Today’s post is by Jason Jordan, coauthor of Cracking the Sales Management Code and a founding partner of Vantage Point Performance – a global sales management training and development firm. Jason is a recognized thought leader in the domain of business-to-business sales and teaches sales and sales management at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.
I have been trained many times in the strategies and skills of negotiation – even taking a full course in negotiation during graduate school. Consequently, I’m a decent negotiator. However, there is one thing about negotiating that has always flummoxed me, and it’s something that was never mentioned during any of my training (that I can recall, at least). That is, how to know when you’re actually in a negotiation.
Signs that You’re in a Negotiation
There are plenty of venues where you know you are in a negotiation. Two lawyers sitting across the table from one another ready to make a deal…negotiating. A buyer and sales manager in a car dealership haggling over price…negotiating. A woman and her fiancé in a showroom selecting a china pattern…negotiating. In any of these situations, you know a negotiation is taking place. In fact, both parties know it, and it sets the tone of the discussion. Everybody knows they are there to do business, and some form of haggling is going to take place.
But there are other situations where it’s not so obvious. For instance, when the person across the counter in a jewelry store is telling me the price of a watch. Do they have the authority to negotiate? Maybe, maybe not. And if not, I look like a jerk if I pull out my hardball negotiating techniques. We’d have one person in an aggressive negotiating stance, and another standing flat-footed and confused.
Or what about when the firewood guy comes around every year to sell me a truckload of wood? Is the price he’s giving me really non-negotiable? If so, I come across as a jerk trying to pressure him into taking less hard-earned cash back to the family’s table. We’d have one person trying to save $20, and the other irritated and insulted.
How to Execute a Good Coaching Conversation
I think that is the way coaching is, too. Unless both parties know they are in a coaching conversation, sales coaching doesn’t seem to work. From the manager’s perspective, it takes a very specific mindset to execute a good coaching conversation. You have to come to the meeting prepared to coach and be in a collaborative mood. You have to keep the meeting structured so distractions don’t take you off task. You might need to bring information or data with you that will facilitate an objective conversation. In short, a sales manager has to know he’s going into a coaching conversation and be prepared to create an environment to do so.
From the seller’s perspective, you need to come to the meeting with a mindset to be coached. You need to expect to be challenged and know it’s not a personal attack. You need to bring high-priority opportunities you’d like to discuss with your manager. You need to expect to delve deeply into a few opportunities or sales calls rather than rattle through a list with dozens of deals and issues. In short, a seller also needs to know she’s going into a coaching conversation and be prepared to do so.
The Difference between Sales Coaching and Just Talking
Yet this is not how most “coaching” conversations take place. Frequently, if we ask sales managers, “How often do you coach your sales reps?” the response we receive is, “I talk to my reps all the time.” Well, of course you do. You talk to them when they call unexpectedly about some issue, and you talk to them when you call them about something that just came to your attention. They call you to tell you they just won a deal, and you call them to clarify something from an email they sent. However, none of these is an acceptable venue for sales coaching. They are venues for exchanging information.
The ad hoc or unplanned interactions sales managers have with their sales reps are not coaching sessions, because most interactions between a manager and a rep are not scheduled in advance. They are triggered by some event or a realization that information needs to change hands. Right then. Unless that incoming call was scheduled in advance and both parties entered into it knowing it was a coaching conversation, it is not a coaching conversation. It’s just, well…a conversation.
So, just as I need to know I’m going into a hotly contested negotiation, I need to know I’m going into a value-added coaching session. Whether I’m the coach or the coached, I need to be prepared for the content, tone, and structure of the interaction. Otherwise, I’m just having a conversation.
Set the Stage for Sales Coaching Success
This is one of the biggest hurdles we see between the current state and the ideal state of coaching. Managers can’t, don’t, or won’t set aside time on the calendar for regularly scheduled coaching sessions. Coaching is the most important thing that doesn’t have to happen by Friday afternoon – unlike forecasts, pipeline reviews, and the other fires that flare up during the week. There just never seems to be enough time, and coaching is the one nice-to-have that sellers rarely get to have.
So, if you want to be a better coach, set the stage for success. Schedule coaching sessions and call them that. Set clear expectations for what’s going to take place, and then make it happen. If you create the venue for high-quality coaching, you can provide high-quality coaching. If you don’t, you’re destined to have a lot of, well…conversations.