By Tamara Schenk
Research Director, CSO Insights
“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” –Yogi Berra
I love that quote. It fits so well into the world of sales, where salespeople are regularly expected to give more than 100%. And while it’s certainly true that half of sales success can be attributed to skills, it’s also true that there is a strong mental component to being “at the top of your game.” In both professions, coaches have to focus on more than just the player’s tactical skills. They need to focus on the whole person: body and mind.
What good coaching looks like
At CSO Insights, we define coaching as “a process which uses structured conversations to help salespeople develop their performance in the short and long term.”
I like that definition for several reasons:
- It focuses on the dialogue that needs to happen between salesperson and manager. Coaching is not about performing the role for the salesperson—a trap many first-time sales managers fall into. Coaching is not about telling what to do. Instead, it’s about asking the right questions to help the salesperson develop adaptive selling skills that allow them to reach ever-higher levels of performance and self-sufficiency in a dynamic selling environment.
- These conversations are structured, following a proven approach for improving performance in sales and service roles, tailored along the entire customer’s journey. They are not drive-by criticisms that leave the struggling person more demoralized than motivated. Nor are they “atta-boy” comments about good performance that do nothing to turn around problem areas.
- The focus is on both the short- and long-term performance goals. Coaching that focuses only on the short term will never create sustainable performance improvements.
Our work also emphasizes the need for front-line managers to focus both on managing the activities and coaching the related behaviors that lead to results and can be managed directly. That last component is vitally important. Many new managers make the mistake of focusing on end results, e.g., quota attainment, but not enough on how to get there. In their defense, it’s often not their fault. This is the way they were managed, and they are just modeling the non-coaching behavior of their previous bosses.
The problem is that you can’t really “manage” a quota or revenue. You can only manage the activities and the related behaviors—pre-call prep, adherence to proven sales methodologies, tailoring the value messages, collaborative selling techniques, etc.—that lead to this desired outcome.
The conference on the mound
Baseball isn’t nearly as popular in Europe as it is in the U.S., but given how much traveling I do in America, I’ve watched a game or two. I can’t say that I’ve grasped all the nuances yet, but one aspect of the game fascinates me: the conference on the mound. To me, this is coaching put to the test.
This conference seems to happen most often when a pitcher is struggling. The coach, followed by the catcher, trots out to the mound for a short, private confab with the pitcher. I’m not sure what gets said, but I doubt the coach is instructing the pitcher on the finer points of throwing a curve ball. The time for that has passed. Nor do I think the coach is threatening the pitcher: Strike this guy out or you’re finished! That would hardly be helpful in an already stressful setting.
More than likely, the coach is sharing some perspective on the game that the pitcher doesn’t see because he’s under so much mental stress. It also seems likely that he’s offering a few words of encouragement, maybe even asking the pitcher how he’s feeling, e.g., How’s your shoulder holding out? He wants to make sure the pitcher still feels confident in his ability to perform. It’s the ultimate moment of truth for coaching because there isn’t much time for the discussion, and everyone, including the coach, is under pressure.
A typical sales or service coaching session is no less pressure-filled for all involved. And the same strategies that work so well on the mound apply here, too. That’s why Integrity Solutions’ laser-like focus on the mental side of the frontline manager’s coaching responsibilities is so important—and so effective. Their 5 Drivers of High Achievement sets a pitch-perfect tone for a productive coaching session by encouraging the coach to create a supportive environment focused on how the person can succeed rather than dwelling on what’s going wrong. Not only does this approach help the person improve their performance, it helps keep their attitude positive and their head in the game.
No matter who the players are, that’s a winning formula.
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