As a boy I was always a little intimidated by my Grandfather. He was so good at so many things. I swear he could fix anything, build anything, and he even manually calculated the square root of any number about as fast as I could do it with a calculator (no kidding. He would try to teach me how to do this so I could challenge my math teachers.) He had high expectations of all of his family members and I did not want to be the one that was what he referred to as an "educated idiot."
Among his many talents, I believe he may be one of the greatest fishermen ever born. He could catch a trophy fish in just an inch or two of water. Unfortunately, one of his greatest frustrations with me was I never was very good at catching fish. He couldn't comprehend how any grandson of his would not be able to do this and do it well. This always became a sore spot for me at our annual extended family vacation at Redfish Lake, Idaho. My grandparents had their entire family and all the grandchildren in campsites along Redfish Lake.
Every year I would watch my cousins, uncles, and even my younger brother (gasp) pull fish out of that beautiful lake and the surrounding tributaries of the Salmon River. It was Grandpa's "home court" and a place he seemed to know inside and out. The problem...for me and for Grandpa...was I never seemed to have any luck. I couldn't ever get anything. One year when I was 12, my grandfather decided to put an end to my fishing futility. He took me for an afternoon...just he and I...and was determined to teach me how it was done.
It was one of the greatest afternoons of my life. I caught fish faster than I ever thought possible. I had never before (and haven't since) had so much success or fun as a fisherman. We caught our limits fairly quickly and then kept catching and releasing (at least the little ones) the rest of the day. At the end of the afternoon we hopped into his truck and drove back to the campground. As we turned onto the gravel road for the lakeside campsites, he pulled over and stopped the truck. He looked at me and said in his gruff voice, "get out of the truck and put your waders on." I looked at him a little nervously and asked him if I had done something wrong. He told me no, but he wanted me to walk the rest of the way to camp. I was confused and a little worried so I asked him why. I've never forgotten what he said next: "We are in campsite 13. You'll have to walk by 12 campsites on the way to our site. I want you to carry your pole and a string of fish and walk by every one of those sites so they can see how many fish you caught today." No longer intimidated, I was pretty excited for the victory lap in front of me. Then he continued with "A lot of people are going to ask you two questions: Where did you catch them and what were you using?" He concluded with "When they ask you where you caught them, I want you to say "I caught them right here in the mouth." He laughed as he got back in his truck and drove ahead to our campsite.
He was right. I was approached by camper after camper and they asked me the 2 "Fishing questions." Where did you catch them and what were you using? I felt a lot of pride in our success and you can see by the smile on my face in the picture in the header of this article that I enjoyed every step of that walk.
As a sales leader, I have found these 2 questions to be even more important in helping a salesperson than they did the would-be anglers at Redfish Lake. I thought of this story last week as I worked with a sales leader of a large financial institution as we help them build a coaching solution for their sales team. As we do the diagnostic assessments as part of the coaching foundation, I asked the EVP what the primary role of a sales leader was at his organization. I found his answer to be really compelling. He said the primary role of a sales leader in his organization was to help the salespeople know who to call on and why they are a good fit.
I've worked with dozens of sales leaders in building coaching solutions and I've never seen a sales leader identify helping reps find the right opportunities as a primary role BEFORE we did the coaching work. The reason I pause here is because he is right.
In what I believe is the best study conducted on Sales Coaching, CEB found the place a Sales Leader can have the greatest impact is in opportunity origination. Check out one of the charts from the original study:
The best sales coaches start by helping their reps find and develop the right opportunities. There are many elements to how a great coach executes this:
- What problems are we great at solving?
- What results are we great at achieving?
- Who cares about these and why?
- Where do these problems and results create the greatest impact?
- How do we dollarize the value of these problems and results?
Great coaches understand the value of time. The biggest investment most companies make is in the payroll expense. This means that companies are buying the time and attention of their employees. It is up to us as sales managers to make sure this investment is focused on activities that move the sales needle. The easiest way to do this is to spend sales cycle time on deals that are a good fit for your product and your company from the very first sales call.
Last week there was big news about the $185 Million fine levied to Wells Fargo for over 5,300 of their salespeople opening fake accounts in order to meet sales goals. This is a very real example of a worst-case scenario of what can happen when a sales leader presses the "MORE" button without pressing the "HOW" button. The "MORE" button is not a bad button...it is our job as Sales Leaders to keep the companies we work for in growth mode. The problem comes in which button we choose to push as button #2.
Too often, button #2 is the “PANIC” button. Smart coaches go from the “MORE” button to the “HOW” button immediately. Here are 2 equations to remember:
MORE + ? = PANIC.
MORE + HOW = CONFIDENCE.
It is 100% up to you as a sales leader to replace the ? with HOW. Where do you prioritize helping make sure your reps are in the right places? How much time do you spend on staying connected and aware of where your salespeople are casting their lines? Are you a travel agent who just gives suggestions on places to go, or are you a tour guide...an outfitter that is right in the middle of it making sure your team is exactly where you know they need to be...because you've been there yourself?
I have learned that one of the most important skills in any B2B sales job is the ability to find new business. If you want to be a successful sales leader, do not distance yourself from how new opportunities are found, qualified, sized, and dollarized. Stay current and stay connected to your markets and the ways your products engineer value. One of the best sales leaders I've ever worked with had an ability to help reps find and originate new opportunities when they started to get behind. It was an amazing ability to keep his reps where the fish were rather than just standing by empty fishing holes all day long.
When a rep wins, ask the fishing questions. When they lose, ask the fishing questions. When they are pursuing a deal, ask the fishing questions. Make sure you are in places that lead to wins. Your reps need to know why a prospect is worth their valuable sales time.
The cost of the time of your team is far too important to be foolishly patient.
You need to know the fishing holes for the reps in your organization just like my grandfather knew where they were for me in the Redfish Lake area.
A few years ago my grandfather passed away. I had the opportunity to speak at his funeral. I shared the experience I had with him that afternoon in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. I've never forgotten how he taught me to keep the hook "Right here in the mouth" and how he looked at me that afternoon and said as I reeled in a particularly nice fish "they really ought to call it catching instead of fishing...because if you do it right, that's what is going to happen." Prioritize your role as a leader to help your reps stay catching. If you get actively involved showing them where the fish are and how to catch them, you can create experiences for your team that will make your team successful, your reps highly engaged, and you will become a legendary leader.