One of the biggest changes in the world of work in the last ten years or so is the move away from formal training, and towards learning ‘on the job’. This has huge advantages, because it means that what people learn applies directly to what they are doing. However, it also has its challenges. 

One of these is the knock-on effect on those around the learner. Who should coach them—not as a manager, but as a peer and colleague? When is it right for subject matter experts or thought leaders to coach their sales partners? Here are some ideas for how you might find opportunities to make a difference.

Look for chances to broader their situational knowledge

Situational knowledge is knowing what to do or say in particular situations. In other words, it requires you to understand the nuances of the time, place or client. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to acquiring this, because it comes only from experience. Look for chances to talk about why you might need to take a particular approach to that client or problem. Highlighting patterns is particularly helpful for future reference.

 Encourage them to ask questions

To understand your customers, you need to be able to ask the right questions. Encourage your sales colleague to ask questions to explore issues with customers. Make clear that most customers do not want to be aggressively ‘sold to’: they want someone who will listen to their problems, and help them find a solution. It’s worth noting that sometimes just asking the right question will be enough to provide the insight your customer needs. You don’t always need to have the insight yourself. 

Help them to develop their understanding of your customers’ business

As a thought leader, you understand the importance of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, and showing empathy. You know that you have to understand their problem and recognise their pain points. You can help your sales colleagues to broader their understanding of your customers’ business by explaining some of these problems—and how your products or services can help to address those.

Show them that sometimes you need to be the ‘grit in the oyster’

Getting on well with the customer does not always win sales. Sometimes you need to challenge your customer. We don’t mean in an aggressive way, but to force them to think about difficult subjects, and answer hard questions about their business model. They won’t necessarily do this in front of you—but your question may be the grit that makes the pearl form later. You can talk about this need, and also encourage your sales colleague to ask the difficult questions in a helpful way.

Help them to see the ‘long game’

As a thought leader, you know that business is all about building relationships. You acquire customers by building and nurturing those relationship, and being seen as a trusted source of advice. Encourage sales colleagues to start to develop their role as trusted adviser, rather than trying to sell. Sometimes it is right to advise your customers to look elsewhere, because your solution is not the answer. This is very much against a traditional sales approach, but it will pay off in the long term—and that is what really matters.

Help them to speak your customers’ language

We all know that every sector and industry—and sometimes company—has its own language. Some of this is business jargon, but there may also be acronyms and phrases that are exclusive to that organisation or business area. You can help your sales colleagues to fit in by providing a ‘translation service’ for the most commonly-used words and phrases, and especially any nuance of meaning that is specific to the client or situation. This, of course, links back to helping them to develop situational knowledge, but is a very specific example. 

Don’t be afraid to speak out about issues that are not directly related to work

One of the most glaring mistakes that new salespeople make is to present an out-of-context persona, or make assumptions about what behaviour is acceptable. Because these issues are often (incorrectly) seen as non-work-related, peers can find it uncomfortable to flag them up. However, it is perfectly reasonable to comment on, for example, the (in)formality of a particular client, and therefore the appropriate clothing or approach. This, too, is an important part of situational knowledge.  

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