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Selling Power Magazine Article
As a result, it is natural for time-pressed managers to feel that they should concentrate their limited coaching time on newer, less-experienced reps and leave the veterans to keep doing what they’re doing. It is also natural for new or young managers to experience feelings of intimidation and a reluctance to coach someone with a long sales history, wondering what they could offer a sales veteran.
But veterans need coaching just like anyone else, especially these days when the sales profession is changing so rapidly and radically. “That old adage about when you stop growing you start dying is true,” says Howard Tuuri, president of Tampa-based Sales Development Coaching. “Change is difficult – and that’s especially true in sales when veterans have a track record of success and what’s necessary for success going forward conflicts with what they know or think they know.”
Tuuri points out that sales veterans are working in an era unlike any previous one. Buying processes are longer and involve more high-level people than ever before. Customers are more educated about your products, competitors, and industry. The way in which prospects communicate and share ideas has accelerated to real time and moved to myriad online venues. Entire industries have changed. It is not uncommon for a sales veteran who has a long history of generating a major portion of his or her revenue from only one source to see that source disrupted in recent years.
It’s now evident that what was predictive of success previously is not predictive of success anymore. Coaching can help your veterans navigate today’s turbulent sales environment. Here are three things to keep in mind when coaching a veteran sales rep, particularly if you are a new or younger manager who is feeling intimidated by your sales rep’s age and the experience gap between you.
1. Let the veteran determine how he or she would like to be coached.
Plant the seeds for a coaching relationship by asking your sales veterans, “If I see a way that might improve your performance and want to talk to you about it, how would you like me to handle that?” That’s usually a very productive conversation, says Tuuri. You are communicating that you respect their experience and position but that you have a job to do, too. Professional salespeople will understand and appreciate that.
2. Think activation, not education.
Your job as a coach isn’t to have all the answers; rather, it’s to “activate” your reps by asking thought-provoking questions and figuring out what motivates them, says Tuuri. So approach your vets with a sense of curiosity about their performance and what makes them tick, rather than with a sense of having to know everything. Is your vet driven by perfectionism? Competitiveness? Reward? “Once you really understand the person you are coaching, you can then press the buttons and activate the motivation that is already there,” says Tuuri.
3. Understand the value of a fresh perspective.
In a world that is constantly changing, the perspective of someone new or younger can be invaluable. For instance, if you are a manager in your 20s or 30s, social media and other communication and technology tools likely seem second nature, and you can probably think of hundreds of great ways to leverage them. Most veterans will value any coaching you can offer to help them integrate new tools into their sales efforts. At the same time, genuine curiosity that arises from not knowing something can challenge the paradigm and help veterans grow. When you ask questions such as, “Why are you doing it this way?” and “Why did you take that approach?” you can prompt introspection and positive change.
Most veterans understand the value of coaching and will be open to a coaching relationship if you approach them in the right way. But even reluctant – or downright obstinate – vets can be won over, as Tuuri saw firsthand several years ago. At the time, he was head of sales for a company launching a new technology. Impressed by the technical knowledge and leadership ability of one his junior salespeople, Tuuri promoted that salesperson to the role of manager to oversee sales of this new technology. Colleagues thought the move was a mistake, arguing that the new manager would be unable to earn the respect of certain longtime sales veterans on the team.
One of the seasoned veterans made it clear early on that the manager had nothing to teach her and she wouldn’t sell the new product. The manager nonetheless built a relationship with her. When he learned the vet was a scorekeeper who kept close tabs on her performance relative to others, he began posting a weekly ranking of sales performance. When the longtime rep saw her name far removed from the top of the list, her competitive spirit kicked in, and she actively sought the manager’s coaching. A year later, the vet was the top revenue producer for the product she had vowed not to sell.
“Think of everyone on your sales team as carrying a portfolio. If you can put something new into each portfolio, they’ll all have more value,” Tuuri concludes. Your goal as a coach is to put more into your reps’ portfolios. What they decide (continued on page 2)
– Heather Baldwin
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