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Quotable Podcast Episode #76: Coaching is the Future of Selling, with Keith Rosen

Host: Kevin Micalizzi
Delivering value used to be the best way to sell, now it’s about making your people (including customers) more valuable. Join Keith Rosen, CEO of Coachquest and author of Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions, as he shares the mindset, language, and skill set required to effect this shift. Find out how you can go beyond meeting quota to actually changing people’s lives.

The definition of coaching is the same as the definition of selling — selling is the art of creating possibilities.”

Keith Rosen | CEO, Coachquest and author of Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions

Episode Transcript

Keith Rosen: It’s dead. It’s dead. It’s a budget thing. They don’t have the money. My first question to that salesperson is, is that what the customer told you?

[Music plays]

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable podcast. I’m Kevin Micalizzi. Today we’re going to be speaking with Keith Rosen, Founder and CEO of Coachquest. He’s the author of Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions, Own Your Day, and, Keith, I hear you’ve got another book on the way. Would you share a little bit?

Rosen: Sure. It is The Evolution of Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. — where I’ve taken a global approach to providing leaders across the world what they can do to accelerate their personal success as a leader and coach, as well as their team’s success to develop champions.

That book you can expect in May of 2018, but you can assure that I’ll be shooting out a lot of content so people can start taking advantage of that much sooner.

Micalizzi: Sounds good. Let’s jump into the conversation. So, Keith, welcome back to the podcast.

Rosen: Thank you, Kevin. Always a pleasure to be here.

Micalizzi: So, Keith, we talk to a lot of folks — you know, experts, practitioners, leaders, reps. And you know, training is incredibly important. I think a lot them feel, okay, we’re not doing it right. Or, we’re not even sure how to measure the impact of what we’re doing.

And so, I think we kind of waffle, wander. I’m not sure what the right word for it is. How are you looking at training now because I know things have changed so much recently?

Rosen: You know, it’s interesting. I’ve heard from a lot of other trainers and facilitators and they’ve used this phrase: “Sales training is dead.” And my feeling [is] no, it’s not dead, it’s evolved. And instead of training salespeople, developing high performing sales teams really requires transforming the traditional salesperson into what I call the seller coach.

So, to become a top producer today and attain market dominance, the seller coach doesn’t push. They don’t have to close the sale. Instead, because of their approach and their mindset, they’re able to attract more business and loyal customers by actually coaching their customers to succeed. And that’s the evolution of the professional salesperson today.

Micalizzi: Interesting. Because I know normally you talk about coaching, and we’re talking the managers and how they coach their reps through a deal or through the process. But you’re saying coaching now is really the rep to the customer.

Rosen: Exactly. And it’s interesting because with every client I work with, when it comes to market dominance, profitability, developing your competitive edge, the question they always ask is, Keith, what’s next? How can we not just get ahead, but create the curve to maintain and grow our brands, our profits, and market share?

And having been the innovator and the first to create a program that specifically focuses on developing sales leaders and all people managers into world-class coaches, I’m always noticing a parallel between sales leadership coaching and professional selling. And years ago, my clients started recognizing it as well.

And practically every sales leadership program that I ever delivered, I would hear from at least one participant: Keith, you know, this model can really apply to sales. After all, if the art of coaching is to create possibilities, and it’s always about the “coach-ee,” not about the coach, then why wouldn’t the same model apply to selling?

Ironically, this is actually how I sell. Well, actually I don’t sell. Instead, I coach prospects, which is why the definition of coaching is also the same definition of selling — which is, selling is the art of creating possibilities.

Micalizzi: How does this differ from what we would have called consultative selling?

Rosen: I find that there’s a couple of things that differentiates this new seller coach than the traditional salesperson. So, if you think about leadership for a second, my job is to make everyone else’s job easier. You know, when it comes to salespeople and leaders, managers, their job is difficult enough. I don’t want to come in there and make it even more challenging for them.

So, simply put, leadership at its core is a mindset, a language, and a skill set. And this holds true for selling as well. Because if you only focus on the skill, the process, the language and the messaging, or strategy of selling, which is the outer game, and you’re not focusing on the attitude or way of thinking, which is the inner game, then you’re only developing half of the sales champion that person can be.

And herein lies the reason why most sales training fails, or doesn’t become embedded in your company culture. So, I find that when it comes to developing a high-performance coaching culture, the best salespeople are the most effective communicators. And just like every manager needs to learn the language of coaching when coaching salespeople, every salesperson needs to learn and leverage the new language of selling, and that language of selling is coaching.

Here is the real advantage that gets me exceptionally excited, because when everyone in your entire organization is all speaking one language, and everyone, regardless of tenure or title, department or position, gets coached by one another, proactively, and consistently, the results are extraordinary.

And that is how you change, embed, and sustain a high-performance culture and get your peers, your team, and your company all focused on one unified vision and shared goal.

Micalizzi: I think for a lot of managers and leaders, coaching is a very different mindset and a difficult thing to train for. In my experience in sales and outside of sales working with folks, I find that a lot of managers feel that they’re coaching if they’re just pushing the deal along versus, you know, truly trying to train their reps for new skills. How are you bringing this mindset to everyone?

Rosen: There are a list of dozens of characteristics that I’ve created that identify who a seller coach is. If you can emulate some of these characteristics, you’re already in the one percenters. So, I’m just going to share with you a couple of characteristics, which I think is what you’re asking me, which truly separates the salesperson from the sales, or seller, coach.

For example, instead of simply delivering value, you honor the fundamental principle of leadership, which is to make your people more valuable, and that includes your customers. Another characteristic is, instead of closing customers, you’re coaching them to create new, and often better, possibilities, so the sale becomes the natural byproduct.

Now, let’s tie this into how managers lead and how salespeople sell. Managers are typically conditioned to become that chief problem solver. They’re approached by one of their direct reports with a challenge or a problem. The direct report shares their challenge or problem.

The visceral reaction of the manager is not to coach, but search their memory bank for a time when they were in that situation, or when they dealt with that situation before, and they just dispense solutions. All that does is make your people lazy in their thinking. Well, the same holds true for selling. You know, instead of being the chief problem solver when you’re selling to your customers, you coach your customers to arrive at their own solutions using the artful use of deep open-ended questions.

Now, I have 20 different characteristics that make up the seller coach. Just to highlight a couple of more, instead of focusing on you activity, your pipeline and sales goals — and let me be exceedingly clear, those are important — you’re also focusing on how many lives you can positively impact.

And rather than being future-based, or result-driven, and fearful because salespeople are always focused on that end result, that end sale, you are making a fundamental shift in your thinking to become someone who is process driven. Because if you are process driven, the process happens in the moment. And if the process happens in the moment, you’re now living and being present in the moment.

So, in turn, you can be detached from the outcome. And when that happens, you’re no longer driving your own agenda, and allowing the space for a new and a better outcome to be created.

Micalizzi: On the whole driving your own agenda. I know this is a huge problem — I’ve been a manager before — with a lot of managers when they coach is, it’s really hard to let go of those assumptions you’ve already made and really help guide the person to whatever the right answer or approach is for them. How are you helping sales reps to do this with customers?

We’ve spent so many years being tell-directed. We know what we’re trying to sell you and we’re trying to get you there. Whereas now it sounds like we’re really flipping the model entirely, and as we should, we’re putting the customer at the center.

Rosen: I couldn’t agree with you more. Which is why the greatest salespeople today, just like the greatest leaders, they’re managing and selling with questions, not with answers.

So, if you go back to your question about these costly assumptions that salespeople make that, quite frankly, lose sales and sabotage your best-laid efforts. The way I help salespeople amplify their awareness and expand their peripheral vision around these costly assumptions is first doing an exercise with them.

And I would suggest any manager out there taking this exercise, steal it from me — of course you can give me the attribution if you like, that’s up to you — but the exercise is actually very simple. Take your team, or break them up into a couple of teams depending on how big your team is. The first question you want to ask your team is, write down all of the information that you need to know about every specific prospecting customer that would help you capture the information you need to provide a custom solution for them.

So now, all the salespeople, they’re making these lists. The second part of that exercise is, okay, now that you have made the list, I want you to create a question that will extract that information from the customer. And when they do this, it is a breakthrough, epiphany moment for both the managers and the salespeople.

Because what they’re doing now is they’re shifting away from assumptions and now they’re moving to a place of assessment to validate any costly assumptions that they may be thinking, which are often based on past experiences. If we’re talking about eradicating the costly assumptions that salespeople make, and having them transform from assuming the facts to assessing the facts.

Here’s a great example. I remember working with this one salesperson, and we were doing a deal review. We talked about deal A, deal B, and deal C. And the salesperson said to me, deal A is closed, and of course I congratulated him. Deal B, the salesperson said, Keith, I’m still working on it. But deal C, Keith, it’s dead. It’s dead. It’s a budget thing. They don’t have the money. My first question to that salesperson is, is that what the customer told you?

And more times than not, the response that I hear is, well, Keith, given my experience, it typically comes down to price. That’s an assumption. That salesperson never gathered the facts that they need in order to make that decision whether or not there’s an opportunity to serve that customer. So, that’s one great example of one assumption, but there are dozens more.

For example, when meeting with the prospect, do you assume the objective of the meeting is to get the sale? Or, the reality is, it’s to see if there’s a fit. Or, when sending out collateral material, do you assume the materials contain the information that the prospect wants or needs? That’s an assumption. Then we wonder why we don’t hear back because all that prospect did was, get the email, open it up, delete it, or it just went right into their spam box.

Or how about this one? Do you assume how the prospect, or customer, even wants to be contacted when following up, and the frequency of follow-ups. That’s one of the biggest misses I hear from salespeople. Because they’ll come to me stressed out saying, Keith, I don’t know how to follow up. Do I call them? Do I fax them? Do I email them? Do I IM [instant message] them?

And by the way, I don’t know the frequency. Do I call them tomorrow? Do I call them next week? Do I wait two weeks? But wait, I don’t to wait too long because I don’t want my competition to come in, and conversely, I don’t want to be too aggressive where I turn the customer off. Well, the answer is really simple. Ask the customer. Ask the customer.

So, these are just some examples of assumptions that sabotage every salesperson’s best-laid efforts.

Micalizzi: So, Keith, everything we’re talking about here is definitely taking a different approach to selling. And I know managers and leaders are always hesitant to take any changes unless there’s evidence that this is going to work. So, I’m assuming you’ve already done quite a bit of research on this. Would you share a little bit about what you’ve found in terms of the impact of taking this approach.

Rosen: Actually, yeah, I’m super excited and the timing couldn’t be better. I’m really proud and so thrilled and happy for one of the clients that I’ve been working with for several years. And we took the time to put together, not only a pretty sharp-looking case study, but more important, the content in the case study.

So, just to give you the overarching objective here of what we did, the cover page reads, “Creating a High-Performance Culture Is the Key to Success.” And just to give you some very specific and measurable examples that were tracked, that were tracked by this company.

What they have found is absolutely extraordinary. They found that, since 2015, they’ve experienced a zero percent voluntary turnover rate and can confidently say they retained the best talent in the industry. And that’s just one mark. Another mark was, because of the shift in their vision and cultural values — check this out — net income is up 117%.

And it gets better. Gross profit has increased by 67%. Tell me a company that does not want to achieve those results. And even other things that companies may feel aren’t measurable, but they did enough studying and interviewing of their customers to validate this. Which is, client loyalty, satisfaction, and the value they provide increased exponentially.

And their team is more confident than ever in the results that they can deliver every single day. One other data point that I felt was absolutely fantastic is the income. The income of each one of their employees over the years has increased 60%. So, said a different way, as the company is becoming more successful, they’re rewarding their staff with as higher compensation package.

Micalizzi: Taking this new approach to selling requires a different skill set for the managers and leader that are being hired as well as the sales reps. If I’m trying to build out my organization and I’m looking to hire sales managers, what kind of skills do I need to be looking for to really find someone who’s going to develop this coaching skill, versus bring more kind of traditional selling approaches?

Rosen: I think there’s two parts to that equation. First, I think it’s the questions that managers need to craft that would give them the evidence that this type of person is not only coachable but sees the value in coaching their customers to succeed. Conversely, on the other side of that, the candidates need to make sure they’re asking the questions to assess that, number one, the culture is a fit for them, and, number two, the management style is also something that they would respond to and allow them to grow and succeed.

Micalizzi: I know this is probably not a skill that a lot of reps — especially those early in their career — are good with, or have a lot of experience doing. So, what kind of questions do you think they should be asking?

Rosen: What kind of questions should every candidate be asking their potential employer?

Micalizzi: Yeah. Especially to figure out if this is the right culture and the right management style.

Rosen: It’s interesting. It’s one thing to like the company. But we’ve all heard the expression: People don’t leave companies, they leave their manager. Because at the end of the day, every employee is interacting with their manager. So, therefore, the manager is the one who’s creating the culture and your experience at your job every single day.

So, I’m just going to rattle off — Zen stream of consciousness right here, Kevin — nine questions to ensure that your new manager’s leadership style and company culture fit for you. Which, quite frankly is going to determine your development, fulfillment, satisfaction, and success. So, here they are.

Number one, how would you describe your management style? How do you develop and coach your employees? Can I talk to some people in this role? And that includes top performers, mid-performers, as well as low performers to best assess what makes people successful. Here’s another question: Who else would I be interacting with? Am I a sole contributor? A team? Or am I working with cross-functional teams, peers, and managers?

Who else would I be reporting to? Is there a dotted-line manager? Is there a cross-functional team manager? And here’s another question: Can I meet with the person who would be my manager if the interviewer isn’t going to be your manager? How would you describe the culture of your company?

And here’s two more questions: Please describe your ideal candidate. And that includes everything from performance, ideal characteristics, how they collaborate, how they communicate, how disciplined they are, their skill set, their mindset, their attitude, their level of personal accountability, their level of responsibility.

And finally, how many salespeople are hitting or exceeding their goals? So, these are just a handful of questions that every candidate needs to ask the manager to ensure that it’s a cultural fit and they love their job. And really, if you think about it, these questions work very nicely when any salesperson or candidate is looking to coach up.

Micalizzi: How about, for the hiring managers, as they’re going through that interview process? Are there key questions you’ve found are great for assessing if they’re going to be good in this coaching, selling role?

Rosen: I have how many minutes left in this podcast, Kevin?

Micalizzi: [Laughs] Okay, why don’t we narrow it down. Let’s say top three.

Rosen: I’ll tell you what — how about, in the spirit of making everyone’s life easier, let’s talk about the questions that really help best assess whether or not that candidate’s a fit or is going to imminently result in a mis-hire. And just in the spirit of what defines a mis-hire, there has to be the perfect storm for any new hire to succeed.

It has to be the right candidate with the right interviewing process and the right onboarding process. That is how you’re going to attract the ideal candidates. So, all those things have to come together. If we were to work off that presupposition that they are, the favorite interviewing questions that I always implore managers and hiring managers to ask are more of those behavioral interviewing questions.

So, said a different way, managers can always talk about, well, let me know about you prior role, and what did you love about your prior role, and if you could design your ideal career what would it look like? And if you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time? And if you were to come aboard here, what would be your 30-, 60-, 90-day plan?

And you want to know what? People can come up with some amazing responses to that. And the hiring manager would leave that meeting saying, oh, I got the best candidate here. The problem is, they only asked half of the questions that they need to, to truly assess whether or not that person’s a fit.

So, here’s the thing. Anyone can fake strategy. I can talk all day about my 30-, 60-, 90-day plan and what I’m going to do the first day I’m on the job, all the way through the 90th day on the job, so I can ensure my success. What you cannot fake in an interview are your writing skills and your communication skills.

So, for example, one of the things that I suggest every company do — and I see this as a huge miss — is assess not just spoken acumen, but written acumen as well. And even the companies that tell me, but Keith, I have people that write an essay and send it to me about why they would be the candidate of choice. And that’s a great idea. I like to take it to another level, to make it even more strategic and more tactical.

And when I tell managers to do is as follows. Now, this can be done virtually, or it can be done face-to-face in an office. You tell the candidate, listen, I’m going to send you three emails. One email is going to be from an irate customer, one email is going to be from a customer who’s thinking about going to a competitor, and one email is from an internal peer that’s looking to resolve a very timely and sensitive issue. You have 20 minutes to respond to these three emails.

Now, why 20 minutes? Because you are, number one, assessing how well they work under pressure and how efficient they are. Number two, you’re assessing their written acumen. So, they’re going to send back three responses to three different scenarios where the manager can assess: Are they writing like a true professional or are they writing like my 5-year-old?

And that’s when I find managers using that as the final determination of whether or not to make an offer. Because if the email isn’t crafted effectively, if there are grammatical or spelling errors, if they cannot organize their thoughts in an efficient way … Let’s face it, salespeople are spending the majority of their time communicating with their prospects and customers via email, text, instant messaging. These are all written skills.

So, if you think about it, and you think about the type of brand you want to create for your organization, or even your personal brand, your email is your personal brand. Your voicemail is your personal brand. The conversations you have with your prospects and customers is your personal brand. If you haven’t mastered that, it’s going to create an impact on your performance and your success.

Micalizzi: Most definitely. So, Keith, this has been phenomenal. Before we wrap up though, I need to ask you the lightning-round question: If you can take all the knowledge and experience you have now, go back to the beginning of your career, and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

Rosen: Be present. That’s it. Because we are living in such a result-driven world. I have yet to run into any organization that, when salespeople have a target on their back, by default you become result-driven. And to get a little more cerebral with you, if you’re result-driven, think about where the result lives.

The result hasn’t happened yet. And if you look at the three points of time — the past, present, and the future — if you’re result-driven, if you focus on driving your own agenda, if you’re focused on winning, if you’re focused on closing a deal, if you’re focused on your goals or your expectation, even your feels or concerns or worries, those all live in the future.

Let’s go back to the definition of selling. Selling is the art of creating possibility. Possibilities are created in the present. When you are creating something, creation happens in the moment. Active listening and artful questioning happens in the moment. Driving deeper engagement with your peers, your internal advocates, your internal customers, as well as your external prospects and customers happens in the moment.

So, if you are fully present, you are driving a deeper level of engagement. One that other salespeople are not able to do. And by being present, not only does it enhance the quality of your life, because life happens in the moment, you are exponentially accelerating your personal success and the success that every one of your customers will experience from you.

Micalizzi: Great advice. Thank you, Keith.

Rosen: It is deeply my pleasure.

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