On a recent Webcast delivered to sales managers, the moderator asked me, “Do you think some salespeople are just uncoachable?” My quick answer was yes. We’ve all known salespeople who don’t make the changes sales managers recommend.
But, if you take a step back, you’ll find there are two types of “uncoachable” salespeople: those who don’t change because they aren’t open to learning, and those who don’t change because the sales manager isn’t providing useful sales coaching.
When Positivity Becomes a Barrier to Learning
Across the board, no matter the company or product or sector, sales managers are taught to hire people who have a positive mental attitude. We want salespeople who are not easily frustrated, who display a degree of tenacity, who respond to adversity in a positive way. No successful salesperson will give up the first time they hear a “no.”
Unfortunately, while these characteristics are true for the kind of “never say die” salespeople we all want to have on our teams, they can also indicate an individual who may not accept responsibility for mistakes they make. That salesperson may have such a positive mental attitude about themselves that they don’t recognize when they make mistakes and could to better.
The iconic example is the salesperson who has a great month and thinks, “It was my hard work and my great selling skills that made this happen.” But then they have a lousy month. In order to stay positive, their thinking is, “Well, it was due to the lousy leads from marketing.” They blame failure on external forces, which leads them to not take ownership for the mistakes they have made or could have made that contributed to this bad month. (In the field of psychology, this is called “self-serving bias.”)
What can you as a sales manager do with someone like this? The last thing you should do is tell them they have an attitude problem!
Instead, start by observing them in action so you can get an inkling of where they are falling short. Is it:
Then, sit down with the person as early in the sales cycle as possible and ask them questions that require them to describe what’s going on in the area where you think they are falling short.
For example, suppose you know that a salesperson is glossing over their inability to link the capabilities of your offerings to explicit customer needs. Before they deliver a demo to the prospect, ask them, “What problems does this customer have that we can solve better than anybody else?” If the rep can’t give you a good answer, continue working with them on that skillset.
In other words, you ask questions about their knowledge and expertise – but make sure your mindset is to help and not to judge. Great sales coaches aren’t “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” – they don’t point fingers at what the salesperson did wrong when the game is already over.
How Sales Managers Create Uncoachable Salespeople
Once I started studying sales management, it surprised me to see that, quite often, what makes a salesperson “uncoachable” is that the sales coaching being provided isn’t helpful to them! In other words, it’s poor coaching – not poor listening and learning.
Poor sales coaching often happens in companies where organizations go overboard in pushing the question “Where’s your number?” That message starts at the top and gets passed down to the sales manager, who passes it on to the salesperson. The pressure to make the number gets so strong that the sales manager loses focus on everything else. They forget that their job is to help salespeople develop skills and knowledge so they can put more qualified opportunities into the funnel and continually improve their sales skills. All these sales managers talk about is numbers and activity levels (“Make more calls!”). Neither of those topics will help a salesperson learn something new and get better.
Whenever a sales manager has a salesperson who seems uncoachable, I challenge the manager to first look in the mirror and see if they are contributing to the problem. If the only feedback they are providing to salespeople is on things the salesperson already knows (like where their numbers were last month), the salesperson is going to naturally think, “Well, duh.”
The fix here is for the sales manager. Managers have to get better at prioritizing their time so they have time to focus on the things that matter: sales opportunity coaching, large account development planning, one-on-one skills coaching, etc. Sales managers need to focus more on being a teacher and coach, and less on being a taskmaster.
Salespeople will be more coachable if we do a better job of sales coaching!
Kevin F. Davis is author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, which has been named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of two sales books, Slow Down, Sell Faster! and Getting into Your Customer’s Head. Visit TopLine Leadership, Inc. for information on Kevin’s speaking and training services.