Coaches leading the witness

Watching the Michael Jackson trial on TV recently reminds me of a common error from newly trained sales coaches. And at first glance it appears the new coaches are doing the right thing.

Let me explain.

Many sales manager positions are filled by the top performing salespeople. It seems a simple choice really. Promote your best salespeople into a sales manager and sales coach position. After all, they can guide the new breed in the right way to do the job, since they can do it.

We all know the problems this can cause as management is vastly different to selling.

The alarm bells begin to ring when the newly promoted managers start coaching. New sales coaches are trained how to coach, you know, how not to tell, but to ask questions instead. To draw it out of the salesperson. Self discovery questions. The need to haul out the answer from them.

So they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand they’re keen just to tell the salesperson how to do their job better because they know the answer. On the other hand they know they have to ask questions to let the salesperson come out with the answer.

So they start asking “leading the witness” questions. Bring back Michael Jackson’s Lawyers in the court room.

“You were at the scene of the crime weren’t you?”

“How did you use poison to kill the victim?”

“I put it to you that you poisoned the victim.”

Designed to make the witness head in a certain direction and this is what I hear coaches use as well.

“When you closed the customer, what could you have done better?”

“What about your opening sound bite, what was not working there?”

Salespeople aren’t stupid. The salesperson will just close down, they’ll refuse to play ball and will just wait for the coach to tell them. And the coach tells them.

Not good coaching.

Instead use real exploratory questions to examine the salesperson’s performance post the observation.

“What parts of the meeting went the best for you?”

“Let’s break it up into three parts – open, explore, close. Let’s start with the opening, how did your customer react to your opening?”

I must say I do admire those lawyers in the courts; it all looks very theatrical to me. Maybe that’s why they televise them in the States. Perhaps it’s just theatre!