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The most successful sales managers are proactive sales coaches. They cause coaching to happen on a regular basis. Unsuccessful sales managers sit back, keeping an eye primarily on the sales numbers, and then respond with coaching when a rep falls short of their quota.

Proactive sales coaching matters to you and your sales team because of a well-known principle in the field of psychology called “self-serving bias.” Self-serving bias (according to psychologytoday.com) is “people’s tendency to attribute positive events to their own character but attribute negative events to external factors.”

You see self-serving bias when, for example, a sales rep who has a great month attributes their success to their strong work ethic and top-notch skills. But when that sales rep has a bad month, they blame external factors such as lousy leads from marketing. Sound familiar? I fell into that trap at one point in my sales career, and I think most salespeople have done the same.

The implication for sales managers is that many of your salespeople — even those currently exceeding their sales quota — are making mistakes in their sales approach that they are unaware of. These mistakes could be corrected in advance with proactive sales coaching.

Here are three tips for how to be a more proactive sales coach.

Coach salespeople who don’t ask for it.

Salespeople with a self-serving bias won’t come to you for coaching because they don’t realize anything is wrong. In their minds, their success is attributed to everything they are doing right, and any lost sales are due to some outside factor they can’t control. Successful sales managers observe and coach the skills and activities of all salespeople — even the work of those currently performing at the top.

Pay more attention to why a deal was lost.

When a sale is lost, a salesperson with a self-serving bias will almost always attribute the loss to an outside factor, such as price. But this thinking prevents the salesperson from learning from their mistakes.

This is another area where proactive sales coaching matters. Ask your salesperson specific questions such as:

  • What did the winning company do differently?

  • Which aspect of the customer’s needs do you feel that we could have better understood?

  • Which buying criteria — other than price — did the customer prioritize in their decision-making?

  • If you had this, or a similar, sales opportunity again, what changes would you make the next time?

It is vital that you have the right coaching mindset for this discussion. The purpose is not to pass judgment and criticize the salesperson’s decisions and actions. Instead, your mindset needs to be to truly help the salesperson understand what they could have done differently and coach them to make those changes going forward.

Make proactive sales coaching your priority #1.

The Charles Schwab who was the head of Bethlehem Steel in 1932 (not the one involved in investing) once challenged a consultant this way: “Show me a way to get more things done with my time. I’ll pay you any fee within reason.”

The consultant’s advice was that Schwab write down his most important tasks, number them, and then work on priority #1 until it was done.

Schwab agreed to give it a try. He focused on implementing this simple suggestion, and two months later he sent the consultant a check for $25,000. (That’s $25,000 in 1932 money, which equates today to over $350,000.) So if Charles Schwab thought so highly of this tip that he paid $350,000 for it, that’s a pretty good endorsement for us to try this same solution. Agreed?

What is priority #1 for sales managers? It has to be developing salespeople — all of them, not just the laggards. You are the only person in your company who can fill that role for your team. And it’s the priority that will contribute most to the team’s current and future performance and results.

My simple suggestion for someone who wants to become a proactive sales coach is this: Coach somebody before noon every day. When you do this, you will help to speed up the development of your sales team.

As a sales manager, you probably don’t peg yourself as a great psychologist. But now that you understand how self-serving bias can inhibit the improvement of a salesperson, I hope you can better appreciate how important it is for you to be a more proactive sales coach.

Overcoming self-serving bias on a sales team is why proactive sales coaching matters.

Salespeople with a self-serving bias won’t come to you for coaching because they don’t realize anything is wrong.”

Kevin F. Davis | Award-winning author, president of TopLine Leadership



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