In my last article I asked you whether your sales training was focusing on the ‘right things.’
I want to build on that article and look at how a ‘coaching style of leadership’ will help you to develop a confident, impressive and successful sales team.
Firstly, of course, I am assuming that you have the ‘right people on the bus’.
The ‘right people’ are sales men and women with potential – they might be relatively inexperienced but they are emotionally intelligent (or willing to develop their emotional intelligence!); hungry for knowledge, feedback, success and self- improvement. These people can be trained, coached and developed much more easily and successfully than lazy, experienced, cynical people with an axe to grind and a ‘can’t do’ mindset . As the saying goes; ‘hire for attitude, train for skills’.
Secondly, if you are a sales manager or sales director you MUST be willing to ‘let go’ of assuming you know best; thinking you have all the answers and a belief that your role is to tell everyone what to do all the time. None of these things, in my experience, helps to develop good sales people. It simply disempowers them.
Strong sales leaders have different leadership styles available to them depending on the context and the situation; one of which is a coaching style of leadership.
But what do we mean by a ‘coaching style of leadership?’
There are many different definitions of coaching but here are two of my favourites:
‘The art of facilitating another person’s learning, development and performance. It raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills and change their own attitudes and behaviours. The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between potential and performance’ From: Coaching Skills: A Handbook. Jenny Rogers, Karen Whittleworth and Andrew Gilbert (2012)
Using your head, heart and guts to grow your team’s confidence and competence. Supporting and challenging them to be the best they can be – and get amazing things done’ Lynn Scott (2014).
Coaching is NOT about changing people but about creating the environment for people to recognise what they need to change, how they need to change – and then make the changes themselves. With your support of course.
So what does a coaching style of leadership look like in practice?
Is it a continuous round of asking questions and sitting on your hands while you lose the will to live?
Does it involve navel gazing or hugging trees?
No, it doesn’t.
Ask Jim Burton, Digital Commercial Director of Parkers.co.uk. His team recently won Sales Team of the Year at the 2016 Bauer Media Awards. The judges recognised his team for being ‘David to the Goliath of the rest of the industry; small team, amazing results’!
Not bad, eh?
Jim is someone who uses a coaching style of leadership with his team. He believes it is important to give his team ownership and make them accountable; to ask good questions and help them to ‘get inside the mind’ of the client from a position of empathy and of ‘standing in their shoes’ (rather than a position of manipulation).
Let’s look at some specific examples.
Give the team ownership
Jim says ‘I aim to make my team feel as much responsibility for their own destiny as they can with all the support in the background’.
‘My team make a few mistakes but they learn and make better decisive decisions going forward’.
Both of these ‘ways of leading’ are very much in line with the coaching style of leadership described above.
No micromanaging, no control freakery, no knee-jerk reaction. He’s in it for the long-game and his team’s potential, confidence and capability improve all the time. Which means their results do, too.
Ask good questions to help your team learn and improve
OK, so I said earlier that coaching isn’t only about asking questions. But good questions are absolutely key to a coaching approach. (But it’s pointless asking questions if you don’t listen to the answers….and I mean REALLY listen to what is being said or not said). Good questions help individuals to think really well and therefore generate their own ideas and their own solutions.
Here’s an example of some of questions that might get your sales teams thinking more creatively:
· ‘How would you respond to a client who said our product/service doesn’t work’?
· ‘How can you turn that statistic/fact/figure about our product or service into a story that has a strong impact on the potential client’? (Remember, not everyone is influenced by facts and figures. A story can be much more compelling to some clients. Particularly if you are selling a service).
· ‘How will you approach that client tomorrow’?
· ‘Can you outline the three key things you need to find out at the client meeting tomorrow?’
· ‘What is your client’s biggest challenge/fear/hope?’
· ‘What is the best way to influence client A? How does she like to receive information’?
· ‘What’s your plan for selling our product/service to client x next week’?
· ‘What’s your biggest fear about the sales meeting tomorrow…..? And what can we do to help you overcome it’?
· ‘Think of five key pieces of information you need from the client today’.
In my own sales meetings, three of the questions I always ask potential clients are:
· ‘What do you want to get out of our discussion today?’
· ‘What do you want this leadership/coaching programme to deliver for you?
· ‘What will success look like?’
So the client drives the discussion topics initially and I work accordingly rather than telling them what I think they need (doomed to failure!). I’ll be listening out for key words or phrases – particularly those that are repeated or those that seem particularly emotive – and making sure I summarise back what the client has said to me to check that I have clearly understood.
There are hundreds more questions you could ask, of course, and you’ll notice that the questions that get people thinking often start with ‘What?’ or ‘how?’
Jim is a big fan of ‘learning debates’ with his team. These are ad hoc live debates on the brands the team is selling to help improve their knowledge. It is important that this IS a learning debate and not a test – this is not about judging how much or how little the sales team knows (if people think they are going to be belittled or humiliated they are unlikely to learn or ultimately to do their best work.).
Coach your clients
Jim has also started to get his team to ‘coach your clients.’
We’ll talk more about how to coach your clients – and why - in my next article.