Sellers, Coach Yourselves!

Dan Smaida – Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Yesterday my son spoke at church, and I had the presence of mind to videotape it (through tears of pride and joy, of course). He did a good job, but not the A+ work he was capable of. So later that day, I played him the video.

He watched without comment, then stopped the video just before the end. “Why did you stop the tape?” I asked.

“It just tailed off from there,” he said. “I messed up the ending. That’s what I get for winging it.” And that, my friends, was the best possible thing that could have happened.

Why? Because Jake took the mantle of coaching away from me…and put it on his own shoulders. And for anyone who sells (or aspires to, as he does), this is a vital skill – the ability to self-coach.

Sellers, You MUST Coach Yourselves
I’ve spent twenty years consulting with sales teams, and one trend is clear: More than ever, you’re responsible for your own self-coaching…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll give you just three reasons:

Not enough coaching hours. Coaches have other jobs and other people to worry about besides your need for professional development. An informal survey of my B2B clients puts the average seller-to-manager at about 8-1, and it’s forecasted to get leaner still. In direct selling organizations, team sizes may be exponentially larger! Plus, no other practitioners of complex disciplines devote as little time to practice as salespeople do. This is bad, because most coaching happens in practice.

Not enough quality coaches. And even if there was an unlimited supply of your manager or team leader’s time, would you want it? Often, sales coaching skill is NOT how they got their current job. And I strongly believe that coaching sales, managing sales, and executing sales are three distinct competencies that require distinct skill sets.

Coaches have their own agenda. Your coach is usually coaching you for a reason: So you can help them make their number. That’s fine, but it’s not always congruent with what’s best for your career. At the very best, coaches coach you on what they think you need to improve, and even then, confirmation bias clouds their perspective.

For example: When my clients aren’t making their number, requests for help coaching ‘closing skills’ go way up. Much like the higher incidence of cesarean sections in populaces with declining birth rates, sales managers often coach to their own needs, not yours – even when it’s not conscious.

Taking Ownership of Your Own Coaching
Fortunately, everything you need to be your own coach is within your reach today. Here’s the short list:

Models of greatness. Like my Relationship EDGE sales method, there are plenty of great models for everything from consultative sequence to diagnostic skills to value demonstration to reciprocal commitment strategies. The point is, find one that works for you and use it as a benchmark. Everyone from track athletes to musicians to welders has a model of what “good form” looks like.

Practice with feedback. Without feedback, are you practicing getting it right – or getting it wrong? The only way you can tell is with feedback. It’s always different in your head than it is in real life – anyone who’s ever heard themselves on tape knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Time to introspect. Sellers, you’re totally on your own here – you’ve got to create time for your own development, without the pressure of managers or the next appointment. You can’t afford to spend precious selling time doing anything but selling. That means coaching yourself must happen elsewhere. Debriefing in the car on the way to your next meeting doesn’t cut it. However, do NOT skip call planning and review! I’m simply saying that’s different than developing yourself by practicing a skill with feedback.

Bonus: Game tape! If you ever have the chance to record yourself in action, do it! Watching yourself performing a task is the best coaching tool I’ve ever seen.

Other Bonus: Coaches for hire. I don’t usually coach salespeople one-on-one, so this isn’t me plugging my services – it’s recommending an option that serious people take to further their own careers.

The Ultimate Sales Competency….
…is the ability to grow your own skills and thus your success. Folks like me can put the models out there, your managers and team leaders can try their hardest, but it’s ultimately up to you to coach yourself as a seller. Your success may depend on it!

Fortunately, you have the tools. Use a model of greatness, carve out time to practice, spend a little of your own time working on you, and catch yourself in action. Now you own your own coaching, and you’re adding a vital source of self-development to the support you’re getting (or not getting) from your coaches today.

(Photograph: Former NFL player Maurice Jones-Drew watches game film on his laptop. Photo credit: Getty Images)