At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Brian P. Justice, Vice President, Sales, SS&C Advent, Inc., he shared some interesting perspectives on the advantages of a sales manager approaching the challenge like a player coach because in that role, he can have more influence and build more of the right habits early on.
A good player-coach helps newer reps ask clearer open-ended questions that they can get responses to, teaches them to be active listeners... before they get those bad habits. -Brian P. Justice, VP of Sales, SS&C Advent, Inc. Click To Tweet
“Coaching wise, the player coach is huge. You have to make sure that managers can be that player coach early and often. A good player-coach helps newer reps ask clearer open-ended questions that they can get responses to, teaches them to be active listeners, all those good things that a sales rep has to learn early on before they get those bad habits.”
Salespeople get into bad habits
Brian has observed that salespeople can get into some bad habits that the player coach sales manager must focus energy on changing. One habit he has noticed is a bad habit over 90% of the executives we speak with also bring up …
“Lower performing salespeople don’t listen too well. They jump in there with their set of questions they want to get on the table and they think that that’s enough to show a demo and push out a price. In reality, there’s no value statement early on, there’s no process or thought behind, ‘Why am I asking you these questions?’ They don’t sell their process well.”
We’ve observed this as well in the training and coaching we do with our clients at SalesGym. Often, the prospect experiences a somewhat jarring and disconnected flow of questions as the salesperson tries to find that brass ring they can start responding to with a product pitch or cookie cutter solution. More and more, this turns decision makers off.
Start by establishing common ground with the prospect
Brian suggests that early in the sales process, the focus should be on establishing an interest in understanding the prospect’s business and what’s happening in the industry. Brian’s insights correlate closely to the research in “The Challenger Sale” that has had such a big impact on the thinking of sales executives all over the world. The fact is, salespeople that focus only on customer problems and solving them are generating diminishing results. The insights that lead to new thinking and breaking out of decision-making ruts are essential today as Brian has noticed…
“A lot of salespeople get lazy and forget to set their credibility line early on. That first conversation is all about setting the tone early and letting the buyer know that, ‘Hey, I get your business, let’s have a discussion about the industry you are in today and get on the same page with what the industry looks like, what the current solutions are and what the best companies in your industry are doing’. The best and brightest sales executives are having, what I call, the Common Ground conversation first. A lot of reps fail to do that early on.”
Steve Jobs said many times that if you listen too closely to what the customer wants, they’ll lead you down the wrong path toward boring, non-differentiated products. This same principle is key to why insight-led sellers are generating better results. They understand that often, the customer doesn’t know what they don’t know and it’s our ability to make them aware of new ways of approaching a problem or solution that reduces resistance and opens up more receptivity. In other words, we impact directly decision making criteria instead of just providing a solution to needs that might be limiting the prospect’s thinking. When we are too patterned in our questions it often leads us to present cookie cutter solutions as if they’re more special than they really are, as Brian has noticed…
“The mistakes that I see made early and often are folks that think they know everything about somebody’s business and they go in there and ask the same five or six questions. By the end of it they’re trying to sell you a five or six figure software solution because you have Arial font in red and yellow colors … big deal. Don’t just think all of your buyer’s are the same. Treat them all with a full sales process and don’t just assume they are the same as your last call.”
Influencing the salesperson’s behavior more effectively
We’ve found, from observing thousands of sales people and their sales managers, that salespeople learn faster and more permanently when they are shown how to sell with practice and not just told what to do from a distance. Brian likes to refer to this type of sales manager as the player-coach…
“Being that active player coach, and embracing the role and really getting involved on a deal by deal, in the weeds basis, is essential with newer reps. Your mid to more mature sales reps don’t need that, you’ll drive them crazy. But the managers of younger reps, have to have an active role in the process without being there just to micromanage somebody’s time.”
When you look at a highly effective athletic coach, what they do is demonstrate, observe, correct and use steady repetition to make small improvements that add up to big improvements over time. Great coaches are out there on the practice field, showing the payers what to do, how to do it and giving intense feedback in the moment. The same approach works with salespeople as Brian suggests…
“A player coach can slow things down, especially on the phone. In person, you can get some emotional feedback and do things one-on-one. On the phone you really have to have a tempo, some tonality in your voice, you have to be well prepared. Having a manager with you as a player coach early where you can hear and copy helps reps not try to rebuild the wheel. It goes downhill very well so what’s the point in trying to rewrite the book. You’re not that smart. So, the player-coach, early on, is huge because it continues to remind younger sales reps of active listening and how difficult it is to be prepared with open-ended questions so you’re not getting yes, no, or single word answers with a bunch of awkward silence.”
Become more of a player coach for better results
About ten years ago, I met an extraordinary sales manager at a mortgage company and her inside sales team was generating 2-3 times more volume than the other teams located in the same office. The territories were similar and this sales manager had no real advantage outside of how she managed, trained and coached her team. We were hired to help the rest of the sales managers learn to manage the way she did so we interviewed and observed her extensively to figure it out. She said something I’ll never forget when I asked her what she was doing to create such remarkable results. She said she learned that listening and observing how her salespeople were interacting with prospects was a better use of her time than endlessly analyzing data which she noticed other sales managers spent a lot of time doing.
She made it her mission to find one thing that top performers were doing differently that she could share with the rest of the team every day. She called these “results pushing best practices” and that was her number one priority. To find, organize, share and train everyone on how to use them. This is the essence of being a great player coach.
Brian has observed the same thing with the best sales managers…
If you are going to be a sales manager, empathize and be a player-coach! -Brian P. Justice, VP of Sales, SS&C Advent, Inc. Click To Tweet
“If you are going to be a sales manager, empathize and be a player-coach! You’ve been in their seat so empathize, realize that it’s a team approach and that these folks that you’re working with are not just direct reports and people you can boss around. They are your team members and as the manager you’re connected to everybody on that team. Don’t be that guy that says, ‘Wow, I’m a manager now. I don’t have to do anything else. I’ll just dictate and micromanage the time card.”
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.