Sales Managers Tend Your Coaching Conversations

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.

Good Selling,


Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

How to Leverage 80/20 for Sales Success

You’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule.  Also called Pareto’s Rule.  It’s one of the simplest, hardest principles to consistently apply. But boy does it pay off!

Take a quick test.  Look at your reps’ weekly or monthly to do list.  How many times do they fail to completely finish it?  How does that make them feel?  Are they finishing the goals that will make the biggest impact on their quotas and their lives?

Do your salespeople a favor and help them apply 80/20. Here are some ideas.

One – work on selling deeper into their existing customers before letting them pick ‘x’ new customer targets.

Often I see salespeople that aren’t getting more share of their existing customer business.  They either don’t target getting more share or they assume that the customer that buys from another company wouldn’t consider buying more from them. But these are great ‘Stage 0’ conversations to proactively engage with the customer.  It might sound as simple as this:

“I’d enjoy the opportunity to learn more about your total business needs and how we might better serve you. Can we get together to discuss?”   

Two – consider firing some of their existing customers.

Who would walk away from existing business?  I have a client that does this through its ‘product line simplification’ process.  It’s in their DNA to do this.  They spot low volume, low margin products that hurt the bottom line. Not only do these products return low margin but they also gobble up production time that could be spent producing and selling higher margin products.

Three – practice saying ‘no’.

This might be the hardest for many salespeople.  They love the hunt right?  But getting better at saying no to business that will cost more to service and with customers that offer little potential for growth and volume is often good business practice.

What happens when your salespeople exercise any of these strategies is they are forced to double down on existing customers and those with truly attractive potential for longer term growth and volumes.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Think of Rebounding When Coaching Salespeople to Prospect

How do you help salespeople prospect when they struggle to do so?

As a sales manager you may have that rep (or more) who struggles to add new early stage opportunities to their sales funnel.  Sometimes it’s a ‘farmer’ type who you’re trying to get to ‘hunt’ more.

During our clients’ Funnel Audits each month we inevitably discuss how to prospect to build healthier sales funnels.  It takes only a few cycles of Funnel Audits for us to know if a rep is generally more or generally less naturally inclined, and therefore competent, to prospect.

I realize this topic is a monster of possibilities but here I offer some of the simple ways we help our clients with this vital function.

A Qualifier

Many of my clients are SMBs that don’t have staff or know-how for running email marketing campaigns or lead nurture programs. Therefore much of the job of lead gen falls to salespeople.  You see why this can be a problem.

Here are ways we tackle this challenge.

Identify The Main Issue

I try to dumb down the prospecting challenge by asking the rep and manager these two questions:

Is your challenge more about getting access to the stakeholders in companies you have identified to call on, or

Is your challenge more about finding companies to call on? 

When the challenge is getting access we focus on these tasks:

1 – Are you targeting the right stakeholders?

2 – Is your message compelling enough to get their attention?

3 – Are you being persistent enough?


When the challenge is finding more companies to call on we focus on this:

1 – Are you sure you’re getting as much share of current customers’ business as you could be?

2 – Are there divisions or business units or lines of business within current customers that you could be referred to?

3 – Do you have a vetted target account list of potential companies?

4  – Are you being persistent enough?


See what’s similar? Again, I realize there’s more complexity to this challenge, but we have to start somewhere.  Often I find in my coaching that salespeople lack the persistence element.

Finding more companies sometimes means the rep needs to have ‘shorter term memory’.  They’ll say they don’t call on ‘x’ because ‘x’ turned them down the last time they pitched some business, or ‘x’ has been buying from competitor ‘y’ forever.  This may be true but it’s also defeatist.  Sales managers have to encourage reps to get back up to the plate again, take another shot, and keep trying, albeit with different creative approaches.

I think prospecting is a bit like rebounding in basketball.  Several years ago I taught my son’s 4thgrade team how to box out.  But in the games the boys who grabbed the rebounds were typically the ones who wanted the ball more, not necessarily the ones that boxed out well.  College announcers comment all the time that the team that wins the battle of the boards are usually the teams that looked like they wanted it more.

Prospecting struggles often come back to how bad you want it.  If you give up after a few tries of trying to see someone or break into a new account you’re doomed.  In my experience highly persistent salespeople are often rewarded by a stakeholder who finally gives in or even feels bad for not returning the call.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Establish the Difference to Sell the Difference

A client of mine sells HVAC services to commercial, medical, and industrial facilities.  They’re in Houston, a hot market in more ways than one.

Their hourly rate for service calls can be 50% higher than the competition.  How do they compete with that?  In a strategy discussion I recently had with one of their salespeople I suggested 3 things, and in this order:

  • Establish the differences
  • Link the differences to ‘what matters’
  • Ask which company you’d prefer working with

Establish the differences – My Guy was about to meet with the customer’s finance person.  He’s already gotten a quote from a competitor.  My Guy’s rate is 50% higher than the competitor’s hourly rate.  On paper Mr Finance sees only one difference between the two companies – 50% in the hourly rate.

I told My Guy to establish the differences between the competitive company and his company.  Make sure Mr Finance knows what makes up the 50% rate delta.  Establishing the difference isn’t running through a list of features or credentials that you’re impressed with and hope that he’s impressed with.  Establishing the difference is also not the same as trying to convince Mr Finance that your difference is better.  Not yet. It’s just different.

My client is different in the process it follows for diagnosing the situation and recommending a solution.  For Mr Finance’s company my client’s process pinpointed the problem in half the time as the competitor and also found areas of attention and concern that could need addressing later.  The competitor did not uncover these issues.  It’s different but why is it important?  Here’s where it gets fun.

Link the difference to ‘what matters’ to the customer– Mr Finance doesn’t know HVAC, but he knows he spends a lot of money sometimes with HVAC companies.  He likely has three things that matter – and this is how he is evaluated.  Plan well, budget appropriately, and avoid financial surprises.  By alerting Mr Finance to potential problem issues My Guy has helped Mr Finance meet his three objectives.   My Guy has also given Mr Finance a reason to advocate for him.  Before, it was easy to look better paying a $90 rate instead of a $135 rate.  Now, he can look better by showing his boss that he’s planning and budgeting and avoiding surprises better, all important to running the business.

Has the competitor done that?  No.  Why not? Either they didn’t have the skillset to find the other issues or they found them and chose not to tell.   Which leads us to the final step.

Ask which company you’d prefer working with– I cautioned My Guy to not bring an attitude with this question, like it’s a rhetorical question with an obvious answer.  I said don’t be surprised if Mr Finance says he appreciates the differences but can’t pay for them.  If this is Mr Finance’s conclusion then he’s decided that that he prefers taking the higher risk with the competitor who doesn’t help him with planning and budgeting.  Politely he should say that’s too bad that we’re not a good fit.

Some customers and some deals are not a good fit.  I’m not a Harley guy.  I’m more of a BMW guy.  I prefer craft wheat beers to big production lagers and pilsners.  My Guy has to have the stomach to walk away – as long as he’s established the differences well.

Can’t wait to hear how this sales call goes.  I’ll let you know.


Good Selling,


Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle Named a Top Ten Sales Book by Selling Power

Author (soon to be released!) Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Created The BuyCycle Funnel

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance









When Running the Sales Marathon, Mind Your Sales Reps’ Splits

In a marathon there are officially 26 splits, or miles, that a runner passes.   The runner focuses on hitting the splits to stay on track to finish the race in his or her target time.

The splits act as a leading indicator.  If the runner is under the split she’s on track to finish faster – or she could be headed for a crash if her pace is too fast.  Either way the split is information she can act on.

As a sales manager you’ll want to help your salespeople run the annual sales marathon by minding their splits.  We call these monthly 1:1 splits (conversations) Funnel Audits.  They play a key role in sales managers’ coaching.

The sales marathon over a year can be broken into 12 monthly splits.  Setting goals and priorities for 30 days is less overwhelming and more manageable than setting goals for longer periods.  You’ll want to have sound, meaningful and structured conversations every month (each split) to keep your reps running the race the right way.

The manager uses the Funnel Audit to make a couple of key assessments at each split.  The first one is YTD sales performance.  Is the salesperson at 100% of the year to date quota?  Usually this is a reasonable measure of where your rep could end up at the end of the year.  Unfortunately sales performance is a lagging indicator, valuable in looking through the rear window, but not looking through the front windshield.  Sales reps need to know where to put selling attention for the rest of the year.  That’s the value the Audits give.

Here are 4 things our clients do around minding the splits.

They manage to what the leading indicators tell them.  The main leading indicator they manage to is what we call TVR, Total Viable Revenue.  TVR is the funnel value.  The salesperson and manager both know exactly how much TVR should be on the funnel at any time throughout the year.   They compare how much TVR they should have to how much they really have and then manage to the delta.

They focus on what they can control. Salespeople can’t really control the outputs, sales, but they can control the inputs, that is, what they choose to prioritize and the selling activities to influence each sale.  At each Funnel Audit the manager and rep are deciding where to put selling attention now.

They mind the splits early to start fast. When you get your salespeople to mind their splits in January and February and not to wait until May or July they have more time to use the TVR leading indicator to make course corrections in their sales funnels.  Some of our clients even mind their splits in early Q4 or late Q3 of the previous year to start off the next year with a healthier sales funnel.

They keep the process simple and they commit to it.  Our best clients religiously do Funnel Audits every month.  They defend simple. They don’t drift out of the structure of the conversation.  They parking lot non-Funnel Audit issues and deal with them later.

Don’t forget to stretch before your next run!

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Created the BuyCycle Funnel

Author The Funnel Principle

Author of soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching





Managing the Sales Funnel with Channel Partners

How do you manage a sales funnel when a portion of your business goes through distributors?

For the purpose of this blog I’ll refer to all intermediaries between a manufacturer and end user as channel partners.  I don’t mean to deny any specific dynamics that must be addressed; rather, I’m choosing to comment on what’s fundamental about managing the funnel through this relationship.

Managing the funnel is every bit as important when working through channel partners.  Manufacturers need to know where deals are in the buying process.  This helps them influence the buying process – create funnel movement.  It also helps them forecast.

The channel complexity I’ve seen with my clients the past 20 years makes managing the funnel a challenge.  One challenge is when the channel partner won’t reveal much about the deal they are working on. They keep information close to the vest. It’s hard to ‘stage’ these deals.   Another challenge is when the channel partner doesn’t invite you to strategize with them to move the deal through the process.  This is particularly frustrating when the channel’s sales competency is low.  You feel defenseless.

Do you ‘stage’ deals based on where the manufacturer is in selling to the channel partner, or based on where the channel partner is in selling to the end user?

The answer could be yes!

One thing to keep in mind is that the funnel is based on ‘opportunities’. It’s not a funnel of accounts.  An opportunity has a dollar value and a purchase date, and likely a purchase order or contract that creates obligation.

If a channel partner can buy $200,000 of your stuff why not make that a funnel opportunity?  A PFA has to bless the purchase, a buying process is present.  Loading distributors has its pros and cons so beware.

You can also base your funnel on the end user purchases from the channel partner.  This is what pulls your product through and sustains revenue growth.  I’ve had clients that needed to pivot the sales team to be more focused on selling to the end user.  They used The Funnel Principle to do this.

Last, for now anyway, you can’t avoid channel conflict in most situations where a distributor is involved.  Here’s another reason to get good at your funnel management within this environment. The funnel gives you the necessary focus and allocation of selling time to what’s important.  Giving more than just visibility, the funnel gives insight that directs the team to the right selling activities.


Good Selling!


Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching


Not so fast sales managers!

I often feel like I’m operating in hyperdrive, with 15 spinning plates of my everyday life wobbling precariously, getting light headed as my eyes race left then right then left, trying to spot the next one that’s about to fall.

I’m getting drenched with data and drips and insights and hindsights and quests and requests and all I want is a dry place to sip my coffee, or a little Kentucky bourbon at the end of the day. Just a little.

Therefore, to deal with all of this (all of my choosing) I work harder to get better at faster processing the flood of what comes at me. In other words I try to get to conclusions as fast as possible. Process this one. Then move on to the next one.  Wash.  Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve created an illusion.

I compare it in a way to multi tasking which apparently is not possible, they tell me. The brain isn’t capable of doing that. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I spin more plates.

Recently I was facilitating a coaching workshop with front line sales managers. One of them was new to his region. He was a veteran of sales and held management positions in his career. On the shuttle bus to the airport at the end of the week he said his strategy has been to get to know his salespeople first.

I said you’re brilliant.

My advice (since they were paying me to offer it) was this: resist the temptation of quickly coming to conclusions about your people. How long does it take to really get to know someone? Have you figured out your spouse? Your dad? Your sister? Your neighbor?  Do you really know all of the pivotal events throughout their lives that shaped their personalities and prejudices and cause them to do those little things that annoy the kabootle out of you?

I see this front line sales manager as sort of in a construction zone with his salespeople, needing to slow down and put both hands on the wheel.  Then, pave that new road that allows his sellers to get back to full speed as soon as possible.  Go.  Sell.  Now.

Leading people isn’t easy. Front line sales managers have a phenomenally challenging job. Manage up and manage down.  Manage sideways.  Manage high maintenance customers.  They process an avalanche of to dos every day. A fun house of spinning plates. But these plates are not all equally pressing.  Maybe some of them are able to crash to the floor and cause little damage.  The ones with salespeople’s names on them should glow, though it’s not always obvious.  Salespeople don’t want to be processed.

This manager also recounted an earlier job as a salesperson himself.  He said his manager called in daily to ask “what’d you sell today?  Why not more?  What’re you gonna do tomorrow to fix that?”  Coaching?  Maybe in some language I’ve never heard of.  Pity the fool for grabbing the pant legs of his people as he went down the drain.

Frameworks and methods and skills can certainly help sales managers do their jobs. Then there’s Empathy and Curiosity, supported by Patience and Vulnerability.  How do you teach that?  Who’s going to sign off on that training?