Obstacles get in the way, slow you down and force you to change direction, settle for less, or flat-out stop in your tracks. In short, they prevent you from achieving your goals. In business, these barriers to success can be physical, but they are more often process-oriented, procedural or behavioural in nature. What obstacles are in the way of your sales team, and how can you help your sales reps to overcome them? How much revenue are you losing from obstacles due to slow, low or no sales?
There’s no app for this — Google Maps can’t help you reroute to circumvent the obstacle blocking the path. By their very nature, obstacles deter or impede progress, which in this context is selling. The key is to start coaching sales reps to resolve the issues for themselves in order to overcome them in the future.
Coaching, Not Doing
Sales managers can’t do it all. They can’t see every client, ride along with every sales rep or make every decision to be made throughout the sales process. Here are five steps sales managers should take to help their sales reps to overcome obstacles to selling.
- Identify the obstacle. What behaviour is getting in the way of the sales rep’s success? Try to understand the sales rep’s perspective. Every person is unique and possesses their own backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, while each client (even in the same industry and geography) is similarly distinct, meaning that an obstacle for one person may not hold someone else back. Embark on a questioning dialogue in a manner that leads the sales rep to identify the obstacle. You might have a theory, but they know more about the situation and variables than you do, so don’t assume. Besides, if you do it for them, then the outcome will seem like your idea and directives akin to an assignment as opposed to something they uncovered on their own (albeit with your help).
- Coach the sales rep to remove or circumvent the obstacle. Once you agree on the obstacle that’s in the way, the next step is to determine the best steps to take to overcome it. Again, this isn’t a time to be directive (even if you have something in mind). Take a page from the lawyer’s handbook and “lead the witness” if you must, but really try to get them to own the solution.
- Individual follow-up — ensure changed behaviour avoids these obstacles. Their numbers should be an indicator, but don’t assume that no news is good news. Take a long-term interest in your sales reps’ development, and follow up with them in regular intervals to make sure they’ve truly moved on from their old habits.
- Look for patterns among your sales reps. When you see many sales reps struggling with the same issues, sound the alarm and get help for your team. Perhaps training is necessary to get them over the hump. Don’t ignore warning signs of larger problems.
- Rinse and repeat (watch for new obstacles). Just because you’ve helped sales reps overcome an obstacle doesn’t mean that’s all there is or ever will be. In the same way that problems and rewards get bigger as a child becomes an adult, so too do issues grow in significance as you sell bigger solutions to bigger companies higher up the food chain. There will always be some kind of obstacle that could get in the way. Help your sales reps — no matter how seasoned they may be — to recognize and avoid new blockades.
The critical factor here is to start coaching sales reps to help themselves. Yes, you might be able to do it for them or give them the answers they need in order to proceed, but that’s enabling them to repeat the same behaviour that led them to this predicament. This ancient proverb sums it up best:
“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
At the beginning stages of the coaching relationship, your role should be more extensive and directive. However, over time, your role as a coach should diminish as the sales rep learns to self-assess and then self-coach. Regardless of how much you direct, keep the responsibility for identifying and removing the obstacle with the sales rep.
The objective is to coach in a way that makes the sales rep responsible. As the sales rep learns to figure out what the obstacle is and how to remove it, less direction will be needed. Your role is to add value, refine the solution as necessary, critique and modify and offer guidance to help the sales rep successfully develop the best solution.
You must leverage your time and abilities across all of your sales reps to get them to help themselves to overcome obstacles they face. It’s the only way they’ll grow as professionals, and it’s the best way to grow your revenues.