October 21

What Were You Thinking?


I was one of eight kids. Thus you won’t be surprised to learn that I often heard one or both of my parents ask, “What the heck were you thinking?” of one or more of us.      

Today, I realize that’s also a great sales coaching question, albeit with a different delivery. I doubt any salesperson is going to respond well to, “What the heck were you thinking?”

As a former vice president of sales, I made the mistake of not uncovering what my sales team was thinking. As a result, I sometimes ended up working on the sales-performance issue. When a salesperson wasn’t applying specific selling skills or behaviors, I immediately focused on reteaching the skills or behaviors.

The problem with this approach was that I missed the invisible reason for lack of execution. The salesperson knew what to do. However, their “thinking” prevented them from doing it.

The proverbial knowing-and-doing gap.

I had not uncovered the answer to, “What were you thinking?” The research is clear: A salesperson’s thoughts affect the skills and actions they will or won’t take.

For example, in our sales training workshops, we teach sales teams how to deal with the unspoken objection known as the “sales elephant in the room.”    

These are powerful workshops, based on psychology and neuroscience. We teach participants to bring up objections BEFORE the prospect does. This builds trust with prospects. The salesperson doesn’t look like they are trying to dodge tough questions. It’s a skill that allows a salesperson to get to the truth fast.

Sounds good, right?

Here’s the sales management coaching challenge when teaching this particular skill: If a salesperson thinks that bringing up the unspoken objection will plant a seed of doubt in the prospects mind, they won’t apply this proven selling and influence skill. Their thinking is, “If I bring up the objection, I am going to derail this sales call.  I am going to plant a seed of doubt for switching vendors.”  

Do you think a salesperson will apply this powerful selling skill? Well no, they won’t.

The fix is for sales managers to get curious about why the salesperson isn’t applying a selling skill. Get curious about what the salesperson is “thinking.” Then apply emotional self-awareness and stop giving the salesperson advice.

Stop telling and teaching. Start asking curiosity coaching questions.

“Tell me more about your concern about bringing up the unspoken objection.”

  • “If I bring up an objection, I’ll plant a seed of doubt that wasn’t there before.”

“That’s fair. Now is that thinking based on perception or data?“

  • “Hmmm. I guess perception. I’m worried it could happen.” 

Now the sales manager can ask more questions and provide insights about a salesperson’s “thinking,” their self-limiting beliefs that are affecting sales results.

What were you thinking?

It’s a great coaching question that will help you uncover the real reason salespeople don’t consistently execute the right selling behaviors.   

Good Selling!


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