Imagine you're a sales manager in the midst of meeting with a potential new customer. Your sales rep is running the meeting, and things are not going the way you had hoped. In fact, the salesperson is talking too much, making a presentation that is lengthy, and obviously not creating enthusiasm in the prospect. What do you do?
A. Take over the meeting.
B. Delicately involve yourself to redirect the focus of the meeting.
C. Sit and observe the remainder of the meeting.
If you answered A or B, you are like most managers. You would take control or partial control in hopes of salvaging the meeting and demonstrating how things should be done. In reality, this tactic fails to improve the skills of the salesperson and may not even improve the outcome of the meeting. Whether you answered A or B, your intervention during the sales call potentially jeopardizes your salesperson's credibility. More importantly, you, as the sales manager, would have missed a prime coaching opportunity. Ultimately you must ask yourself why your salesperson was not performing up to expectations in the first place.
If you answered C, (sit and observe the remainder of the meeting), consider yourself a bit of a Zen coaching wizard, similar to Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Even when things were going poorly for his teams, Jackson rarely panicked, demonstrating a calm that is rare for coaches. This is because he accepted the fact that he couldn't enter the game to play. He had to allow his players to perform.
Sales managers should consider themselves limited in much the same way. A great Zen coach and mentor does not flinch in the face of disaster, but rather recognizes that even failure is a learning opportunity. He must accept that he will not always be present to bail his salespeople out of difficult situations. The difference between coaching in professional sports and in business is that the sports coach must accept his inability to enter the fray. In business, the coach must proactively choose to let his players play, even when there is occasional risk of a bad performance.
Sales managers, because they are often promoted as a result of their outstanding success as salespeople, remain anxious to display those skills after they have stepped up the ladder. But in order to achieve management and coaching success, a sales manager must avoid the temptation to do the job for his or her reps and instead strive to clone his or her own skills.
One of the great characteristics of Phil Jackson and other outstanding coaches is their power of acceptance. They accept that success is in the percentages. You can't win them all, and losing is not always a bad thing. Great leaders recognize that failure and poor performances are opportunities for coaching and leadership. For example, when a salesperson realizes that things have not gone well, particularly when a supervisor is in the room, he or she usually becomes receptive to constructive feedback. When the sales manager takes over a meeting, the opportunity for providing constructive feedback is stifled. The salesperson, believing that he or she was on the verge of pulling out of the tailspin, resents the involvement and lack of confidence displayed by the sales manager. Thus, constructive feedback from the sales manager after the meeting is typically met with resistance, and the potential for a confrontation escalates.
A sales manager can take advantage of a powerful opportunity by staying calm during a poor performance and reacting with positive feedback afterward. The salesperson expects the worst—an angry or disappointed manager who will deliver a reprimand. When the manager reacts calmly and demonstrates the learning opportunity inherent in the moment, the relationship is dramatically improved and the salesperson recognizes the value of the manager as a career coach. At the same time, the manager provides positive feedback that enables the salesperson to improve upon his or her overall performance.