Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Charles Forsgard, VP Global Sales at Honeywell and hear his insights into how the right kind of sales coaching can impact sales performance. His thoughts were focused around:
- The Type of Salesperson Customers Respond Positively To
- Good Coaching is About Socratic Teaching
- Constant Practice is Key to Success
- Prepare Thoroughly and Be Ready to Improvise
Early in the conversation, Charles said something that gave us a great starting point for the interview. He said,
“The stereotype of the glib salesman is not what a customer wants. The customer wants to see competence. They want to see insight that comes through when you are saying less and being more thoughtful. That is way more valuable to a customer than the opposite. I have found that some of the best sellers that I’ve had were a hundred eighty degrees the opposite of what anybody would think of as a salesperson. When I go on calls with them and watch them in front of the customer, it was amazing to me the depth of the relationship that they’ve been able to develop. This happened because they put the customer at ease. The customer didn’t think they were getting sold to, they thought they were just talking to someone. That is the consultative selling model, during which, if you’re doing it right, nobody thinks they’re being sold to.”
What Charles is pointing out is the big difference between selling the customer and truly helping the customer which allows for a much deeper and richer relationship to develop and flourish.
Salespeople Must Be Proactive and Take Initiative
Top performers we’ve met and worked within the SalesGym have an innate ability to proactively move the sales process forward quicker than their competitors, as Charles explains,
“What I see happen with far too many sellers is their inability to take the initiative. They’re mostly reactive. The relative strength of a sales team is measured by the ratio of how much of their time they are being proactive versus how much of their time are they being reactive. You can never be a hundred percent proactive, right? A necessary part of the job is just to react, but you have to balance that. If you let the deal proceed at what I’d call ‘the customer’s pace’, then you’re setting yourself up for your competition to take control of it.”
Good sales coaching is similar to sports coaching. A football coach focuses on helping each player know what they have to do to execute the very next play that will move the ball up the field. Although there’s a game plan and a strategy, when the game begins, it’s about executing one play at a time. Salespeople need this kind of coaching as well to help them focus on the next “play” they can execute to move the deal up the field. Charles explains his approach to this,
“The number one question that I ask any seller about a deal and that I have the managers coach them on is: what’s the next action that you are going to do to drive this deal forward? It’s not what you’re waiting to have happen, it’s about what you are going to do. It is that kind of simple question that leads to a great coaching dialogue.”
We call this principle focusing on the future and not just analyzing the past. It’s important to look at results and analyze calls that have already happened, but it’s just as important to put focus into the next step that will increase the odds of deals happening. That’s part of the formula of great sales coaching.
Charles on Coaching
Like many top performers we’ve met and interviewed, Charles attributes much of his success to the coaching he got early in his career …
“I don’t know if I’d have stayed with sales as a career if I hadn’t been so lucky with early bosses that were great coaches. I was very fortunate. They turned me into a decent salesperson, and that simply wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have those coaches.”
It’s important to remember, when we get new, young salespeople on our team, that the coaching we give them could very well change their lives forever … it’s that important. Sometimes, Sales Managers lose focus on how important it is to prioritize sales coaching above other more administrative tasks that can eat up a lot of time but don’t move the ball forward. Charles explains,
“It is frustrating to me that coaching is so rarely the number one thing for sales managers activity. When I boil things down, I say that the number one activity that a salesperson does is making sales calls. That’s where they add the most value. I turn to my sales managers and say that in the same way, that their number one activity is coaching – and that should be the priority on their calendar. As a sales manager, coaching is the main place where you add value to your sellers.”
Good Coaching is About Socratic Teaching
From Socrates, the Greek philosopher that lived and taught 2,400 years ago, the “Socratic Method” was established, which was, instead of teaching through lecture, to teach through questions and interaction with students. This same method applies to the sales process. When we ask good questions early and often, it helps us understand what matters most to the decision-maker and also lowers resistance that increases receptivity to new ideas.
This is also true in coaching and influence in general, as Charles explains,
“Coaching is not telling someone what to do. They don’t learn anything from that. Good coaching is a series of very well constructed questions that draw the answer out of the seller because then the seller is going to be invested in the answer – because it’s their answer. When you coach that way over time, the thought process that led them to that answer allows them to solve the problem themselves the next time. The number one thing that a good sales leader gives to their people through coaching is focus. They help them to focus on the right customers, deals, and activities to be effective.”
Constant Practice is Key to Success
Charles shared two insights into practice and why it’s so important to the success of salespeople:
- Obviously, practice makes perfect. You don't walk out on a golf course and just start slapping balls, right? You practice on the driving range first. Only then do you go on the course, where if you hit one off the fairway, it's a 2-stroke penalty and you’ve blown the hole. By the same token, you should never just walk into a sales call and wing it – that can cost you a lot more than 2 strokes.
- The best training for a salesperson is a joint call with a coach. The real training comes from the coaching debrief after the call where valuable questions are asked like, “Hey, during the call you did this … what were you thinking when you did this and what caused you to do that? Did you get the result you thought you were going to get?” If you walk them through their thought process for the different things that they did during the call, it can become valuable.
One of the things we remind our clients is that practice doesn’t really make perfect, it makes permanent. It’s the perfect practice that makes perfect and for most salespeople, perfect practice is only going to happen if they practice with a strong sales coach.
Prepare Thoroughly and Be Ready to Improvise
Charles finished our interview with some great advice on how to prepare for sales calls and how to adjust to the unpredictability that is part of every sales interaction:
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. You need to plan a sales call, but if you try to really script it, it’s not going to work. Your plan should be more of a checklist like “what’s my objective?” What information do I want to get from or give to the customer during the call? If you are trying to have it scripted it’s like a football receiver saying, ‘I’m going to run this route and nobody’s going to bump me along the way and nobody’s going to get between me and the quarterback and nobody’s going to try to grab my arm.’ The reality is, that’s going to happen, which is why you practice against a red team defense. That’s the advantage of really well-done role-playing as a training tool. It’s just hard to do it that way, which is why a lot of people don’t like role-playing.
I believe very firmly that you should never wing it on a sales call. When you walk into a sales call you need to at least go through a checklist of the things you want to get straight before you walk in that door. I have had salespeople say, ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I don’t need to use a checklist. I know what I’m doing now.” I have a brother that has been flying jets for Delta Airlines for 35 years and every time he takes off and every time he lands he uses a checklist. Of course, he does it because if he misses a step in that checklist, someone’s going to die. Now nobody’s going to die if you screw up your sales call, but it’s still important to be sure that you do it right.
My checklist is just three things. What do you want to accomplish on the call? What information do you want to get from the customer? What information do I want to give to the customer? I just want to make sure you have thought about those three things. I want you to write it down before the call because the act of writing it down forces you to state it clearly and concisely so that it sticks in your mind. If you just write those three things down before you walk in, I’m fine. But don’t tell me that after 20 years you don’t need to do that because I’ve been selling for a lot longer than that and, by golly, I make sure I do it before I go on any sales call. I want to know as much as possible before I walk in that door.”
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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