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Exploring the NEW Psychology of Selling

Customer conversations

driving change in your sales organization

4 March 2022Article

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Evolving to Match Your Customer's Needs

Evolutionary mismatch occurs when our traits are no longer advantageous because the setting in which we use them has changed. This problem is common because traits take much longer to change than the changes that unfold in the surrounding environment.

An evolutionary mismatch in selling is becoming increasingly apparent in our world because the speed of environmental change continues to intensify. Seeking to respond with ever-changing goals, initiatives, and impulses rarely works because those reactions are often relevant only to the moment.

The effective approach is not to learn how to chase but to learn how to change.

Here we offer five ways that individual sales professionals and teams can develop the capability to change – a skill that will be valuable in any setting. 

Adopting New Behaviours

Behaviour change is complex. There appears to be an endless list of factors influencing whether or not a person adopts a new behaviour. This complexity might explain why social psychologist Icek Ajzen set out to determine the key determinants of behaviour change. His findings have made him one of the most influential social psychologists in history with his work being cited more than 325,000 times.

Ajzen conducted a meta-analysis – a study of other studies – to understand why people adopt behaviours, and why they do not. In doing so he developed what he calls the Theory of Planned Behaviour which shows us that three factors underpin change.

Ajzen explains that “attitudes toward the behaviour, subjective norms with respect to the behaviour, and perceived control over the behaviour are usually found to predict behavioural intentions with a high degree of accuracy.” The beauty of this finding is that it distills the requirements for behaviour change into a simple three-part list:

  1. Does the person view the behaviour as favourable or unfavourable?
  2. Does the person believe that the behaviour is important to those who are important to them?
  3. Does the person perceive the behaviour as easy, or difficult to execute?

To understand why each of these factors exacts a major influence on behaviour change, it is important to examine the ideas behind each.

The first question of favourability reflects the degree to which the person has a positive or negative attitude about the behaviour. As Ajzen explains, our attitudes can be thought of as the residue of our past experiences. This idea is important because past experiences have enormous implications for what we perceive as good or bad.

The second question underscores the influence others within our circle have over us. We have an inherent need to gain the approval of those we deem important. Therefore, if the behaviour is considered important to someone who is important to us, then we believe the behaviour to be important also.

Finally, the question, “does the person perceive the behaviour as easy, or difficult to execute,” matters because a person’s confidence in their ability, their self-efficacy, is a major driver of outcomes.

Making the Behaviour Favourable

As Ajzen’s research shows, the behaviour is far more likely to be adopted if it is seen as favourable in the eyes of the individual. This finding is important to sales leaders trying to instill new selling behaviours in a team because it illustrates the importance of articulating the “why” behind the new selling behaviour. Sales leaders can answer this question by drawing a clear connection between the behaviour and the meaningful outcomes they yield.

Here, it is often helpful for leaders to cite real sales wins that were accomplished with the new behaviours. A sales meeting is a convenient forum for illustrating the connection between a recent success and the action that made it happen. It is important for sales leaders to remember that every win is consequential. Therefore, it is important to highlight even small wins.

Put simply, when sales professionals see the effectiveness of the skills in real selling situations, they’re more likely to continue using them. In other words, skill effectiveness gives sales professionals agency, and agency underpins sustainment.

Making the Behaviour Important to the Individual

The research shows that behaviour adoption is more likely when the individual believes that the behaviour is important to those who are important to them. This finding reasserts the benefits of cooperative learning which stem from Social Interdependence Theory. This theory suggests that a sense of “positive interdependence” emerges when each learner understands that goal attainment is a group endeavour. Research shows that this theory is “validated by hundreds of research studies, indicating that cooperation, compared to competitive and individualistic efforts, tends to result in greater achievement.” Positive interdependence leads to a higher skill proficiency than a traditional, solitary approach.

Additionally, if the leader can develop their coaching skills, they will simultaneously develop a meaningful relationship with each of the sales professionals on their team. This relationship will, in turn, create a dynamic in which the individual values what “important others” value. However, the leader must earn the status of an “important other.” They must foster a coaching relationship that transcends the conventional manager and subordinate relationship. Research from the Journal of Business Ethics shows that simple acts like receptiveness to advice, delegating important tasks, offering public support, and encouraging creativity all yield respect, and respect leads to growth.

Making the Behaviour Easy

Making the behaviour easy means clearly labelling the steps that form the selling process. Doing so means adopting a sales formula that guides the sales pursuit. The activities, skills, dialogues, and tools must coalesce to form a single, agile method that drives consistent outcomes, fluidity in team selling, and customer-centricity.

A simplified selling methodology means that the approach can quickly become universal throughout the organisation which offers benefits like scalability because changes can be made across teams allowing coaches to align everyone to a single, defined process.

Simplicity also reduces “noise” in the sales organisation. “Noise”, as defined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and his co-authors, is the presence of variability in judgements that should be identical. According to their work, most people estimate a variation of about 10% among people judging the same scenario when in fact the median difference is 55%. Simply, noise is five times larger than we think. The authors suggest “decision hygiene” as a solution. At the core of the decision, hygiene is the idea that one should delay intuition when making a decision. This idea reaffirms the importance of using a clear sales process that keeps sales professionals focused on the objectives that matter.

The Takeaway

Creating behaviour change is a complex endeavour that can be simplified by focusing on the three conditions that matter. Social psychology helps clarify these three conditions. Moreover, these characteristics are relatively easy, inexpensive, and fast. The research suggests that the behaviour change requires:

  • Creating a favourable view of the new behaviour by connecting the behaviour to positive outcomes
  • Making the behaviour important to the individual by first focusing on relationships
  • Simplifying the behaviours with blended learning and a codified process-driven approach

Facilitating Change

Behaviour change initiatives often fail. This failure is not due to the commitment, attentiveness, or willingness on the part of the individual. Instead, failure is often due to the complexity inherent to behaviour change. This complexity stems from the fact that default behaviours have deep roots and therefore change requires constant vigilance which taxes our cognition. Perhaps this complexity explains why the Fogg Behaviour Model is so effective; it is simple.

The Fogg Behaviour Model (FBM) is named after Brian Jeffrey Fogg, author, and founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. As a social scientist, his work explores ways to simplify behaviour change. Specifically, his research endeavours “to automate behaviour change” so that the challenge of adopting new behaviours is less demanding of our thought and therefore more sustainable.

The FBM outlines three conditions needed for behaviour change. First, the individual must be “sufficiently motivated.” Second, the person must “have the ability to perform the behaviour.” Third, they must “be triggered to perform the behaviour.” Simply, the FBM is about motivation, ability, and triggers. Moreover, all three of these factors must be present at the same time to have the intended effect.

The effectiveness of this approach not only stands up to reason, but it also stands up to research. Consider a study conducted at Kansas State University that showed that “comparing pre-experiment survey data to post-experiment survey data provides promise for FBM.” This outcome illustrates the ability of the FBM to drive meaningful results not only because it is simple to understand, but also because it is simple to enact.

B.J. Fogg explains that the key premise behind his work is simple: you ask people to do something easy. As a result, they will likely be successful at performing the action. This early success will prompt them to continue that behaviour. Over time you can gradually ask that person to do a little bit more. Fogg calls this “success momentum.” Building this momentum means taking small steps because attempting a leap forward often results in failure which discourages the individual from changing their behaviour.

This approach is important for those in sales roles because the job is already characterised by complexity. There are numerous relationships to manage, different positioning scenarios to consider, layered CRM systems, and constantly evolving customer needs. In fact, the FBM becomes even simpler when one considers that “motivation and ability are trade-offs” as Fogg describes. In other words, even if motivation is low a person might perform the necessary behaviour as long as the behaviour is simple enough. Both motivation and ability are of little use without a trigger. The trigger, however, must be well-timed. It must occur when the behaviour is needed.

Here, we examine how sales leaders can leverage the principles of the FBM.

Motivation

Often, a sales meeting is the best way to reinvigorate a team. However, too often, sales meetings are considered an obligation rather than an opportunity. Sales professionals, eager to engage with customers, watch the clock as they wait to get back to the next call. Meanwhile, discussions of performance and goals get lost in charts and figures. We assume sales meetings must be this way. Motivating sales professionals means focusing on three key best practices for sales meetings.

First, leaders must keep the meeting relevant. Sales professionals must leave the room knowing that they’re in the hands of someone who has their real interests at heart. Sales professionals are focused on the content that represents the leading edge of sales. Leaders can satisfy this need by offering insights and research that adds to the seller’s arsenal.

Second, the meeting must be dynamic. Sooner or later, the attendees must become participants. Leaders can spark this dynamic in several ways. Seeking feedback on current challenges will often get people talking. Additionally, leaders can ask participants to share stories of why a recent sale succeeded or failed.

Third, keep it positive. Consider designing the sales meeting as a resource event where the team can develop solutions together. Sales professionals might be surprised to discover that the expertise or insight from another teammate might help them make that last push.

Ability

Fostering the right abilities among your sales team means offering blended learning which is a form of instructional design that combines online learning with traditional classroom experience. The effectiveness of this hybrid approach can be seen in the estimated 79 percent of public institutions of higher education in the US that now offer blended courses. The blended approach works by combining three components.

First, the blended learning solution must include a baseline assessment of the learner’s specific, personalised growth opportunities. This step ensures that the content is right-sized to the learner’s existing capabilities and builds on what they already know.

Second, participants need instructor-led material that is customised so that the best practices align with the organisations’ real selling situations. Practicing with real scenarios matters because learners can put concepts to use fast.

Third, learners can’t practice what they don’t remember. Without a structured sustainment plan, participants begin forgetting material the minute they leave the classroom. Therefore, learners need digital learning that offers the immediacy of on-the-job skill sustainment.

Triggers

Within sales, the "trigger" for new behaviour could be thought of as the prompt to transition from one skill to another during the customer’s buying journey. In other words, the “trigger” in the behaviour change model here comes from the customer’s actions which signal when the sales professional must leverage different skills.

For example, it is critical to know when the negotiation process has started. Moreover, within the negotiable process, it is important to know when it is time to start trading. Trading is one of the negotiator’s most powerful tools because it guards the negotiator against one of the most common traps in a negotiation: making a concession. Without an understanding of when trading should begin, a sales professional risks moving too fast, too soon.

The key is for sales professionals to be alert to the natural triggers that occur throughout the buying journey. In this setting the triggers are not as pronounced as those usually cited in the FBM, however, they are present, nonetheless.

The Takeaway

The most powerful aspect of the FBM is the way it distills a complex task – behaviour change – down to three elements. With an understanding of these three parts, any sales leader can take Fogg’s research and apply it to the challenge of instilling new practices in members of the sales team. Doing so means:

  • Motivating sales professionals with relevant, dynamic, and positive meetings
  • Offering sales training via a blended learning design
  • Identifying the triggers in the buyer’s journey which indicate the need to leverage different skills

Building a Blueprint for Skill Growth

Sales professionals increasingly work in teams. Therefore, improving the selling behaviours of the individual means changing the behaviour of the team because, “groups profoundly affect individual behaviour,” according to research from the University of California. Moreover, to improve the group’s behaviour the sales leader must increase the saliency of the group according to findings in the same body of research.

The researchers explain that a group is salient if “members of the group recognise its existence and they also believe that other group members recognise it.”

Through a series of observations, the authors of the study learned that fostering this recognition means creating an environment with three characteristics.

  1. Each member must know that the other team members are aware of their choices.
  2. Each team member needs feedback reflecting the outcome of their decisions.
  3. The benefits of success are shared by all, a feature called “common payoff.”

These findings are important to sales leaders because they provide a blueprint for developing skill growth. Each of these three concepts can be applied to the challenge of creating behaviour change within a team. For example, leaders can ensure each team member is aware of the other’s choices by structuring the sales methodology around a universal, shared language in which all sales professionals are working from the same playbook. Providing prompt feedback can be achieved with a clear communication strategy. Lastly, to develop a common payoff leaders can prioritise long-term measurements.

Saliency matters because increased salience boosts the group’s identity and research from the University of California has shown that in a “strong-group-identity condition, cooperation increased significantly.” Other findings published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation echo this idea. In a paper titled Managing Diversity by Creating Team Identity, an economist from Virginia Tech concluded that “actions designed to enhance team identification contribute to higher levels of team cooperation.” Achieving this kind of cooperation is becoming critical as success in selling depends more on team cohesiveness.

The challenge: developing the group’s identity is particularly difficult as more sales teams become geographically distributed. One solution is to create a warm-up period. The same researchers learnt that working together on an unrelated project prior to the main team production task “significantly enhanced the subjects’ cooperative tendencies.” Unfortunately, this warm-up is rarely available to teams. Schedules are tighter. In-person interactions are sporadic.

Therefore, it falls to the sales leader to overlay a framework that can build the group's identity in a meaningful and authentic way without the need for significant lead time. Here, we examine the three key ways leaders can do so by leveraging the three factors that drive saliency in a team.

Adopt a Consistent Selling Methodology

Expanding departments, merging divisions, and growing teams lead to inconsistent selling methods. Sales professionals with a long tenure have an established approach while those who are new have a different style. As these disparate groups come together, an unevenness sets in.

This challenge intensifies as the organisation’s solutions grow and change. As the products and services become more holistic and sophisticated, they often require new selling skills to fully articulate the breadth of their capabilities. Too often, the selling organisation becomes a patchwork of inherited practices and bold new initiatives. The solution: adopting a consistent selling methodology and a common sales language across the organisation. The benefits are four-fold.

First, consistency drives accuracy in performance measurement because all sales professionals are measured against the same framework.

Second, the burden of accommodating different selling styles means that sales enablement risks losing sight of the customer. As enablement becomes accustomed to working within a uniform methodology, they develop more resonance with the touch points in the buyer’s journey.

Third, a consistent selling methodology is critical as sales teams increasingly include subject matter experts, executives, and implementation professionals.

Fourth, consistency drives efficiency. Today, customers need effective solutions fast. Competing priorities and limited time mean that sales professionals must get to the root of the challenge earlier. A universal selling methodology uncovers the customer’s needs without wasting valuable time.

Deliver Clear Communication

Leaders must make their plans clear. They must communicate their commitment to the long term. And while sales leaders can’t ignore the reality of short-term sales goals, they can communicate and position them in the context of a more strategic or longer-term plan. Making the connection between the short- and long-term focus and goals is critical in times of uncertainty and pressure.

Without clear messaging, teams will not coalesce around a long-term mindset. Moreover, the cost of poor communication is immense. A survey from The Holmes Report determined that the total estimated cost of poor communication across 400 corporations reached $37 billion. 

Clear communication is:

  • Relevant: Sellers, by nature, are competitive. As a result, they’re tuned into messaging that represents the leading edge of sales. Leaders can satisfy this need while also driving performance by offering insights and research that are actionable.
  • Inclusive: Leaders should seek feedback from sales professionals and learn what challenges they face. This kind of participation reminds sales professionals that they are part of a team with shared goals and shared challenges. It also ensures that the sales leaders get real-time insight into what is happening on the ground with customers so that they can remain agile and shift as necessary — and spot potential trouble with customers before it becomes a bigger problem.
  • Consistent: The messaging should always connect to the same set of overarching goals. Focusing on the long-term means avoiding the push and pull of passing trends.

Prioritise Long-Term Measurements

A long-term measurement framework is what sustains focus on the future. Leaders demonstrate their commitment to the long-term when they create performance measurements that strike the right balance between the short-term and the long term. This commitment drives financial results. An analysis from McKinsey shows that “long-term firms added $7 billion more

in market capitalisation on average than other firms between 2001 and 2014.” This finding comes from examining firms that choose to rely “less on accruals and accounting methods to boost reported earnings” and instead focus more on fundamental value drivers. 

Matching the messaging to the metrics means adopting measurements like:

  • Attrition: According to a body of research from the Centre for American Progress, the median cost of turnover is 21% of an employee’s annual salary. Leaders should view attrition as an indicator of the organisation’s ability to properly engage and develop sales professionals.
  • Contract Value: A quick win is appealing when the focus is on the short term. Sales leaders with a long-term approach put more emphasis on the contract value of wins rather than the number of wins. Measuring contract value reveals the ability of a sales team to create strategic, long-term relationships.
  • Profitability: A focus on profitability helps prevent the price cutting that occurs when leaders attempt to quickly push a deal over the line.

The Takeaway

Cooperation among team members means boosting team identity. While this can occur naturally over the long-term the reality of today is that many teams do not have the time to allow this process to unfold. Therefore, creating unity through team identity means making the group more salient by:

  • Adapting a consistent selling methodology and a common sales language
  • Renewing focus on clear communication that is relevant, clear, and inclusive
  • Emphasising long-term performance measurements designed to foster growth

Create Conditions for Lasting Change

Professional learning can instill a sense of anxiety. This anxiety arises from the expectation that new skills, behaviours and processes must be learnt and applied to the job to deliver meaningful outcomes. If these anxieties are left unaddressed, they can impede the learning process. This idea comes from findings in a study Learning to Detect Change conducted by researchers at Wharton School of Management, and the University of Chicago.

The researchers examined which learning environments are most encouraging of skill adoption. They discovered that two key factors drive behaviour change: consistency of feedback and tolerance of errors.

Consistency of feedback means offering direction that is ongoing and focused on a fixed set of goals. Tolerance of errors refers to the leadership’s willingness to accept mistakes during the learning process. Some refer to this kind of tolerance as “psychological safety.” Put simply, learners need ongoing feedback and the freedom to make mistakes if they are going to succeed.

The researchers suggest that creating an optimal learning environment requires two changes.

  1. Leaders must increase the quality and quantity of feedback to avoid the confusion hat comes from inconsistency, a phenomenon the researchers call "chasing the noise."

  2. Leaders must avoid narrow, short-term incentives that distract the learner's focus from the skills they are adopting.

The research underscores the importance of feedback and tolerance in the drive to adopt new behaviours. Feedback is important because in many cases it is inconsistent and therefore leads to equally inconsistent behaviours. Research findings published in The Handbook of Behavioural Operations shows that “individuals seem to underreact to change in unstable environments and overreact to change in stable environments.” This idea is called the system- neglect hypothesis. This hypothesis is important to leaders seeking to encourage behaviour change in sales professionals because it is a reminder that the likelihood of change is a function of the environment in which it occurs. Therefore, feedback is critical to controlling both underreaction and overreaction.

Simultaneously, tolerance, on the part of the person tasked with changing the behaviour of a team, is crucial because “when consequences are high in a complex environment, individuals focus more on rewards and punishments, rather than how to best perform the task” according to the research in Learning to Detect Change. This finding illustrates how a low tolerance environment can distract the individual.

Here, we look at ways in which sales leaders can create meaningful behaviour change through coaching that offers consistent feedback within a psychologically safe environment.

Be Consistent with Broader Company Goals

Coaching fails when it is discordant with company goals. In this scenario sales professionals are likely to become frustrated as they are pulled in different directions. When coaching is congruent with company directives sales professionals enjoy greater support. They are working within an environment that is optimised for their success.

In meeting their own goals, they are achieving the goals of the company as well. Moreover, this consistency makes it easier for sales professionals to see the rationale behind the manager’s coaching decisions. They can see the importance and logic behind the manager’s remarks in a coaching conversation.

Additionally, consistency creates a uniform approach to selling. This uniformity makes it easier for managers to isolate what is working and what is not. It is also helpful for sales professionals seeking to exchange ideas and strategies with each other in the business. With a universal set of goals sales professionals can more effectively coalesce as a team. They develop more “buy-in” to the coaching and become better positioned to drive revenue.

Boost Engagement with Open-Ended Questions

Coaching serves more than just immediate goals. Coaching can also address broad issues like engagement. Regular coaching conversations keep people connected. This involvement is a precursor for engagement, which is necessary for any successful organisation.

Consider findings from Gallup, which reviewed data from 31 million respondents. The researchers learnt that “employees who are engaged are more likely to stay with their organisation, reducing overall turnover and the costs associated with it. They feel a stronger bond to their organisation’s mission and purpose, making them more effective brand ambassadors. They build stronger relationships with customers, helping their company increase sales and profitability.” These findings are a powerful endorsement for the kind of engagement that comes from coaching.

Therefore, coaches must take time to prepare. They must develop questions with a set of skills. Doing so ensures that the questions become conversational and not interrogative:

  • Prefacing: State why you are asking the question. Doing so makes the question conversational and less jarring.
  • Phrasing: Keep the phrasing open-ended. Don’t ask leading questions that box the individual in.
  • Pursuing: Ask drill-down questions when necessary. As mentioned earlier, occasionally, additional questions are need when there is misalignment.
  • Pacing: Ask one question at a time. Do not overwhelm the individual with questions nested in other questions.

Evolve with Sales Professional's Career

Coaching should account for the sales professional’s level of experience. A professional who is new to selling will need foundational skills. Sales professionals with a long tenure need a coach who can move at their speed. Coaching that evolves with the sales professional’s career also means accounting for differences in the time devoted to coaching. A sales professional with many years of experience may only need coaching during unique, or critical moments of the sale. In contrast, a sales professional new to their career can benefit from more intensive coaching.

It is important to note that one’s career status is about more than just years of experience. Career status is also about ability. Therefore, effective managers account for the sales professional’s capabilities when determining how to coach. Consider research conducted by McKinsey covering 13,000 senior managers working at 112 companies. They also analysed 27 companies known for their top-tier talent and surveyed an additional 100 companies seeking to upgrade their talent pools. They learnt that “that high-performing companies are 33% more likely to take deliberate action on C performers than average-performing companies are.” In many cases this “deliberate action” is a more intensive focus on coaching.

Coaching is not one size fits all. An effective coach considers the characteristics of the person they are caching.

The Takeaway

Fostering meaningful change across a sale team means delivering consistent feedback while also ensuring that every team member knows they have the freedom to make mistakes in the learning process. 

Making these two ideas work means incorporating them into a coaching practice characterised by three traits:

  • Articulating how the individual's goals are connected to the broader company goals
  • Coaching with open-ended questions that make the sales professionals a participant
  • Customising coaching to individualised goals

Foster Self-Efficacy

Too often coaching is perceived as directing. As a result, the topic of coaching ignores, paradoxically, the person being coached. It ignores the simple fact that the coach is only half of the picture. The other part of the picture is the person striving to improve. This incomplete picture in much of the writing explains why so many ignore one of the most influential factors in coaching outcomes: the self-efficacy of the learner.

Self-efficacy is the degree to which a person believes they can take the actions necessary to drive a specific outcome. Simply, self-efficacy is one’s belief that they can perform when and where it is needed. This concept is different from the idea of confidence because it is underpinned by several key factors identified by psychologist Albert Bandura, the fourth most cited psychologist of all time according to the American Psychological Association.

For coaches, self-efficacy is important because it is a reminder that much of what determines behaviour change comes from within the team member being coached. An effective coach keeps this idea at the centre of their thinking and actions. They take steps to help foster the individual’s self-efficacy because when a setback occurs, those with high self-efficacy “recover more quickly and remain committed to their goals,” according to research published in the International Journal of Psychology. What makes self-efficacy so powerful is that it instills a sense of agency that lasts beyond the coaching conversations.

Self-efficacy matters because it drives long-term success. It is a characteristic that lends itself to all scenarios. If a sales professional has a strong sense of self-efficacy, then they have resources to approach any challenge. This confidence is a precursor to the kind of critical thinking that enables sales professionals to navigate the complexities of a sales cycle that is iterative and dynamic.

When a coach makes the team member’s self-efficacy a priority, they are empowering the individual with an outlook that will serve them well beyond the relationship. Bandura’s work in the field of self-efficacy expresses the idea that beliefs about oneself are even more influential than one’s previous successes. The reason: someone with a high level of self-efficacy believes that outcomes are driven by what they are able to do in the present and not what they were able, or unable to do in the past. That is, beliefs about capabilities have a stronger influence over outcomes than previous performance.

Others have countered that self-efficacy is not enough if it is not paired with skills. While this idea is true, the reverse is also accurate; skills and training are of little use if the individual does not have the self- efficacy giving them the ability to apply those capabilities at the right times, in the right ways. This is the reason why effective coaching seeks to instill self-efficacy in the individual.

Here we look at three ways in which coaches can foster a team member’s self-efficacy.

Form a Multi-Faceted Approach to Coaching

Effective coaching is as much about doing as it is about discussing. That is, to develop a sales professional’s skills a coach should consider not just talking points in the coaching conversation, but also coaching activities. More specifically, coaches should carefully consider the blend of activities they bring to the sales professional. The value of leveraging a variety of learning exercises in the right proportions is evident from research published in the Journal of Marketing Education.

The study, which included over 500 participants, determined that “experiential learning” was “significant in impacting self-efficacy.” The researchers later provided more detail on this outcome of their analysis when they wrote that coaches “should liberally use ‘real-life’ sales resources.” Such resources include activities like “shadowing” sales professionals in the field and building deeper relationships with other sales professionals in the organisation.

Additionally, in-the-field activities that unfold with a coach are helpful because they provide a higher-stakes atmosphere. In this setting a sales professional has an opportunity to drive real selling outcomes which, in turn, will boost self-efficacy.

This multi-faceted approach underscores the basic idea that coaching for self-efficacy means giving sales professionals opportunities to demonstrate what they can do both inside, and outside the classroom. This is particularly good news today as more sales organisations engage in virtual sales training in which a cadence of shorter intervals of learning allows sales professionals to apply new skills to real selling opportunities between sessions.

Make Self-Efficacy a Cultural Component

Coaches often reside at the middle or top of the organisational framework. This location in the hierarchy matters because as research from PwC shows that when asked about the causes of cultural problems “87% of directors say inappropriate tone at the top leads to problems with corporate culture. But almost as many [79%] point to the tone set by middle management.” Moreover, the same body of research determined that approximately two-thirds of directors simply use intuition, or “gut-feeling” to evaluate the culture, but only one-third believe such an approach is useful.

This research illustrates that culture is driven by the leadership, and that the absence of a clear and intentional effort to shape culture will leave the workforce adrift. Moreover, the research shows that the most frequent action taken to course-correct culture is enhanced employee development and training programmes. Such programmes are the perfect opportunity to embed self-efficacy into the identity of the organisation.

However, developing self-efficacy is an ambitious goal. Therefore, this goal requires broad-based buy-in across the leadership and the organisation as a whole. Doing so begins by understanding what skills would drive a team member’s sense of self-efficacy. Leaders can uncover this information by interviewing each sales professional and simply asking questions that reveal the factors that foster each person’s sense that they are in control of outcomes.

With this information leaders can then begin to clearly communicate the intended culture and the way in which they plan to develop self-efficacy among the team. This sequence of question and communicate works because it shows the sales professionals that their responses were instrumental in shaping the culture. This approach jump starts the development of self-efficacy because it demonstrates how the individuals actually effected the formation of the culture.

Don't Forget the Team

A focus on developing self-efficacy presents a unique risk; bolstering one’s belief that they control outcomes might result in a loss of team unity. If a person become too anchored to the idea that they are in the driver’s seat they might forget that selling is increasingly a team endeavour. Fortunately, coaches can build what is referred to as “collective-efficacy,” or self-efficacy at the team level.

Research shows that task interdependence is a “necessary condition for the emergence of collective-efficacy.” Task interdependence is the degree to which members of a team must cooperate to achieve the necessary outcome. Teams can also enjoy the benefits of self-efficacy when members work together. The key here is to remember that in certain settings self-efficacy is merely a precursor to the ultimate goal of collective efficacy. The stronger the individual’s sense of self-efficacy, the more they can contribute to the team as long as they know that the team’s performance is the sum of every member’s contribution.

Coaches should remember that self-efficacy should not come at the expense of the team and that self-efficacy, if perceived properly, can in fact be a benefit to the team.

The Takeaway

Effective coaching means forming a long-term approach to developing the skills of a team member. To do so, a coach must instill a sense of self-efficacy which will serve the sales professional long after the conversation ends. Bolstering one’s self-efficacy means:

  • Coaching through the use of practical experiences, not just conversations and classrooms
  • Building a culture that prioritises self-efficacy
  • Developing teams that operate from collective-efficacy
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