Fellow Leaders and Coaches, let’s face reality….
When most salespeople are asked into a coaching session or sales deal review, their normal state of mind is, “How can I get through this meeting with the least amount of grief?”
This is a habit of defensiveness, which has likely built up over the years, possibly over several managers or even companies. Plus, salespeople often tell war stories about how tough their sales review was to prove they have survived tough management scrutiny. It can become a badge of honor! Yet, there are better ways for management and salespeople to spend their time.
Think back to when you were a salesperson. You can probably remember some painful sales review experiences. But now, as Leaders, we are on the other side of the table.
So, how do we, as Leaders, break this cycle and conduct valued coaching sessions?
The answer is with our questioning technique. That is the catalyst. The way we shape our questions will change a coaching session from a defensive battle into a valuable exchange of information, ideas, and options your salesperson will value too. The goal is to both advance the skills and thinking of your salespeople, while advancing the opportunity, account, or business objective at hand.
Let’s reset our questioning technique for 2020!
There are two types of good coaching questions:
- Clarification questions – These are questions necessary for you to seek a better understanding of the situation. It could be for you to gain insight into the situation, or to get the salesperson to reflect on something to start a new path of thinking for themselves. It is like getting them on to a path and letting them explore where it takes them.
- Option questions – These are questions that create an exchange of ideas and ultimately lead to agreed sales actions to be taken.
By replacing some key words and some standard questions you may be used to using, you can decrease defensiveness, and create an open and valuable exchange.
Here are some suggestions:
Replace the word “you” with “we” – The word “you” immediately creates a defensive reaction. Hearing “you” often comes before hearing about something you should have been doing or something you should not have done. It also creates a sense that I know the answer, and you don’t, therefore I am smarter or better than you. Some salespeople think to themselves, “Great, then why don’t YOU go do it!”
Rather than ask, “Do you know what the decision-making process is?” try asking, “What do we know about the decision-making process?” Even in reading these two questions, it is easy to feel how the second question will open up the conversation, doesn’t it? By changing “What are you going to do to…” into “What could we do to…,” again brings a different emotional tone to the conversation. It feels as though the Leader / Coach is working with them rather than being accusatory. You will notice this core technique of replacing “you” with “we” will flow through all the questioning below because it is easy, but impactful. Shall we give it a try? Tongue in cheek there!
Give before you take – the single responsibility of every Coach is to provide Thought Leadership. In the absence of Thought Leadership, the coaching session or review can deteriorate into feeling like an interrogation. The salesperson may feel like, “Are these questions ever going to stop?” It is our responsibility as Coaches to proactively bring Thought Leadership through our observations and experience, just as customers ask salespeople to bring Thought Leadership to them. If doing a funnel review, lead with Thought Leadership around funnel metrics and best in class practices. In the case of a pursuit coaching session, research and provide your objective insights into the Relationship BarometerTM Tool and Pursuit ProfilerTM Tool. Focus the conversation on the tool, what it is suggesting, and how you interpret that with your experience.
On occasion, purposefully elicit a NO response rather than a YES – Some people feel far more in control when they can say “no” rather than a “yes.” So, if you are going to be challenging them in the call, perhaps enable them to take some ideas off the table with a “no” to improve their feeling of control.
Being self-reflective for a moment, I realized when I answer “yes” in agreement with someone’s statement, it feels as though I am submitting to them. “Yes, I agree with you. Not all the time but sometimes.” Sometimes, I even feel subservient and wonder if the next question will ask me to do more. Wow, have I just revealed too much about my psyche?
If we elicit a “no” answer, someone’s emotional state may change. If you ask a salesperson, “Do you agree to develop the call plan and then place the call to the CFO next week?,” they may reluctantly agree in the meeting, but then are not likely to execute because they don’t feel they own it or haven’t truly bought into it. By asking, “Is there any compelling reasons we would NOT develop a plan this week and call on the CFO next week?,” they may find it is easier to answer with a “no.” Then they will likely be more emotionally engaged with the decision, hearing the “we develop” portion as well, and hence will be more likely to execute. You can delegate more of the planning to them but being involved will make it a “we” and may be the confidence boost they need to execute.
Replace “What do you think about…” with “What options do we have…” – This technique is to change the conversation from being opinion-oriented to option-oriented. This conversation becomes even easier if you are engaged in coaching using Revenue Storm’s sales tools, as this creates the science-based artifact on which both the Leader / Coach and salesperson are focused. Opinion-based conversations can very quickly deteriorate into two opposing opinions – at which point the salesperson will typically back down to save conflict. Yet, option-based conversations are more like brainstorming – no bad ideas, let’s just think about the options on the table. Their probability of executing after option-based coaching is much higher.
Replace “I think you should …” with “What are the pros and cons of…” – Often, the Sales Leader / Coach has a very clear perspective and point-of-view on what needs to happen. And too often this is blurted out with, “I think you should…” or worse, “I want you to...” or worse yet, “Just do it.” This creates zero buy-in emotionally for the salesperson to complete the instruction. The pros and cons question is very powerful and liberating for both parties. It sets a level playing field and implies both people have a role of making an equal contribution to the result. It tends to be more logic-based than emotionally-based too, which is a benefit. While the pros and cons can be debated, if appropriate, the conversation can be steered to the prevailing perspective of the Sales Leader / Coach, if that ends up being the right call.
Fellow Leaders and Coaches, at the end of the day we have one important responsibility apart from growing the business, and that is to grow our people. By getting them to look at issues more holistically – what options there are, what are the pros and cons, etc. – we are building their critical thinking skills. By sharing our sincere desire to help their success with “we” and “give before you take,” we are providing them with insight, confidence, and encouragement so they are better prepared to take the risk to do something different – something maybe they have never even done before. By changing your questions and a few words, you can get them thinking more and taking more responsibility. These five recommendations can be used to ask better clarifying questions and option questions to build their sales acumen and bring more positivity into your coaching leadership.
Personal Challenge: Is there any good reason NOT to write up the five questioning techniques and start asking them during coaching sessions or reviews? What do you have to lose besides building the skills of your team members? Implement at least two for the next month and set a 30-minute reflection appointment with yourself to assess the impact.