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The Importance of Course Correction

In 1979, a DC-10 Passenger Jet flew from New Zealand to Antarctica on a sightseeing excursion on Air New Zealand flight 901. This 8 hour flight would provide passengers an experience of a lifetime: a chance to see the bottom of the world. 257 passengers and crew members took off at 8:20 that morning for routine 8 hour round-trip sightseeing trip with great anticipation to experience a part of the world very few people had ever seen.

Unbeknownst to the flight crew, someone mistakenly changed the flight plan...typing a "6" into the flight computer instead of a "4" when entering the final number of the latitude and longitude coordinates. This simple mistake changed the flight plan by a mere two degrees...a very small mistake...but one that changed the course of the flight East by 28 miles on the flight to Antarctica. While the pilots were both very experienced, neither had flown the Antarctic route. There was no way for them to know their new course put them on a collision course with Mt. Erebus, an active volcano rising above the frozen Antarctic landscape by 12,000 feet. The picture in the article header shows the change to the route of this ill-fated flight.

As the plane approached their destination, they encountered bad weather that made visibility difficult. Because they thought they were 28 miles to the West, the pilots descended to below 6000 feet so the passengers could see the terrain and the penguins of Antarctica. As the pilots flew on, the snow and ice on the volcano blended with the white clouds of the weather system and the pilots thought they were flying over flat ground. By the time the plane's instruments detected the ground was rising towards them, the pilots had no chance to pull out. At 12:49pm, the plane crashed into the side of Mt. Erebus at 400 MPH, a tragic accident where each of the 257 passengers and crew members died. Air New Zealand Flight 901 is still the single-largest tragedy in New Zealand history, and the fourth-largest flight disaster of all time. All from a seemingly small, 2 degree mistake, only 28 miles in a flight of over 2,500 miles. Complete details of this flight disaster can be found here.

As we approach the midpoint of the 2017 calendar year, salespeople often pause to course-correct. Some may be ahead of goal, others may be right on track. More than half will not be on target. New research from my friend and company advisor Jim Dickie shows that quota attainment is falling right now at a concerning rate across most industries. As a result, course correction is more important now than ever before.

Don't Fly Blind!

As I've worked with hundreds of sales organizations and thousands of sales reps, I've learned that success and failure for Sales Executives, Sales Managers, and Sales Representatives often comes down to mistakes of only a few degrees. Too often, sales reps push the throttle to full speed and put their head down in the pursuit of quota attainment. With this approach, many salespeople get to the end of the month, quarter, or year and are disappointed with where they land. What most fail to understand is quite often, a course correction of only 1-2% can be the difference maker between success and failure in our sales pursuits.

This is why coaching continues to be the primary catalyst in nearly every sales metric. Most of the time, it is small adjustments done over time that lead to massive results. Unfortunately, many reps see coaching as something reserved for underperformers or something that is a waste of their time. Recently, I was training a sales team for a large financial institution. I asked what their perception of coaching was. The top performer in the region raised his hand quickly and said "For me, when I need help on a deal, I go to my manager and he helps me put together a winning plan...and that's great. That's effective coaching. But when he wants to pull me in to just talk about generic stuff, that's a complete waste of my time." A lot of heads in the conference room were nodding as he shared his perception of coaching. Unfortunately, I think more salespeople agree with this perspective than we know. While leaders absolutely need to work on their coaching skills, there is more to effective coaching than just an effective leader.

Two Sides to the Coaching Coin

Too often, salespeople think coaching depends on the skill of the leader. While the leader has the responsibility for creating a culture of intentional improvement and to use tools to help create consistency, predictability, a level-up mentality and a collaborative environment, the role of the salesperson is equally important. The salesperson must also adopt an attitude of intentional improvement and commit to ongoing course correction. This means that sales reps need to learn to self-correct.

The longer the journey, the more important course correction becomes. If a pilot were to take off from Singapore, a city located on the equator and fly around the world off by only 1 degree, this small adjustment would result in missing Singapore by over 500 miles...or an extra hour's flight.

If the plane were to fly around the equator from Singapore and were off by 2 degrees, the impact grows to over 1000 miles. The impact of this mistake makes landing in the desired place nearly impossible.

Which Rep Are You?

I have found there are two types of sales teams, sales leaders, and sales people: Those that take what they want, and those that take what they can get. Take what you want sales organizations/leaders/people value coaching. They use predetermined moments to use formal coaching to look at key metrics and indicators that are predictive of future outcomes. Leaders and salespeople set interim coaching goals to modify behaviors or develop new skills that will help them stay on course or get on course to a destination they are excited about. These formal coaching sessions will stimulate unlimited numbers of informal coaching conversations where the leader and the salesperson evaluate how their "flight plan" is working.

Create a Clear Pathway to Success

Creating a coaching cadence isn't hard. As a salesperson, if you come to a coaching session prepared with 2-3 things you believe will help you stay on course, you will find your leader will be more helpful in collaborating and creating action plans you believe in. Coaching done right should be like visiting the eye doctor. As the patient looks through the lenses, the doctor drops different lens adjustment into the machine. The patient looks and gives feedback to the doctor who keeps making adjustments until the patient sees with clarity they never had on their own. If both the patient and the doctor do not work well together, the visit is an exercise in futility.

Self Correct...Don't Self-Destruct

No sales rep wants to miss their number. No sales leader wants their team to view the coaching moments as a "waste of time." As sales representatives, work with your leaders to create a system of self-correction. My experience has been when salespeople begin to look through the lens of self-correction, they use sales tools like Salesforce with a different purpose, they are more assertive in finding ways to stay on course, and the combined leader/salesperson combination leads to things like higher performance (18% increase), stronger engagement and retention (22% better), and the customer experience is noticeably improved (23% NPS lift).

Regardless of your economic philosophies, these are trickle-down economics we can all get excited about. Don't let 1-2 degrees take you to a place you don't want to be. Don't save the course-correction conversations for end of quarters or end of year. Adopt an approach of continuous self-correction. Remember: the shortest distance to your goal is a straight line. Don't let the small adjustments add up over time to big problems. Self-correct, work with your coach, and let your competitors self-destruct all around you while you complete your journey and land exactly where you had planned.

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