How does coaching help when leading sales teams?

Coaching can help generally in the workplace, and not just when leading sales teams. From a management point of view, it’s a great skill or ability to have, regardless of the team you are leading.

Here, Richard and Graham look at how knowing the way to coach properly can be invaluable in helping develop your people, including sales teams.

The first thing to know about coaching is that many people misunderstand what it is. Mention the word and their first thought is possibly about a sports coach, shouting at their team from the sidelines, imploring them to do better. Or they see it in a negative context, imagining a formalised session with their manager in which coaching is a remedial tool to improve their failing performance.

Although coaching can sometimes be about improving poor performance, equally it can be about helping someone who’s good to get even better. It assumes that the person has some understanding of their role, as well as a certain level of skill and experience. Coaching should unlock the potential of the individual.

Coaching helps give structure, focus and clarity to people who know they want or have to do better. It helps them to move forward by using the knowledge and skills they already have. This can be done by asking questions that cause a deeper level of thinking. If a member of your sales team tells you “I want to get better at sales”, narrow it down for them by asking “What aspect of sales do you want to get better at?”. If, for instance they reply “Lead generation”, ask “What aspect of lead generation?”

Once the questioning has helped someone find their focus, a good coach will then help them open up their thinking by asking more questions: “So now you know what you want to do, let’s think of ways you could do it.” Get creative and try not to tell them exactly what to do. It’s sometimes tempting for managers to say “When I did your job, what I did was…” or “If you look at so-and-so, what they’re doing really well is this…”. Instead, explore options and draw on what the individual knows or is good at.

A good coach encourages people to think for themselves, rather than telling them what to do, which will limit their thinking.

The next essential part of coaching is to ensure that the person is going to take ownership of what’s been discussed. How are you going to make sure they will put things into action, that they have bought into it? Check their motivation and confidence. Ask when they are going to start? What’s the first action? What specific things are they going to do?

Finally, always offer follow-ups: “What can I do? How can I be of help to you?” And remember, coaching doesn’t have to be formal. It can be as simple as a five-minute chat after a meeting, or in the canteen over coffee. If someone starts a conversation with you and you’ve asked them some questions which have helped with their thinking and their actions going forward, then you’ve coached them.

Cognitive disfluency: What does it mean for your organisation?

In our work helping business teams to become more engaged and active with learning, time and again the concept of cognitive disfluency comes up. The idea that we process information differently depending on how much effort it requires is a fascinating one, so we thought we’d take a look at it in more depth here.

What is cognitive disfluency?

Cognitive disfluency is a term that was first coined by the psychologist Adam Alter, assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

What it essentially describes is the idea that people process information differently, and that some of it is easy (fluency) and some of it requires effort (disfluency). An example of how this works was shown in an experiment that presented a printed question in two different typefaces – one hard to read and one easy – and asked people to spot the mistake. The proportion of people that noticed the error in the hard-to-read font was higher than the easy-to-read one. Alter suggests that a harder-to-read font makes us put more mental effort into reading, and we are therefore more likely to retain the information.

On a wider scale, fluent processing allows us to take in key information quickly but not necessarily to retain it or even understand it in a meaningful way. The whole experience becomes meaningless, less engaging and unsatisfying. Conversely, we process disfluent information more carefully and deeply, and this naturally results in us understanding it better. This is why the idea of cognitive disfluency has been suggested as a great way to assist learning.

Why is cognitive disfluency important in business?

Think of all the data and information that is presented before us – or our teams – within the workplace. Most organisations now offer their people key decision data in an easy (fluent) way, whether through dashboards, reports or search engines. While these tools can be invaluable, they can also make the data meaningless and hard to retain because they allow people to get to the specific number, target, forecast or performance data whenever they want to. This often means we don’t have to think about, generalise or extract the data.

So why is that a problem? Well, if people don’t have that data with them when making key decisions, or if they don’t have an intuitive understanding of the information and what it means, they will be unable to incorporate it in their decision-making. They will also be unable to learn from it. Data creates knowledge, and knowledge creates understanding – but when there is too much fluency in the information, it reduces this second step.

So should we make information more disfluent?

A lot of the data that we use day to day needs to be fluent.  We need to be able to access and use it quickly, so it should be easy to digest.  However, information that is easily consumed is also easily forgotten.

In almost everything we do there are a few key measures that tell us how we are doing against our goals and targets.  Data such as production data, sales information or financial projections need to move beyond abstract numbers and become more intuitive, becoming much more central in our awareness, moving from organisation knowledge to personal understanding. It is this data that needs to be deeply understood so that it can underpin the decisions we make.

How should organisations present their people with important details and data to ensure it is meaningfully understood and retained?

It’s a good idea to look at the fluency of key data or information within your organisation. If it’s being presented to people too easily, make it more disfluent so they have to think about it. You can do this by:

  • Asking for reports that require some small amounts of manual work to create, such as looking stuff up
  • Ask people to interpret data, not just produce it
  • Change layouts so people have to search a little, or read more carefully, to find things

But beware

A word of caution, though: Disfluency should be used sparingly. We’re not suggesting that you should make your people work hard for every piece of information they need. After all, not all data needs to be retained or fully understood.

In addition, too much disfluency can be draining. It uses up more energy, increases complexity and heightens stress levels. Instead of continuous disfluency, there should be brief moments of it when appropriate for processing essential data and information.

How should we bring the (sales) number to life?

Bringing the number to life is vital, whether you’re working in sales, managing a project, leading a team or running a production line.

If you understand and internalise the number, it allows you to monitor your progress and your tracking, intuitively know where you are and what you need to do, inform your decisions, understand how you need to react in real time, and see the bigger picture.

Otherwise, it’s just meaningless data to you.

Here, Paul and Rob discuss why many people are looking at the numbers but not really thinking about what they mean. They discuss the importance of bringing the number to life, and how we can do it.

What’s stopping us from bringing our number to life?

  • There is too much information at our fingertips.
  • Think of the wealth of reports, dashboards, BI systems and other technology that we can extract data from
  • It’s too easy.
  • We can easily look up the number we need at a particular point in time, and therefore we don’t need to retain the information in our head
  • The desire to measure everything.
  • You simply can’t retain every single piece of information put before you – which leads you back to relying on dashboards or systems

So, how do we bring the number to life?

  • Keep it simple.
  • If you have a wealth of data in front of you, focus on maybe the three or four core measures that really tell you something. Break down the number to give you something tangible about what you need to achieve each week/month
  • Engage with the data.
  • Too many people just input numbers into a system or sales platform without recognising the importance of thinking what those numbers mean. The idea of ‘cognitive disfluence’ is key here – the fact that we retain information and learn more if we actually interact with what we’re trying to learn
  • Start with the goal.
  • Instead of looking at the data and feeling that we have to do something with it, look instead at what you’re trying to achieve. What numbers do you need to pull out and understand to reach your goal?
  • Leaders. If you’re a leader, help your people to work with the data and think what the number really means. Give them the raw information they need and ask them to compile a report about some of the core data. You could break it down and ask different people to look at particular bits of the data. Ask them: Help me understand what’s in your figures and what does that tell you? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Why has this bit changed? What does that mean?

Why do some sales people only think about the sale?

In our work, we usually tell people that having focus is a good thing. But when it comes to sales, just being focused on the sale and nothing else is not so good. Sales is part of getting your service to your customer, but you can’t just be focused on that – you’ve got to have a bigger purpose as an organisation.

In this podcast, Richard and Graham discuss why some salespeople only think about the sale – and how such tunnel vision can impact on your customers and your colleagues.

Sales people are, of course, very targeted and often very driven by what they need to achieve. But having such a singular focus can mean you forget about the other important things that sit around the sale.

If all you’re concerned about is getting that sale – hitting your targets, getting the number – then you disregard the other parts of the sales process that are really important. A company that’s all about sales creates an aggressive culture, with salespeople who are highly motivated and focused just on getting money from the customer. They’re not bothered about the end product that the customer gets, or the quality of service. And colleagues in other departments, particularly customer-facing staff, can often feel like a spare part, tasked with delivering impossible promises made by the salespeople just to win the sale, or sorting out complaints from dissatisfied customers who have been promised one thing and received another

Of course, if your job is in sales, you need to be concerned with ‘the number’. But you also need to consider the customer experience, your product, the health and wellbeing of your colleagues, and your organisation’s culture and ethical boundaries. Ask yourself: If I make the sale in this way, what does it mean for the customer and for us as a business, and how might it impact on the other departments?

Considering the culture of your organisation is particularly important if you’re the person setting the targets. Be mindful that the targets you set will drive a certain kind of behaviour so make sure that the sales process you’re encouraging reflects the culture of your organisation.

Psychological Safety and Routine Thinking

In Transformation with a Capital T (McKinsey & Co) the article begins with the statement: “Companies must be prepared to tear themselves away from routine thinking and behaviour.”

This is a provocative way to open an article, but it’s an idea I can’t help agreeing with. What we like to ask is how and why. But first let’s focus on what:

What is routine thinking?
Routine thinking is based on regular procedures and is often set within the parameters of expected norms. There is a safety in routine thinking: if something has worked in the past, allow it to work in the future too.

The problem here comes in the question of progression. What can be enhanced when we are confined to our way, or our organisation’s way, of thinking.

How do we tear ourselves away from routine thinking?

Now it’s all too easy to create debate. Poke a few holes in a theory and see if it is robust enough to pad out the gaps. If we want to move away from routine thinking, what would be the exact opposite of the routine; how feasible would that be to do?

To carry out this line of questioning through each procedure you have would be impossibly long-winded and ultimately demotivating for your team. So, instead of interrogating a new way of thinking at a process-level, the mindset has to be adopted at an organizational, or team, level. If you are to unlock new thinking and new behaviours in your people, you need to create an environment in which your people can thrive and truly think and behave differently.

Why should we do this?

Simple answer: for efficiency and effectiveness.

Detailed answer: In their Case Study, Project Aristotle, Google sought the perfect formula for creating effective teams. Routine thinking might suggest that effective teams are the result of effective management and leadership. But the results of Project Aristotle showed something else. In their research, over 180 teams were studied but no patterns emerged. They extended their research to review the traditions, behavioural standards and unwritten rules that govern how the team functions.

As no two teams appeared alike, Project Aristotle uncovered that a team’s norms are unique to that particular team.  Something has been established within a team to make it different from themselves. I believe the key to norms is through an emotional connection, and this is echoed in Project Aristotle’s findings that psychological safety is an essential component of an effective team. Teams were found to perform well when certain conditions exist; interpersonal trust, mutual respect and comfortable being themselves.

Key evidence is in the way they allowed others to fail safely, there was respect for divergent opinions, there was freedom to question the choices of others in a supportive way, and they never undermined the trust. This meant that they could do away with routine thinking and rely on the trust of their colleagues.

My primary takeaway from the Google research is the need for psychological safety. Charles Duhigg explores this further in his enlightening book Smart Faster Better.

Can this be more than Silicon-Valley Fantasy?

When I reflect on my own experience, I have only ever felt psychological safety twice in my 30-year career, and they happened simultaneously.

I was part of two teams. I had my own team and was a member of a senior team.  We outperformed all expectations this particular year.  Morale within my team was immense and that gave us a feeling of safety to encourage our colleagues to continue outperforming expectations.. We were unaware, however, of the merger talks happening at the same time.  After the merger was announced, I spoke to a board member about the decision. They spoke ruefully of our success, that “if we knew then how you were going to perform this year, we would never have agreed to merge”.

The psychological safety felt quickly turned illusory, and I wonder now how I would’ve felt if that year we plodded along in our routine thinking; would we have been more accepting of the merger? Was the news devastating in contrast to the high team spirit?

As leaders, there is an interesting choice

…do you:

  • Break the mould and create an environment where people can take a chance, fail safely, learn then grow on the back of it?
  • Accept the safety in routine thinking, play it safe but miss out on potential innovation?

Do you know leaders who sit somewhere between the two? Those who say that they are up for the challenge but revert to type at the first signs of trouble?

It is difficult to embed a different way of thinking to your working life. But to establish an environment of psychological safety offers Googleable advantage.

I accept this is simplistic but business today runs at such a pace. You only have to look at the media to see failure in businesses, large and small. Leaders make commitments to stakeholders on best information available that means results are then demanded. We look to blame others for failures which are then punished and, worse, the opportunity to learn is missed. When you add to this personal agenda and vested interest is it any wonder that performance and people suffer? However well intentioned leaders might be, when it all hits the fan, they revert to type to get stuff done. It is this behaviour that undermines psychological safety and essentially leads to any business running with the handbreak on. People hold back.

When faced with the pressures of today, it takes a brave (or clever) leader to tear themselves away from routine thinking and behaviour.

If you’d like to explore psychological safety in your organisation let’s have a conversation. Email me at ricky.muddimer@thinkingfocus.com and we’ll arrange a time to chat.

 

Isn’t it time you changed how you recruit?

Recruiters are lazy!  There, I have said it.  It is all too easy to fill your vacancy with the same type of person, same skills and knowledge that you had before – but is that really what you want?

Recruiting for change

I would argue that the current pace of change in business renders technical knowledge and skills redundant all too quickly. On the other hand, if you recruit for attitude, behaviours and mindset, these will stand the test of time.

The challenge faced by businesses who adopt a rinse and repeat approach to recruitment is that they retain the same thinking, same actions and – you guessed it – the same results!

If all that sounds familiar, you’re hopefully thinking that the way you recruit needs a bit of a shake up.

So, how can you change the way you recruit?

I am currently working with a client that is really struggling to recruit the right individuals. It’s easy enough to decide that you want to recruit for attitude and mindset and even easier – I hope – to understand why you would want to do that and how your business will benefit.

I developed a series of questions to help my client explore how an applicant demonstrates how well they adapt, their strength of resilience and most importantly how they learn (and grow) from failure.

If you would like a copy of them, just email me (ricky.muddimer@thinkingfocus.com) and I will gladly send them over.

As Apple’s Dan Jacobs once said: “You are better with a hole in your team than an asshole!”

 

We’re Growing So That’s OK. Isn’t it?

Simon is CEO of a business operating in the Middle East and Africa and when I met him it was enjoying double-digit growth, significantly outperforming similar organisations in mature European markets. The most recent financial year had seen growth of 12%, something his former colleagues in the UK could only dream of.

So why wasn’t I impressed?

“What’s the potential in this region?” I asked.

“Around 40%,” he replied.

“So you’re underperforming by quite a long way,” I said.

He was quiet. For a moment I thought I’d overstepped the mark.

Then he admitted, “I’d never thought of it like that.”

I hadn’t been trying to undermine his achievement, merely open his mind to what was possible and shift his focus to the 28% that was up for grabs.

This led us to get his team together and explore the potential.  We brought his country managers together.  As is typical with these workshops, there was a lot of ground to cover.

Isolating the interference

We started with a venting session, designed to get out all the issues that hold us back. We label this interference. It could be real, imagined or perceived – anything that gets in our way and occupies thinking time or activity.

The team shared over 80 things that bothered them. These were the 80 things that were preventing them from hitting their €1bn target.  

Putting the barriers in boxes

We categorised every item on the issue list – all 80 of them – into three boxes.

  • Bothered
  • Not bothered (at all or right now)
  • Givens (things we can’t change)

At the end of the process we were left with three items in the “bothered” column and we knew that if we addressed those we could unlock €2bn in additional revenues.  Solving them required no magic, no investment and no more headcount.

Think differently

We showed the teams how to take ownership and develop a plan to capitalise on the hidden potential.  Will they unlock all €2bn? Probably not, but they will go beyond their current comfortable level of thinking and increase their productivity significantly.

So ask yourself:

  • What is your real potential?
  • What interference is getting in your way?
  • What are you prepared to do about It?

Why not try the 3  step process for yourself?

  1. Vent – write down all the things holding you back
  2. Categorise
    • Bothered
    • Not bothered
    • Givens
  3. Prioritise – Go to work on your bothered list

Why your current situation isn’t the problem

So you’re facing a bit of a business crisis. It might mean answering to shareholders, investment being put on hold, or even layoffs.

At a lower level, it may be that bonuses aren’t paid, promotions are passed over or individuals are held accountable.

It’s a problem, right?

Wrong.

How can the result be THE problem, when the result comes at the end?

Yes, the result may cause a problem and bring consequences, leading to a different set of decisions.

The real problem came earlier – and it was probably one of these:

  • The Unhelpful Mindset.  Often driven by the size of the target, the quality or price position of the product or service or even how well your people feel supported by their manager, colleagues or other departments will reduce performance.
  • Reward Strategies.  It could be the way you manage your people. Do they feel valued and appreciated? If there is a perception that others are valued more, then this ‘treatment’ will lead to a sense of unfairness and unhappiness and lower productivity – or worse.
  • Systems and Processes that make it hard for people to do their job can be immensely frustrating.  Whether I am trying to win business, serve customers or support the internal teams I want to feel like I have the tools to do my job well.  ‘Fighting the internal systems and processes is frustrating and reduces productivity. Worse still, you’ll lose your good people.
  • Measurement.  When you measure the wrong things, you not only drive the wrong behaviours and limit your performance, you seriously p*** off your people.  They don’t get it and you end up creating value destroying processes just to report on the wrong things.

Facing one of these issues is bad enough, but more than one and you’re in big trouble!

Ask yourself – to what extent …

… is your peoples’ mindset focused on ‘how to’?

… is the way you reward and acknowledge their contribution motivating them?

… are your systems and processes enablers for your people?

… do you measure the things that add the most significant value to your business?

Thinking Focus specialises in transforming business performance by unlocking potential in people.  Why not give us a call to discuss your current situation and how we can help? You can also tune in to our podcast series – ‘The Question is…’ available now on iTunes.

 

5 fears that WILL lose you the sale

More often than not, it isn’t what we say that loses us the sale – it’s how we think.

Sales, more than any other profession, plays with our minds and at certain critical moments during the sales process we are particularly vulnerable to talking ourselves out of a sale. Subconsciously, fear can distort our thinking during these decisive stages which is why having an awareness of how our minds work can make the difference between success and failure.

Be honest, have you ever caught yourself thinking any of the following?

  • I’ve got a new lead but what if it’s a waste of time?
  • I’m about to become one of those irritating sales calls but hey, it’s another appointment to add to the log.
  • Our product isn’t the best on the market and it probably won’t be what they’re looking for.
  • They’ve gone quiet – we must have been too expensive …
  • … or maybe they’re talking to someone else?

As sales people we are great story tellers. This is how we convince our prospects that we can solve their problems. It’s also how we talk ourselves out of a sale. Whenever we’re persuading ourselves or someone else of our point of view we go looking for evidence to back it up. What really matters is where we look for that evidence.

Our minds are powerful and use all our senses to store multiple experiences on the hard drive that is our subconscious.   Our subconscious is incredibly complex and I do not pretend to understand the inner workings but if you want to learn more get a copy of Incognito by David Eagleman, he knows his stuff. For the purposes of this argument, we simply need to be aware that the subconscious stores experiences and emotions associated with those experiences.  Within the subconscious filing system are ‘folders’ where we store habits, beliefs, cultures and biases.

Although we store our take on reality, it is not necessary the truth, although we will be convinced that it is exactly as we remember. When faced with a new, scary or challenging situation, the way we’re feeling at the time will influence which subconscious files and folders our conscious mind chooses to access.

Conversely, these files and folders will inform how we feel going into a sales situation.  Contained within them will be the culture of our company and sales team, our biases relating to prospects, products and services, past sales experiences and beliefs about our capability and ability to deliver what the prospect wants.

So what can we do about it?

As we’ve already acknowledged, a seller’s mindset can be their best asset, but it can also be their undoing.

Developing a winning mindset relies on us revisiting the way we think at critical moments in the sales process.

Listen to the voice in your head

Is it being helpful or unhelpful? What many of us don’t realise is that we can choose how we think – in other words, what our inner voice is telling us.

If you start thinking about the negative reaction you might get when you make a call, you’re not going to have the right mindset to maximise the impact of your sales message during the conversation. When it comes to discussing price, the wrong mindset can leave you wide open to cost challenges and a lack of conviction. Assuming you’ve managed to seal a deal, the way you think will influence your ability to ask for referrals. Are you being a bit cheeky or do you feel you’ve done a great job and have earned it?

Changing your thinking takes time and the first step is simply being aware of how you think in different situations. By taking control of your thinking,  you can develop a winning sales mindset.

 

 

What is the value of a growth mindset to business?

Having the right mindset is often talked about in companies, but how can a mindset make a difference to results.

Paul and Ricky discuss how a growth mindset can help deliver better results, allowing individuals and teams to grow and learn from their failures as well as their successes.

 

The idea of mindset comes from the psychologist, Carol Dweck, following extensive research on achievement and success. In the podcast, Paul and Ricky explore how people often approach the world with one or two different mindsets. A growth mindset allows you to see the world as abundant and to have the ability to grow and learn from situations. In a fixed mindset, people will tend to have a more emotional reaction and look at the world in a very specific way.

In business scenarios, Paul and Ricky discuss how it can be very useful to promote a growth mindset. In the 21st century, modern economy things are changing all the time so can we really afford to have a fixed mindset? They go onto consider the benefits of a growth mindset. Fundamentally, it allows us the ability to learn from failure as a group, individual or organisation. People with a fixed mindset may use up a lot of time, energy and resource when they could be moving forward.

It’s possible for many of us to have a combination of the two but how do you achieve a growth mindset in an organisation? Paul and Ricky examine how leaders have an important part to play, for example, in the way questions are asked. If a mistake occurs, the first question many people might ask is why it happened? This will need to be considered, of course, but someone with a growth mindset will ask what can we learn and take away for the future?

Paul and Ricky conclude their discussion by looking at how a growth mindset in the world of business can help deliver better overall results because it allows forward thinking to thrive.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.