GUEST POST: Coaching Sales Reps out of Slumps?


Posted By Qvidian | Sep 10, 2013


Below is a guest blog post from Michael Boyette of Top Sales Blog on how to coach sales reps out of slumps. No matter how good your reps are, they're bound to hit a rut every now and then. Continue reading for some great coaching tips from Michael.

Slumps, while frustrating, are a part of sales. A long-term customer bails with no warning. A sure-thing prospect fails to convert. Calls don’t get returned. And the funnel’s drying up. A sales rep caught in a rejection cycle like this can get downright demoralized. And the rep’s attitude of helplessness can be the biggest obstacle to getting back on course.

As a sales manager, your job is to coach reps out of their slumps. But the problem is deeply psychological and you’re no psychologist. So how do you do it?

One answer lies in research dealing with how people respond to failure. In a study involving sales reps at a major insurance company, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman found that one factor outweighed all others in determining who’d succeed at sales. That factor was optimism, which armed reps with the ability to be persistent in the face of adversity.

Optimists, Seligman discovered, had a different way of talking to themselves about failure. He called it “explanatory style.” Seligman mapped explanatory style along three dimensions:

  • Internal-External: Did I cause the failure, or was it due to external events? Example: If they encounter a rude prospect, successful reps use an external explanation. They say, “She must be having a bad day.” Unsuccessful reps use an *internal* explanation. They say, “I’m ticking people off.”
  • Universal-Specific: Is the cause global, or limited to this event? Example: When successful reps lose a prospect, they focus on why this specific account didn’t convert, as in “Cash was tight, so they chose the wrong solution just because it was cheaper.” Unsuccessful reps use universal language such as, “Nobody cares about quality anymore.”
  • Permanent-Temporary: Is it fixed, or can it be changed? Example: Successful reps say, “This is hard, but it’ll turn around if I keep doing the right things.” Unsuccessful reps seek explanations suggesting the problem is permanent, as in “Our product isn’t good enough.”

People caught in a rut tend to believe their problems are internal, universal and permanent. Their pessimistic outlook causes slumping sales reps to talk themselves deeper into failure.

As a sales coach, you need to counter the rep’s destructive self-coaching with constructive coaching that alters the rep’s explanatory style. To do that, let’s take a look at a process called the L.E.A.D. Model for changing explanatory styles.

Listen for “negative” comments from a rep who is facing adversity. Then identify the “explanatory style” that’s behind those comments, categorizing it using the internal/external, universal/specific, permanent/temporary model.

Explain the theory of explanatory styles to the rep, emphasizing that internal, universal and permanent language breeds helplessness and leads to behaviors that prevent success in sales.

Explore Alternative explanations. After explaining how your slumping sales rep is talking themselves further down the leaderboard, help them find a better – that is, external/specific/temporary – explanation for why things went wrong: The prospect didn’t hang up because you were rude, but because she was having a bad day.

And finally, Demonstrate how changing explanatory styles changes behavior. Ask your sales rep what they might do differently based on the alternative explanation.

Sales Coaching - Clipboard

Michael Boyette    Michael Boyette writes the Top Sales Dog blog for sales professionals and is the Executive Editor of the Rapid Learning Institute E-learning site.

You can connect with Michael via Twitter @TopSalesDog.