As the economy heads deeper into a rough patch, companies must work harder than ever to meet financial targets. That means the pressure on salesmanagers to meet sales goals is huge.
We believe that a big part of producing sales results consists of supporting, coaching, and managing your people. Developing and strengthening coaching skills becomes essential to leveraging your competitive edge or you’re bound to get left behind.
Today our guest is Dr. Rick Kirschner, respected educator, popular speaker, executive coach, and best selling author of the ‘Insider’s Guide to The Art of Persuasion: Use Your Influence to Change Your World.” Dr. Kirschner offers some valuable insights for sales managers working to improve their skills as sales coaches.
KR: Rick, in your work with managers, what do you find to be the most common obstacle to building and projecting their authority and leading their sales teams?
DRK: Right off the top, I can think of a couple of obstacles. The most common one is the idea that management and coaching are about talking, that somehow talking takes priority over listening to understand. And I understand how this happens. In fast paced environments, it’s a natural tendency to put the pedal to the metal, to try harder, move faster, do more. The problem is that they wind up talking at their people instead of with them and to them. And the obstacle this lack of understanding creates is that without knowing what motivates your people, you can’t engage them where it counts.
When you understand what motivates your people, and it’s different for different people, you can speak with authority that is recognized as authority, because it is relevant and conveys experience and knowledge.
Then there’s the confidence problem. When managers come off as tentative, hesitant or uncertain, it tends to evoke these responses in their teams. This problem is the side effect of at least two missing pieces: first, not knowing your own motivation, and second, not being prepared to speak when you need to speak. The fact is, people want to be led, not managed, and they need to get that sense of authority from you, because it gives them confidence to do what needs to be done. They believe it when you believe it.
Now, it’s a legitimate question, confidence in what? After all, in these changing times, nobody really knows what’s coming next. And some degree of introspection is prudent for anyone wanting to thrive instead of merely survive. But you can have confidence in your motivations. You can have confidence in what you do know. And you can have confidence that under the right conditions, people will want to give you their best, to do their best.
KR: What are the key listening and communication skills that sales managers can improve upon as they work to develop and strengthen their coaching skills?
DRK: Essentially, there are two skills that are fundamental to success in coaching. The first is blending, the second is asking questions. Blending is the foundation of all successful relationships. It happens whenever you reduce the differences between yourself and another person. It happens whenever you send signals of similarity and commonality. And a failure to blend is the cause of most conflict, people nobody cooperates with anyone who seems to be against them. If perception is everything in relationships, then sending blending signals is how you create the perception of partnering with your people in a process or project.
As for questions, I believe it was the stoic philosopher, Epicetus, who said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Maybe this is the apt metaphor for the way we’re built, but I’ve observed that too many people just don’t get it. Although they certainly think they do. Ask just about anyone if they’re a good listener, and they’ll tell you yes. But most people do a meager job of it at best, instead drawing conclusions and then making statements instead of engaging people by asking questions.
Maybe the people who don’t ask very many questions are afraid of looking stupid. Maybe they think it makes them seem weak. Or maybe they think they’re supposed to have all the answers. Maybe it’s just a function of the fact that we can think faster, at 500 words a minute, than most people talk, which is about 130 words a minute. So it’s pretty easy to get ahead of what we’re hearing, or for our minds to wander to what we want to say when its our turn to talk. But a great coach understands the limits of his or her knowledge about another person, and explores that boundary to build the connection, rather than building the boundary and weakening the relationship. The key is curiosity. The less you think you know, the more you find out. The more value you place on what you can learn by listening, the less distracted you’ll be with your own thoughts.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question.’ That’s a great guide when it comes to everyone other than you! You can’t afford to ask dumb questions if you want to bring out the best in your people. When someone asks me a question, no matter how trite, simplistic or off the point, I welcome it and find the opportunity in it. But when it’s me asking, I think that there are dumb questions. They’re dumb if they fail to take into account things people have said. They’re dumb if they’re closed ended instead of open ended, unless i intend to bring something to a close. I want my questions to serve an intelligent purpose. I want to get to the deep structure of a person’s motivations and positions. I want to learn about their goals and aspirations, their desires and fears. Asking questions is a great way of leading people to their own resourcefulness. And I want my questions to inform, just as their answers will inform me. As a coach, the more you know, the more likely it is that you will know exactly what you need to know in order to elicit comfort confidence and credibility.
And it sets a great example for sales people, too. Because the best sales people talk about their customers’ and clients’ business rather than talking about the sales person’s business, and that’s only possible when they’ve been asking good questions.
To read more of Dr. Rick Kirschner’s suggestions for improving your ability to use persuasion to create positive change in your life, relationships, and work, visit Dr. K’s Blog here.