I can’t imagine this would ever happen in the real world of a sales leader, but if you took a month off, how well would your sales team perform in your absence? What about two weeks? Whether you are a brand-new sales leader or have deep experience, I invite you to think about this question. It’s fun to consider and can also be very thought-provoking.
Let’s consider the fundamental expectations of today’s sales leader. It may seem like an over-simplification, but sales leaders are asked to do two things to grow sales— advance deals and develop talent. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s agree that you are already pretty good at advancing deals. The success you had closing deals most likely led to your opportunity to lead a sales team. In this blog post, let’s focus on developing talent.
One thing we have consistently found in working with thousands of clients, is that great sales leaders are also great coaches. The ability to generate results through the coordinated efforts of others requires an ability to bring out the very best performance in each individual in a way that motivates them to achieve their potential. So what makes a great coach? Think about the very best coaches in any sport or professional field. Are they also the very best player in their field? They are most certainly competent in their field, but they are almost never the best player.
The best coaches, regardless of their field, fundamentally know their role is to get the best performance out of their team members, even if they perform five or 10 times better than the coach’s personal best. What separates good leaders from great is the ability to unleash that talent, regardless of their own capabilities. They check their ego at the door and create an environment in which their people can shine brightly. How do they do this so effectively and so consistently? The good news is that it may be simpler that we think.
Let’s look at two possible approaches to coaching, one at a time. We will call the first approach We Tell Them. In this approach, we give our teams a goal and all the ideas they should consider in achieving it. We tell them what we think is the best path forward and then follow up to make sure they executed on it. We have all this experience and knowledge and we want to give it to them. We want to accelerate their learning curve, show them how it is done, share with them how we did it and what made us successful. This approach can be very effective and, depending on the circumstances, it might be the right approach. In the end, our sales people should have what they need to reach their goals and, hopefully, they will appreciate our help.
The second approach to coaching is the We Ask Them approach. This is where we use guided discovery to teach our sales people to think for themselves. We share the goal and then ask them what current challenges and opportunities may pop up on the way to that goal. We ask our sales people to brainstorm options and offer to share an idea or two they may not have considered. We ask them what they think is best option. Once they commit to an action plan, we offer our help and support should they need us. In the end, they have a plan and they came up with it. This approach requires some patience and may take more time, but not nearly as much as you might think.
So once again, if you took a month off, how well would your sales team perform? Which of these coaching approaches would lay the groundwork for you to go on vacation, confident that your sales team would function well without you? If your objective is to lead a dependent sales team that can only function if you are there to provide them the answers, then perhaps the We Tell Them approach works for you. While this approach will ensure that your sales people will always be at least as good as you were, they may never reach their potential.
If, on the other hand, your objective is to create an environment that fosters strong, intelligent, independent problem solvers who come to you when they really need to, yet think for themselves in most situations, then you may want to consider investing the time to develop your We Ask Them coaching skills.