A few weeks ago, I was out with a client on a sales call. Sometimes I do this to better assess the dynamics between the prospect and the sales rep, or the sales rep and his or her manager. There were four of us at this particular meeting: the sales rep, his manager, the prospect, and me.

About a third of the way through the call, the sales rep started to struggle. The questions he was asking had no rhythm or direction. It was as if his only intent was to ask every question he had written down and rehearsed prior to the call. He wasn’t listening to the prospect’s responses or acknowledging what he shared. You could almost hear the rep’s inner monologue: “I really need to ask some good questions to uncover the prospect’s challenges, impress my manager, and show this sales training dude that I’ve been listening in class.”

After a few minutes of this painful exchange, the sales manager swooped in to save the day. At this point, the sales call went from a struggle (the rep trying to find the perfect question) to an all-out blitz. The sales manager took over and started listing all the reasons his company was the best in the city. There were no more questions. In the manager’s defense, it was obvious he felt they had lost enough ground and credibility that he had to resort to impressing and proving a second conversation would be worth scheduling.

By the end of the meeting, the prospect actually agreed to meet again. It felt like a 15-round TKO. Everyone was still standing, but worse for the wear. In the short term, both the sales rep and his manager had averted disaster.

The experience at that sales meeting, coupled with a conversation a week later with a potential client, helped me connect the dots between the process of coaching a sales rep and teaching your child to swim.

Imagine taking your child to swim lessons and in order for her to earn a
certificate she has to swim a lap. Before
she starts, you dive in and swim the lap to show her how to do
it. After she swims her lap, the instructor hands your child the certificate and says,
“Congratulations, you can swim.” Your daughter may have
earned the paper that says she can swim, but can she really? Are you
comfortable sending her to swim on her own? Of course not. So, why do the same thing to your sales reps?

Teach Good Form

When the sales manager jumped in to
save the rep (opportunity), the tactics he used were poor at
best, and were only successful because that’s how he had
learned to sell. To relate this to the swim analogy, imagine
swimming the lap for your daughter using a stroke that isn’t
teachable, repeatable or effective. You’ve taught your daughter a technique that doesn’t work (the doggie paddle) and that’s all
she’ll know.

It’s the same in sales when you’re coaching and mentoring. Teach good form and your sales rep will be successful. The time you spend coaching and mentoring your sales reps not only helps you with the short-term goal of having a positive sales call, but more importantly gives your sales reps the opportunity to learn and improve with consistency.

Do a Pre and Post-Call Review

Always do pre-call previews and post-call reviews with your sales reps. The best pre-call plan is
to make sure you are both focused on the prospect and on
determining how and if you can help him. This will drive your actions and align the questions you ask.
Analyzing sales calls will help you and your reps continue to improve on future strategy and technique.

Use the Same Language and Approach

When you’re on a joint call,
you and your sales rep need to speak the same sales
language and be united in your approach (use the same strokes). It’s okay to have different strengths, but make
sure your techniques are repeatable.

Don’t Compete for the Prospect’s Attention

Prevent the prospect from feeling like they are part of a
ping pong match, bouncing between you and your sales
rep, with each of you trying to achieve something different
based on your individual strengths.


Allow Individuality

Identify areas where the rep can improve that aren’t biased
 to your strengths. Make sure you don’t find yourself saying
“Do it this way, that’s how I do it.”

The dynamics between a sales rep and coach (mentor) are extremely important. As the coach, always be aware of what your natural strengths are and be open to what the rep is trying to achieve. Avoid the tendency to jump in based on your skill biases and allow the rep to sink or swim every now and then—just make sure the water is shallow.