“I’m not just a number. I know you think I’ll just stick around for a year and then move on. That might be true, but only because I’m not learning anything here. I need to know which steps to take to advance. I need your wisdom, guidance, tips, encouragement and thanks. Yes, thanks. Thanks for helping out another team member, thanks for asking insightful questions, thanks for scoring a meeting with a prime prospect, thanks for representing our company well and thanks for bringing in a new deal. If you keep ignoring me, I’ll keep underperforming until you fire me or I move on to another company. How about leading me instead?”
If you’re leading an underperforming sales team, your reps might not be saying these things, but I guarantee you they’re thinking them. Sales leaders recognize that coaching and recognition contribute to performance, but by how much? And how are they supposed to find the time? Most sales leaders are so busy that the only coaching they have time for is asking their reps which prospects they plan to call. That’s not coaching. That’s checking in.
Why 74 percent of reps fail. Most new salespeople receive little training, even less coaching and no real-world experience. So they are forced to “wing it” and end up crashing to the ground. According to the Objective Management Group, 74 percent of sales reps fail. Most of these struggling salespeople could make huge improvements with just a little training.
Why sales leaders don’t lead. One could argue that sales leaders don’t know how to coach. Like their underlings, they’ve never had any training to build those skills. So they “point and tell.” But you can’t point at people, tell them to do something differently and expect a miraculous change in their behavior.
It’s not complicated to teach people how things work—a software system, a sales training program, a consulting process, a social-media platform. Typically, people can read a manual online, get a brief demo and figure out at least the basics. But that’s not building sales acumen.
Teaching sales skills requires a clear and repeatable process. It takes building skills, lots and lots of practice, joint calling, feedback, continuous reinforcement and accountability for results. But coaching is not part of the sales culture in most organizations. It’s no wonder that 84 percent of sales reps are open to new opportunities. That doesn’t mean they’re actively looking but that their antennas are up and they would definitely consider new opportunities if they came up.
Change what you’re doing. You have a big problem when there’s churn in your sales team. Your customers get annoyed because they have to “train” a new rep. You spend weeks or months hiring a replacement, scrambling to get that person up to speed and getting other reps to pick up the slack.
So what can you do differently? For starters, be more selective in the hiring process. A CEO I once worked for told me the biggest mistake I could make was hiring the wrong people. So take your time picking your team.
What then? Train them. Talk to them about the problems you solve for clients and the critical sales conversations they must have. Introduce them to resources in your company who could be integral to their success—consultants, customer service reps, account managers, executives. Set guidelines for how and when the two of you will communicate. And coach them weekly on the behaviors that allow them to do what they were hired to do: sell.
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