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Three Words a Sales Coach Should Never Allow


Try, Need to and Can’t.

These are three words that any sales coach worth their salt will not allow to pass during a coaching conversation without probing. Why? Because these words are almost always code for a salesperson doing what salespeople do best, influencing their manager’s and coach’s to let them slide.

Let’s have a look at what these words are often masking and how a noble sales coach helps the salesperson put these words in check to free themselves of the bondage of kidding themselves about what is really happening.

Sylvia is coaching Laurie and asks her why her new prospect dials have been low the past few weeks. Laurie apologizes and promises to “TRY” to do better. Sylvia accepts Laurie’s seemingly earnest promise, because after all, who doesn’t appreciate a good ol’ “try.”

Four weeks later, the conversation repeats itself like Groundhog Day, and this time Sylvia persists a bit more about the importance of Laurie’s prospecting attempts. Over the years, Laurie has learned to manipulate sales mangers well. She agrees with Sylvia and say’s you’re right. I “NEED to” make those calls.

Four week’s later, Laurie is sitting in Sylvia’s office, still defending her lack of prospecting behaviors. Laurie is still not generating the volume of new business that is required. She’s only been doing a fraction of the prospecting activities that are expected of her.

In this coaching conversation, Sylvia gets frustrated. As a sales manager, she is accountable to her boss for new business results, which the whole team is failing to deliver. Sylvia probes deeper and deeper with Laurie as to why she is not doing her prospecting behaviors.

Laurie’s response is an ace in the hole for most salespeople who want to deflect their responsibility. Misdirection. Laurie turns the conversation around on Sylvia by bringing up the new sales software that has been forced on them and how time consuming it has been to learn and use. Laurie reminds Sylvia of a few high-maintenance accounts that she has taken off of Sylvia’s hands that have required a ton of client service.

Finally, Laurie states the obvious, that the economy is in shambles and nobody wants to talk to her or other salespeople right now. To put an exclamation point on the conversation, Laurie tells Sylvia that her expectations for new business activity are impossible and they “CAN’T” be done.

You’ve probably never been in poor Sylvia’s unenviable position before. If you have, you see that a whole quarter’s worth of new business opportunity has evaporated. Where did Sylvia go wrong? In each of the three coaching conversations with Laurie, Sylvia gave her salesperson a “free pass,” in spite of hearing “warning words,” namely, TRY, NEED to and CAN’T.”

A sales coach can never let those words pass in a conversation without probing. Here’s why. “Try” is often code for “I don’t really believe it will work, so I probably won’t do it.” “Need to” is often code for “There are a lot of other things on my to-do list that I would rather do and I will probably never get to this.” Yoda said, “there is no such thing as try, there is only do or do not.”

When a salesperson makes the assertion that something CAN’T be done, what they are saying is that they have already decided they will not do it. At that point, there is nothing a sales leader can say or do to get them to do it, at least, not wholeheartedly. This is why so many sales leaders use fear as a motivator, and the threat of firing.

Helping the salesperson do away with these self-limiting words / crutches is quite simple. When coaching a salesperson and one of these words comes up, the sales coach stops the conversation and probes with questions. After four or five questions, the salesperson almost always sees the reality. That Try, Need to and Can’t are not real.

Those words are conditioned responses that protect the salesperson from having to accept responsibility for what is expected of them, and, the consequences for failing to meet those expectations.

If you truly care about your salespeople, don’t accept Try, Need to and Can’t. Over time, with your frequent reinforcement and positive reprogramming, the salesperson will learn to replace those word’s with words like Will and Can. Their performance will increase and they will be much happier, and so will you.

Chuck Terry, CEO/President

Chuck Terry, CEO/President

Sandler Training in Denver provides sales training, management and leadership training, and professional development for individuals and organizations. Let us know how we can help your team.