Want To Motivate Your Sales Force? Try Coaching

By Sonda R. Frattini

Anyone whos been in a position of sales management has, at one time or another, been advised (probably even instructed) to “manage to results.” But what does this really mean?

Can you manage results that have already happened? And wouldnt managing results mean missing the opportunity to make a difference? Could these well-meaning advisors really mean managing people to achieve results?

The term managing results (or managing people to achieve results) raises a lot of questions–so many, in fact, that it warrants a trip to the dictionary. Here is what Webster has to say about the word manage:

Now, if someone were to say to you, “I am going to handle and direct you by altering you through manipulation,” would you find that statement especially motivating?

I submit that most adults wouldnt find that statement motivating–especially adults with independent, entrepreneurial spirits. In fact, over the years Ive spent coaching insurance and financial professionals, Ive learned that just the reverse is true. Most adults will act like teenagers if you try to manage them; they will do precisely the opposite of what you tell them to do!

So whats the alternative? How do you motivate independent, entrepreneurial adults to get results? Ive found that the answer starts with asking questions–drilling down to who they really are and what they really want. Get to know their personality, communication style, values system, and what really motivates them–then using that information to help them identify whats blocking them from achieving results. If they can identify where theyre going wrong, they can commit to taking action steps to rectify the problem.

This process of asking questions, seeking answers, and gaining understanding is often called coaching. Unlike managing–where you (try to) force a person to see how their behaviors might be affecting their performance–coaching allows you to help them see, on their own, why certain behaviors or activities may be negatively influencing their performance.

For example, when I began working more closely with my companys agency middle management program, I instituted a system of weekly teleconferences with each of the managers in the program. Those in the group who were meeting the program requirements tended to view the teleconferences in a positive manner. For them, it was like I was recognizing them for their results, which, in turn, served as a motivating force.

Those who werent validating the program requirements, however, handled the calls quite differently. Initially, these managers saw the weekly phone calls as a threat. There were thoughts that “the boom” was being lowered–even though we never talked about production numbers.

No “boom” was ever lowered. The only purpose of the calls was to discuss how things were going, were they happy, and what could I do to help remove any obstacles they were facing. As time went on, I was able to build a comfortable, caring and confidential relationship with each manager. One by one, each began to see me not as someone trying to manage to results, but as an advocate and partner in helping them succeed. For some of them I became a sounding board–someone to help them focus on what was important. For others I became a confidante, an objective point of view.

But in every situation, my focus remained on helping them simplify what they were doing by having them establish three key objectives, which were steps they could take to optimize their performance.

We never focused on the numbers. Rather, we worked on identifying behaviors and activities that would lead to success, and we put our faith in the fact that if they followed these behaviors and participated in these activities the results would follow. Not long into my weekly teleconference initiative, many of the managers (those who were formerly missing their validation requirements) started calling me. This was an important milestone, because it meant they were getting something from the calls.

As for the few who didnt respond to the system? It didnt mean they were failures, it just meant we had to modify the process.

Overall, however, the results were, and continue to be, extremely positive. Each of the individuals in the program is now either validating or exceeding the validation requirements. Another result of this process, one I didnt anticipate, was an acceleration of the process of eliminating people who simply shouldnt be in a management program.

Most of those who were eliminated came to the decision themselves. By working the process, they saw that the behaviors necessary for management success simply did not line up with who they were, what they were willing to do and where they wanted to be. This, in turn, created a great sense of goodwill. It allowed people to decide their future for themselves versus having it decided for them.

This experience has confirmed for me that independent, entrepreneurial adults like to manage themselves. If you put someone in a professional sales or management position who needs management, youve probably selected the wrong individual.

Adults want partners, not parents. They want help succeeding, not having failure rubbed in their noses. They want someone who will be there to help, someone who cares and someone who can give them the self-confidence they need to move forward.

So next time someone tells you to “manage to results,” try coaching, and the results will follow.

Sonda R. Frattini, CLU, FLMI, CBC is director of career development for National Life of Vermont, Montpelier, Vt. She can be reached at sfrattini@nationallife.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 17, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.