Coaching To Your Strengths Or Your Salesperson’s Weakness?

November 2, 2015

I was reminded in a great conversation with Bruce Lewolt of a problem all managers tend to face in coaching. We tend to coach to our strengths–not to the weaknesses of the sales person.

It’s something that’s almost subconscious, but limiting to the individuals we are coaching, as well as overall organizational performance.

We see it all the time.

Recently, I was watching a sales manager coach one of her sales people. The manager was particularly strong on closing and negotiating. We had looked at the sales person’s pipeline. A lot of the deals seemed to be stuck. Despite all the activity, the sales person just couldn’t seem to move them forward.

The sales manager thought the sales person had a closing problem. She focused on a specific deal that seemed ready to close. She talked through tactics and alternatives to help drive the customer to making a decision. She role played scenarios with the sales person, helping him become more comfortable with closing the deal.

Fast forward, a week or so, the sales person had tried but just wasn’t able to close the deal.

The manager, in frustration sat down with me, discussing the sales person’s performance. Since I had sat in the earlier review, I knew she’d done a pretty good job coaching the sales person on closing. The manager, asked, “What should I do to help this sales person be more effective at closing? This isn’t the first time I’ve coached him on closing skills, he just isn’t getting it.”

Before answering her, I suggested we look at the pipeline, reviewing the deals that were stuck. Those that should be closing that weren’t. As we studied the deals, we discovered something new—they weren’t well qualified deals!

Studying each of the stuck deals, we found things like no sense of urgency, no compelling business reason to change, no commitment on the part of the customer to change.

These were deals the manager herself would never have been able to close, simply because they weren’t qualified!

The challenge the sales person had was qualifying deals, not closing them. Yet the manager had been seeing the problem as a closing skills problem–driven by her personal strengths in closing.

Reflect on your own organization’s performance. Are you seeing performance challenges that may be driven by your own bias or experience? Are you coaching to your strengths or to the real skills issues the sales people face?

Let’s take another example. Most organizations I see these days have a tremendous top of the funnel challenge. Pipelines look very lean, more needs to be driven into the pipeline. Managers may do lip service about the need for more prospecting, but focus their coaching time on stronger deal strategies, better discovery, better proposals, better competitive strategies, better closing. They spend little time coaching on prospecting.

It’s pretty natural, most sales people and managers don’t like prospecting. Additionally, the longer someone’s been a manager, the more distant the individual is from actually having to do prospecting. As a result, managers probably don’t spend as much time coaching prospecting as they should–pipelines continue to look anemic.

It’s human nature to analyze and solve problems in the context of what’s been successful for us in the past. If we are great closers, everything becomes a closing problem. If we are great presenters, everything becomes a presentation skills problem, if we are great negotiators, every thing is about negotiation, if we are great prospectors, everything can be solve by more prospecting.

And as a result, we coach the same thing over and over and over, despite observing no improvements or changes. We just tend to double down and increase our intensity.

To be effective, we have to step back from our own biases–driven by our strengths. We have to understand the issue the sales person faces, we have to focus on correctly identifying their weaknesses, coaching to them.

It’s challenging, we have to guard against leaping to conclusions, but really understand our people. It’s not tough however, you can notice the patterns yourself, if your coaching isn’t having the impact it should–it may not be the person, it may be you are coaching the wrong thing. Recognize it, change it.

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