Saturday, October 11, 2014

Acknowledge - Explore - Listen: Dealing With Facts And Coaching

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." Aldous Huxley (1894-1963).Too often we can see the sales leader that is unwilling or unable to face the facts - whether these are the facts on specific deals that salespeople are working on or facts relative to some tough conversations that need to take place with their team members.Just because we review opportunities with our sales people in some cases doing a partial review and often not holding our people accountable for progress on specific deals (really a 'surface scan') does not change the truth behind the conversations. Nor does it change the sales leader's own sense of hope (hope that a deal will land, hope that a salesperson is wrong about the quality of a deal).In fact, our unwillingness to accept the true facts - or worse adopt a position where we shoot the messenger or ignore the facts - does not encourage an environment of trust and acceptance where one can focus on reality and solving problems without dealing with political and emotional trauma that can create a physical manifestation in the Team.Clearly the answer to this is not to ignore the issues and problems - as Huxley states, facts are still there even if ignored. The answer is also not to bring overwhelming political and emotional force down on the salesperson dealing with the facts.Instead, consider this approach.If, when faced with facts that are irrefutable and at the same time damaging to our sales, we approached the salesperson from a position of collaboration what might occur? Is is possible that the salesperson might be open to having someone help with solving a problem?I would submit that in most cases this is true. Salespeople by their nature are competitive and like to win. If we, as leaders, can offer something that will help and enable these professionals to grow isn't it reasonable to assume that they would accept this assistance and willingly change their position/approach with a customer?At the very least the salesperson would enter into an open and honest dialogue with their leader to explain the situation and why an approach may or may not work. And that is the key to moving forward. Acknowledge the facts. Explore alternatives together. Listen to our people as they often can see elements that we cannot.If, after attempting this approach, you still feel like you are not getting the facts then a decision must be made. Either we personally enter the deal with the intent to bring clarity and accelerate a close or we investigate the approach/habits of the sales person.

I can recall one situation where I was coaching a Sales Executive through a deal that would close off several months of his quota. He had committed this deal to his organization yet something didn't seem right. The dates kept sliding and when I offered to assist in visiting the client to accelerate the sale the salesperson blocked at every turn. As we looked closer and closer at the deal, the structure, and most importantly the political alignment and support inside the clients organization, we discovered that this deal that was coming in 'any day' was not likely to come in for months.At this point we are faced with a few decisions. Firstly, do we act as other leaders have acted and ignore the facts and demand that the salesperson deliver the deal (a completely unrealistic expectation and completely ignoring the facts)? Secondly do we attack the individual for not understanding their account (and thereby alienating the salesperson)? Or thirdly do we approach this as a coachable moment and explain to the salesperson the impact of improper forecasting and show them the facts and obtain agreement on the necessary steps that the salesperson is willing to commit to to advance the deal?The inexperienced leader might opt for #1 - trying to show dominance yet not achieving anything except pushing the salesperson away. Or they may try #2 - accept the facts but personally attack the competence of the salesperson with a 'if you can't do it, then I will' approach. The result of this is that the salesperson will continue to rely in the leader in any difficult situation with a fatalistic feeling (no matter what I do or say my boss won't be happy and they will take this deal from me).However with option #3, real coaching, growth and learning can occur. Finally the truth can be acknowledged and the leader and salesperson can work together to further the deal.As Huxley states 'Facts do not cease to exist' regardless of how we and our organizations react to them. Instead of reacting or hiding from these facts, we should embrace them and treat this as a learning opportunity for the sales organization.

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