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Would Sherlock Holmes have been a great sales coach?

September 4, 2018
by Nicki Weiss

“What does it take to become a great sales coach?” is one of the first questions sales managers ask me when I’m running a training session or acting as their coach. They’re surprised to hear that I put “An extreme curiosity about people” at the top of the list of desirable attributes.

Sherlock Holmes had a great line: “You have eyes, but you do not see.” Holmes’ close inspection of others gave him insight into his cases and allowed him to untangle them. He was the ultimate curious observer, noting habits, traits and special characteristics. Good sales coaches do the same thing with the people they’re coaching.

Sure, Sherlock might have been lacking some of the other important skills needed to be a great coach (people skills, anyone?), but his ability to observe, “read” and understand what made people tick was unparalleled.

The first thing I suggest to a sales manager who wants to be a good coach is to put on their deerstalker cap and start honing their curiosity skills, closely observing people and noting what they do and how they do it.

In my experience, the more you learn about human behaviour, the more you can untangle the “Why?” and “How?” questions so necessary for effective coaching.

  • Why don’t my salespeople do the things that will make them money?
  • Why don’t these people sell in a way that has been proven successful in our industry?
  • Why don’t they do what I say?
  • How can I light a fire under them?

Want to figure out what makes the people on your sales team tick? Follow these simple tips to get your curiosity muscles in shape.

  • Become an obsessive people watcher: A little while ago, I worked with a sales manager who wanted to understand his team better. We went to a café in a busy office building and, in Holmes fashion, started closely observing people. We watched their facial expressions for signs of temperament, body language for indications of character and personality, rated their level of energy, and tried to guess their occupations from the way they dressed. We would occasionally ask to see if our observations were correct by introducing ourselves as “people watchers” and asking questions. Because we were open and friendly, we found people were open and friendly in return.

    The sales manager was surprised to learn that he could objectively watch people and learn about them without judging their behaviour. He carried this lesson back to work and began observing his team members, not with a “where are you messing up?” eye, but simply trying to understand their characters and personalities.His curiosity helped him ask his team members better questions, which led to his staff being more candid with him, which led to improved ideas for attracting their ideal clients, which led to extraordinary sales results.
     
  • Turn off the sound: See if you can tease out what people are “saying” with their bodies. This is another great way to people-watch.
     
  • Separate observations from interpretations: It’s easy to misinterpret what you’re seeing. For instance, a classic interpretation of crossed arms is that the person is angry or defensive. While that may be true, there are other reasonable explanations. I often feel cold, so I sometimes cross my arms to stay warm when I‘m talking to others.

    Most people tend to observe quickly and superficially, then rush to judgment. Try to observe longer, and when you make an interpretation, validate it.
     
  • Close your eyes when you talk on the telephone: Can you hear the person’s level of passion and enthusiasm? Are you paying attention, or is your mind wandering? What else are you aware of? I love talking on the telephone with my eyes closed, because I hear an amazing amount of interesting detail. In addition to uncovering each person’s endearing weirdness (everyone is weird, I have decided), I can hear their depth and integrity, what they are not saying, and feel that person’s impact on me more profoundly.
     
  • Figure out what your gut is trying to tell you about someone: Use the following exercise to tap into what you ‘know’ but aren’t acknowledging. Think of a problematic relationship with a member of your sales team. On a piece of paper draw a line down the center from top to bottom. On the right side, write down a conversation with this person that left you feeling uncomfortable. In the left column, write down all the things you thought but did not say. Here is an example: 
What A thought but did not say Actual conversation between A and B

A: I really hate having to check up on B

 

 

 

 

A: I knew he would say that. He is forever making excuses.

I think he is unprepared or reluctant to handle

indifference and I feel frustrated.

A: What happened in yesterday’s cold calling?

B: Nothing. This list is terrible. I’m researching a new list

and will start again tomorrow.

 

 

 

A: OK. Let me know how it goes.

 

A’s comments did not reflect her thoughts. Try to observe these background thoughts – they are your gut instincts shouting at you. The next part of the exercise, of course, is figuring out how to put those thoughts into words that will get across your message in a constructive way. In this example, A could say, “B, I’m feeling frustrated about the excuses I feel you’re making for your lack of success in cold calling. It may be that the lists aren’t perfect. I’m also wondering if there is something else going on and I’d like to explore that in order to help you get unstuck and get going.”

Follow those tips and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a sales coach with the deep understanding and instincts of a Sherlock Holmes. And that, dear Watson, is half the battle.

Nicki Weiss is President and Co-founder of the SalesWise Academy
(www.saleswiseacademy.com), an innovative, affordable online sales development program designed for sales leaders and teams that sell technical or complex products and services. SalesWise Academy trains more effectively by teaching the way adults learn best, in frequent, “bite-sized” lessons, delivered via 10-minute audio podcasts and support materials to members’ inboxes every two weeks.

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