, the trend should still rise instead of fall.  This would point to an overall weakening of those in our profession.  

4. Dramatic changes have made professional sales a much more difficult profession.  The top 10 changes include:

  1. The need for salespeople to follow a buyer-focused, consultative approach; 
  2. Expectations to utilize a myriad of tools;
  3. Increased price sensitivity;
  4. Prospects are less likely to answer their phones, return calls or respond to emails;
  5. Information previously available from salespeople is now readily available online;
  6. A new type of lead - from inbound marketing efforts - which requires a radically different approach;
  7. Prospects have different expectations of salespeople;
  8. Prospects invite salespeople later in their buying processes;
  9. A growing trend to move outside salespeople to inside;
  10. A shift where sales managers are now expected to devote 50% of their time to coaching.

As a result of these dramatic changes, salespeople who were once quite capable of succeeding, while using a traditional transactional approach, now struggle and even fail with growing regularity.  The growing percentage of salespeople, who don't make the grade, have simply failed to adapt, learn and improve.

The reality is that all 4 explanations are plausible and there could be other explanations as well.  What do you think?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales recruiting, sales candidates, sales management coaching, salespeople suck, sales managers suck

Missing on the "Secrets to Developing Successful Sales Managers"

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 @ 13:02 PM

An interesting article, Secrets to Developing Successful Sales Managers, by Xactly's CEO, Christopher Cabrera, was posted on Selling Power's 2/19/13 blog.  I suggest that you read it first, returning to this article for the analysis.

I thought that the first half of the article was spot on.

I thought that the second half was as bad as the first half was good.

Here's why:  He said to hire for characteristics and train for competencies.  That's okay, as long as we identify the correct characteristics and competencies, which he didn't.  And when we train for competencies, that should be fine-tuning, not wholesale development.  It's one thing if the sales manager doesn't have salespeople reporting to him/her yet, but if we expect the sales manager to inherit a group of veteran salespeople, that's not the ideal scenario for on-the-job training!

So, what are the correct competencies?  This article lists the top 10 sales management competencies.

Today, 50% of a sales manager's job (especially the front line manager to whom Chris refers) is coaching!!!  That doesn't appear on his list and it's the competency on which sales managers consistently score the lowest.  According to Objective Management Group's endless source of data, sales managers possess, on average, only 45% of the attributes of an effective sales coach.  And this will come as a surprise:  In which attributes are they most deficient?  Selling skills!  After all, how can we expect sales managers to coach salespeople to be any more effective than they are?

That brings us to the next problem.  Was that new sales manager really that effective as a salesperson or was this individual simply managing greater revenue than anyone else?  Were they existing accounts which were being managed or were new accounts being brought in?

Companies routinely mislabel salespeople as being top producers when the reality is that they're usually great account managers who've inherited the best accounts or territory.  It's often the less visible salespeople who are the best producers, bringing in new business, one deal at a time, but growing their revenue just the same.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management coaching, Xactly, sales management competencies, objective management group, selling power

Top Kurlan Articles on Sales Coaching

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:12 PM

There are probably topics which I've written about more often than coaching salespeople, but none that are more important or have greater impact than coaching salespeople.  I present my Top Articles on Coaching Salespeople:

Most Salespeople Are Wrong about the Concept of Being Willing to Walk

Which Salespeople are Easier to Train - Millennials or Veteran Salespeople?

Successful Movie Franchises and the 10 Keys to Impactful Sales Coaching

7 Reasons Why Salespeople Underperform and How Sales Leaders Can Coach Them Up

What Sales Managers Do That Make Them So Ineffective

Why So Many Sales Managers are So Bad

Must Read - This Email Proves How Poorly the Bottom 74% of Salespeople Perform

Sales Coaching and the Challenges of Different Types of Salespeople

Sales Performance - Stop Worrying About the Words You Say

The Real Impact of Coaching Your Salespeople, Sales Managers

College Basketball vs. the Pros & Sales Management & Selling

Actual Coaching Call - Use it to Coach Your Salespeople to Success

20 Reasons Why Sales Managers Suck at Coaching 

How Sales Managers Should Coach Their Salespeople

This is How Sales Managers Should Coach Their Salespeople

How the Landscape Quickly Changes on Your Salespeople

Improve Your Sales Force Despite Veteran Salespeople

Sales Managers Must Make Sure That This Never Happens

Is a Lost Sale Better for Salespeople Than a Win?

Developing Top Performers - How to Turn Salespeople into A-Players

Sales Coaching Lessons from the Baseball Files

The 5 Keys to Effective Sales Coaching and Results

Gaining Sales Traction is Like Talking to Kids

10 Sales Coaching Examples

Sales Strategy and Tactics - Thoughts from the Super Bowl

13 Most Important Tools for Coaching Salespeople

5 Steps to Coaching Your Salespeople Beyond Happy Ears

Hierarchy of Sales Coaching - How to Change Behavior

Sales Coaching - The Big Differentiator 

How to Find Compelling Reasons

How to Coach a Salesperson (contains real email thread)

Sales Coaching - Between the Lines

When Coaching Salespeople Isn't Coaching

Finally!  Science Reveals the Actual Impact of Sales Coaching

How to Simplify Coaching Salespeople

Successful Movie Franchises and the 10 Keys to Impactful Sales Coaching

What Percentage of Sales Managers Have the Necessary Coaching Skills?



Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, sales management coaching, sales mentoring

Effective or Easiest - Which Path Will Your Salespeople Choose?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 08, 2010 @ 06:11 AM

If you were a fly on the wall at a client's sales training event you would observe several interesting dynamics when it comes to the specific words their salespeople are asked to use.

  • There aren't very many words at all that we impose upon them.  Instead, it's a lot like Jazz music where there is the basic song - in this case the sales process - and they can improvise through that process.  There are chord changes that must be observed in Jazz and similarly, there is criteria that must be observed within the sales process.
  • There are (only) three specific events in the sales process where we do impose words - the number of words and the specific choice of words - or the specific strategy/tactic will likely fail.
  • Salespeople always attempt to change the words by adding more than necessary - they dislike being concrete and concise - or using softer - less powerful and not as effective - words.
  • When we redirect them to the original lesson we'll get push back because they aren't comfortable applying the lesson as taught.

two pathsSo why the discomfort and why can't they simply go back to the phones or out in the field and apply three VERY simply lessons?

It's usually because of their Need for Approval or their need to be liked.  They worry that if they were to say THAT (what we directed them to say) their prospect won't like them anymore.  The irony is that if they do say THAT (what we directed them to say) their prospects will respond positively and respect them - which leads to them being liked.  If they say what they're comfortable saying, chances are that they'll simply waste their prospects' time - like they usually do - and the prospect will find them to be just another unmemorable, mediocre, selfish salesperson.

There are always one or two crucial turning points in every sales cycle where your salespeople must choose between asking the tough question that's called for, or saying what's comfortable for them.  74% of the sales population will always go for comfort because it's the path of least resistance.  By doing so, they will sound just like your competition and in your prospects' eyes, become a commodity.  What do your salespeople choose?  How will this affect your coaching?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales tips, sales management coaching, sales techniques, sales effectiveness

Compelling Reasons for Your Salespeople to Go Mobile

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 @ 12:06 PM

on the goGood Sales Managers know how important it is for their salespeople to uncover needs.

But it goes way beyond needs. 

As I detail in Baseline Selling - How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball, it requires that your salespeople learn about their prospects' compelling reasons to buy.  Not just their needs. The issues, problems and frustrations - and even the consequences - that would cause them to spend money and spend it with your company, instead of your competitor.

But it goes well beyond compelling reasons.

After your salespeople have learned about those compelling reasons, they must go mobile.  They should take those compelling reasons - along with them - to create urgency.  Those compelling reasons are utilized again in the context of whether the prospects will spend the necessary money to solve their problems.  They are used yet again to gain commitment, and for a final time in a proposal or presentation.

If your salespeople begin a sales call with a presentation or demo, or even qualification, is it any wonder they convert so few of their opportunities? 

Here's an example from a coaching call last week:

Selling an HR Solution to a VP of HR.

Their problem was that the company couldn't get any momentum going.

The consequence was that the problem was costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

The compelling reason is that the problem was causing enough anxiety so that the VP couldn't sleep at night for fear of losing his job.

So let's take the compelling reason mobile!

What follows here are just three key questions that utilize the mobile compelling reasons at various points in the sales process.  There could be an hour or more of dialog surrounding these questions:

Commitment (Between 2nd and 3rd Base): "So how committed are you to fixing the problem so that you can feel like your job is secure and get back to sleeping at night?"

The Spend (Between 2nd and 3rd Base): "Are you willing to invest around $50,000 over the next 8 months to solve your $600,000 problem, regain your job security and get your life back?"

Presentation (Between 3rd Base and Home): "In order to solve the $600,000 problem, regain your job security and get your life back, here is what I recommend that we do together.  First, let's talk about how we will address the $600,000 problem..."

So as you can see, compelling reasons are mobile solutions!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales process, Sales Force, compelling reasons to buy, sales management coaching, pain, buying motivators

5 Steps to Coaching Your Salespeople Beyond Happy Ears

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 @ 10:09 AM

Today I posted this article about Diagnosing and Overcoming Happy Ears on the Baseline Selling web site.  And last week I wrote this article about Happy Ears and an empty pipeline.

Following are my thoughts about how you, the leader of your salespeople, can help them overcome Happy Ears. Slip into these five roles to help them be more realistic about and more comprehensive with their opportunities.

  1. Be their Doubting Thomas - Be more pessimistic than them. 
  2. Be their Carpenter - punch holes in everything they tell you by asking, "how do you know?" or "did they actually say that or is that what you think?"
  3. Be their Elephant - remind them of the last time they told you this - and what happened late when they were caught by surprise.
  4. Be their Show Director - rehearse them for what they must ask - before the call - through role play.
  5. Be their Coach - Do less cheerleading and more challenging.

Upcoming Events

Baseline Selling Webinar Series - begins next week - for Owners and Solopreneurs Only

Defeating the Enemy and Dominating Your Market - 10/15 - a Top Sales Experts Master Class

Close More Sales by Shortening Your Sales Cycle - 10/8 - a Business Experts Webinar

After the Cutting - How Successful Companies are Selling Their Way Back to the Top 11/3 - Top Executives only use Discount Code DK1103 to avoid paying fees.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, sales management, selling, sales tips, sales management coaching, happy ears

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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