I am blessed to have a wonderful perch in the world of sales coaching. Clients pay me to listen to their sales managers’ coaching conversations with their salespeople. I then debrief with the managers on what went well and what might be improved.
One of the behaviors I’ve observed in some sales managers is a lack of ‘tending’ the conversation. Meaning, the sales manager fails to actively contribute to a healthy conversation.
Since these are all by phone or video conference the effect is pronounced because of delays inherent in the technology.
Let me explain. Can you think of someone with whom you find it difficult to have a conversation? Specifically, when you talk with this person there’s often too much dead space and it feels like you two don’t easily play off of each other to create a healthy banter? The conversation feels strained.
One of my sales manager clients in the past consistently did the following on his coaching calls. The rep would say something as simple as ‘we got the business at ‘x’!’ The manager’s reply would be first, silence, pause, and then often he would ask some question. Buzz kill! Instead, how about saying ‘great job! That’s awesome!’ I don’t mean to pejoratively criticize. It’s something we worked on.
Several years ago Mike Bosworth, the Solution Selling creator, told me about ‘tending’ conversations as a key to good story telling. When the listener is locked into what the other person is saying, and when he or she actively displays that, in whatever way, the listener is tending the conversation. The person talking feels it and feels a stronger emotional connection.
In contrast, when the listener is not listening well, is perhaps thinking of what his reply is going to be, or is just distracted or bored, the person telling feels that too. There’s little emotional connection going on.
Net net – if you don’t tend your reps’ part of the conversations your coaching will suffer.
The next time you’re having a coaching conversation with a salesperson, especially over the phone, make it clear you’re listening. Occasionally acknowledge what she’s saying. Provide brief affirmations when appropriate. Give confirming phrases. Let them know you’re still there.
Another way to tend the conversation is to ask questions. If she says “I’m heading over to see ‘x’ tomorrow to discuss the rebate program”, you might say “Good. Can you walk me through your call plan?” If he says “I need to pivot to spend more time with ‘x’ accounts over the next couple of months”, you might quickly say “That sounds like a change in strategy. Can you walk me through your thinking?”
Tending the conversation is an effective way to get a salesperson back on track or to move on necessarily to another part of the conversation. If she’s spending too much time on a topic you might interject “This has been helpful. Thanks for sharing this. Let’s shift to talking about ‘x’.”
Finally, another way to tend effectively is to limit your distractions. If you’re on a conference call minimize or even close applications on your screen that tempt your attention. Don’t think they can’t tell when you’re checked out.
Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching
Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel