Are You Developing Your Reps' Sales Skills?

BY Tim Londergan
Featured image for “Are You Developing Your Reps' Sales Skills?”

To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.” This needlepoint phrase sticks in my memory from childhood. In fact, the actual cross-​stitch was less than perfect and rather amateurish in its pastel colors and slightly twisted frame. But it reminds me that we often overthink simple tasks and underperform many of the more difficult ones. Furthermore, we make the job harder than it has to be. When developing your reps' sales skills, you may be overthinking the task.

However, doing a simple task uncommonly well is often the solution to many of our larger, more difficult problems. To sales managers, I’ll direct the focus of these thoughts toward coaching and developing your rep’s sales skills. Admittedly, it's tempting to forego the task altogether, because it can be overwhelming in its scope and importance. At the same time, today’s sales environment requires managers to step away from traditional teaching models and place the responsibility for learning directly on the young salespeople.

Hold on loosely while developing your reps’ sales skills

Skill development is a process, according to David Pearson, CEO of Level Five Selling. Moreover, skill development requires coaching. Secondly, Pearson cautions that even winning products and services in today’s competitive environment enjoy only short-​lived success. Therefore, you cannot rest on last week’s product innovations and yesterday’s price comparisons. Finally, he places the burden on salespeople to take ownership to develop their knowledge and sales skills to an uncommon level.

Get coaching right

Pearson shares the best practices of sales leaders and the commitment required for a successful program. Admittedly, many sales coaching programs begin with unparalleled enthusiasm and, over time, diminish as priorities change and the punishing aggravations of day-​to-​day routine divert the passion. While developing your rep’s sales skills it is important to accurately diagnose the problems and recognize the best opportunities for improvement. Coaching then becomes essential.

Coaching is a thought-​provoking process

We measure leaders by their ability to inspire and influence others. However, sales managers are often conflicted by too many priorities and the pressure to get things done NOW! Tonya Echols PCC, CPA, writing for trainingindustry​.com, extends 3 Key Coaching Skills for Leaders to help managers perform these common coaching tasks uncommonly well. Here are some thoughts on two of her three main points.

Listening – Echols distinguishes listening as a function of sharing rather than one of auditory reception. She encourages coaches to “create space to let the other person share their perspective.” Without judgement, suggestions or inserting personal beliefs, coaches must reiterate what the subject is saying to assure understanding. But before you are moved to share, be sure you have heard what your rep is saying. If you get it wrong, allow them to correct you and make sure there is mutual understanding before moving on.

Questioning – This practice encourages meaningful thought and inspires others to think more deeply to uncover valuable insights on their own. According to Echols, “Asking questions creates the space for those “aha!” moments that people cannot experience when they are told what to do or think.” When you ask a sales rep to break out the steps in a process they are having trouble with, they may suddenly see on their own where they are stumbling. 

Many sales managers have a tendency to jump into a difficult situation and "save the day" for their reps. Unfortunately, that reaction trains reps to think that only their manager can handle problems. Your reps will feel more confident in their abilities when you help them learn to identify which skills needs work and the various ways to improve them.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash