I was recently at a soccer tournament with my 12-year-old son. His team had won its first few matches and was in the semi-finals. The stakes were high – win and move on, or lose and go home. The kids were playing well but losing by one goal with only a few minutes left in the game. Their coach, whom I know to be a very smart man, then said something that I thought was pretty dumb. He screamed onto the field:
“Come on guys, we really need this one!”
The kids’ reaction to his comment was actually quite interesting. As you would expect from a good group of kids who really wanted to win, each of the players immediately turned to their coach as soon as they heard his voice. And with all of their attention on him, the coach used that valuable time with their undivided attention at the end of the game to say, “We really need this one!”
Well just as quickly as the players had turned their attention to the coach, hoping for some wisdom or guidance, they dismissed his comment as the usual coaching gibberish. They returned to their soccer game, no better or worse for the uninvited intervention. Because of course, they already knew that they really needed this one. They knew it was a must-win situation. In the end, the coach’s words were not very helpful.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many smart sales managers squander precious time with their salespeople saying similarly dumb things. Like the VP of sales on stage who announces, “I really need you all to hit your quotas this year!” Or the manager who tells his team, “Q4 is going to make or break this year for us!” Or the ‘coach’ who tells a failing salesperson, “If you don’t improve your performance, we’re going to have a difficult conversation the next time we meet.” Yep, they all knew that. They already knew that the game was on the line – even before their coaches said, “Come on guys, we really need this one.”
So why do smart sales managers say such dumb things at the precise moment when their sellers are in need of guidance and coaching?
Is it because they don’t have anything more insightful to say? I don’t think so. I think it’s actually a programmed response from decades of sales forces being run using motivation as the primary management strategy. Motivation, motivation, motivation.
If you think about it, we do everything possible to instill urgency in our sales forces. Weekly meetings, monthly commissions, quarterly quotas, and constant reporting… All meant as mechanisms to keep the sales force working as hard as possible. Sales forces have been run with a persistent, unspoken assumption: More work = More sales.
Perhaps motivation was the best management strategy during the by-gone era of transactional selling, when knocking on more doors would consistently lead to more sold vacuum cleaners. But sales has evolved into a sophisticated profession in which sellers need more than just motivation. They already have quotas and commission plans. They know they really need this one.
What salespeople need today is effective sales coaching
They want thoughtful guidance on how to succeed in their roles. You’ve given them clear go-to-market strategies. And smart sales processes. And good sales tools and training. What they need now is help using all of those things effectively.
So let’s move beyond motivation as our primary management strategy, and let’s start coaching our reps to higher levels of capability. If a group of 12-year-olds can tell the difference between motivation and coaching, you can be sure your sales team knows the difference too.
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