Session 4 – Two Sales Coaching Challenges

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In using the principles of Situational Sales Leadership to coach your salespeople, two challenges await you: regression and disagreement about development level. 

When you read the river, assessing the development of your salespeople related to the sales activities they need to complete, and when you respond accordingly, using a matching leadership style for each development level, your reps will grow. So will your sales.

But life, and leadership, has a way of being not so simple.

Sometimes a rep slips into a slump and goes backward in their development, not forward. And sometimes as you coach your sales reps they disagree with your assessment of their development, and, by extension, disagree with the leadership style you’re seeking to implement with them. What do you do then?

Let’s discussion regression first. One of the most frustrating sales management experiences happens when a rep who’s at the top of her game suddenly crashes, a high performer who’s usually 150% of plan or more now can’t break 60%. And your number, too, falls like a rock. Regression sucks.

The first thing to consider in dealing with regression is asking if the sales activities you’re asking this person to complete have actually changed.

Let me give you an example I see all the time. Imagine an aggressive competitor entering your marketplace and warm sales leads that came like clockwork from your web site dry up completely. As a result your sales team has to generate their own sales leads through cold call prospecting, against the backdrop of that aggressive competitor.

Notice how these two sales activities are totally different, converting warm leads from a web site and generating business through cold call prospecting. If the sales reps on your team haven’t done much—or any—cold call prospecting, they haven’t regressed in their development, because there’s no development to regress from! The task is completely new to them. What they need from you is a fresh assessment of their development related to this new activity and generous application of the leadership style that’s needed for the situation.

If, however, the sales activity has not changed, there’s one place to look for the solution to this problem: motivation. The difference between Development Level Four and Development Level Three is commitment not competence, the internals and not the externals. In other words, both development levels know how to complete this task, but one has lost confidence around it.

Leadership Style Three is the perfect match for reversing this slide, asking questions, reflecting a rep’s own answers back to them, helping this person hear their own voice and find their own way out of the slump. In short, helping them self-correct through your skilled sales coaching.

Over the years I’ve found that almost all regression is a drift from Development Level Four to Development Level Three, so the strategy I just outlined will solve the majority of your challenges in this area. Even if a person regresses from Development Level Four all the way to Development Level Two, moving backwards in both competence and commitment, question asking and reflecting is still your best starting point. Then, if you must, lean in a give some direction. But only if you’re sure they’ve completely lost their way and need your direction to get back on track.

By the way, no one who’s learned to do something will regress to Development Level One where a sales activity is completely new to them. So, through a process of elimination, implementing Leadership Style Three first, and then implementing Leadership Style Two, if necessary, is the secret to success with regression.

A common mistake I see when a sales rep slides backward in their development is overcorrection. Out of total frustration it’s easy to exclaim, “Come on, get with the program!” This use of Leadership Style One in response to a Development Level Three situation is like pulling the steering wheel hard to the right when you hit a patch of ice on a dark road. Your car spins out of control into the ditch. Overcorrection. Use a deft and steady hand to guide your salespeople through this challenge—less is more here—and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of loyalty.

Now for the second challenge, what do you do when salesperson disagrees with you about their development level? You have one assessment of their competence and commitment regarding a given sales activity and a team member has a completely different assessment. That would never happen, right? Wrong.

Here’s how to deal with it.

Your first response is to remind yourself that Situational Sales Leadership is not something you do to your salespeople, it’s something you do with them. Conversations regarding development are exactly that, conversations, an exercise in collaboration. In this context, then, the point is not to determine who’s right and who’s wrong, but to reach a place of mutual understanding and joint agreement on how to move forward together. 

When you hold your assessment with an open hand like this, it makes your point of view much easier to be heard, and, of course, you may learn things yourself in the process. This salesperson may be right and you may be wrong. No problem, apologize and move on.

But they may be wrong and you may be right. This could pose a big problem, because at the end of the day their performance reflects on your leadership and affects your paycheck.

When a disagreement about development can’t be resolved, here’s what to do. Accept your salesperson’s assessment but monitor their performance like you would in Development Level One. That is, check on progress frequently for the first few days and weeks. If this person’s self-assessment is correct, you can back off and use a more appropriate leadership style. If your associate’s self-assessment is not correct, you’ll have quickly caught any issues before they get bigger and provide the coaching they need for success.

I grew up on 7th Avenue in Westwood, New Jersey. At the end of 7th Avenue was a big Catholic church that stood atop a steep hill. A buddy and I once drug our go-cart to this Catholic church and the top of that hill and began riding down.

Within a few feet, the right front wheel of our go-cart started to wobble. It got worse and worse until the go-cart was shaking uncontrollably. Sensing imminent danger, both of us jumped off, tearing our jeans to pieces and cutting up our knees and elbows. 

To our horror, however, the go-cart kept going down the hill, smashing into to the side of a car parked at the bottom. Being red-blooded, 10-year-old boys, we ran for our lives.

In this hair-brained story is the secret to success with both regression and disagreement about development level. Stay close to your salespeople and know what’s going on with their work. If a wheel gets wobbly, stop the go-cart before it goes farther down the hill. Address issues while they’re small and avoid a crash at the bottom.

Provide support when support is needed. Provide direction when direction is needed. Provide a dynamic mix of both when both are needed, and you’ll avoid painful performance lapses and costly sales rep turnover. Do this consistently and you’ll be a master sales coach, masterfully using Situational Sales Leadership.