Coaching is about helping people grow and produce better results. Coaching helps people identify the resources they already have within themselves and then marshal those resources to reach goals and rise to challenges.
Sales coaching is different from managing (even though the best managers are great coaches); when you are managing someone, you’re primarily invested in the outcome you need. Coaching also isn’t training; when you’re being trained, you improve skills or acquire skills you lack.
Skilled coaches are nondirective when they believe the student is competent, has valuable ideas about what to do and needs a nudge—in the form of questions—to get going. Directive coaching is the best tactic when the individual being coached doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and needs a detailed plan.
I use both approaches to advise these SUCCESS readers.
Q: What is the one thing I could focus on every day that would create the greatest benefit for my business and result in more sales? I’m in real estate, but I bet every salesperson has the same question.
—Jason Wieloch, Atlanta
A: As Jason’s coach, I’m nondirective, asking:
• What tasks could you do to increase your sales right now? I know Jason knows that he needs to spend more time targeting his dream clients, nurturing those relationships and prospecting for new business. He knows that he needs appointments with prospective customers, and he already seeks them.
• Are there other things that you could do to increase your sales right now (in addition to those you mentioned in answering my first question)? I don’t want to let Jason off the hook with the simple answer that he needs to prospect. I want him to be resourceful. When I poke him with this question, he is likely to remember that he should ask for referrals and network more. I will tell him those are great ideas. He might come up with other excellent ideas, too—ones I never thought of.
• Which of these choices makes the most sense to pursue now, and what are you committed to doing? I might ask three or four questions before I get to this one, but the point is that I haven’t told Jason what he needs to do, and I haven’t told him how to do it. He’s a smart, resourceful guy who knows the answers, so I help him through the process of reminding himself of who he is and what he knows. No matter how he responds, I am going to tell him his answer is great.
• May I share two ideas? Only after I have made Jason do the work will I contribute my suggestions to his plan: Would it help you to list your top 20 dream clients and focus on the prospects that, if won, would produce the results you seek? (Of course it would be helpful. But I am not committing Jason to this course of action. He has to commit to it himself. I gave him a nudge and showed him something he might have missed. He might say he doesn’t need to do that. It’s his plan, and I am his coach here, not his manager. He has to do what he believes will help him succeed.)
• When are you going to take action? And what are you going to be accountable for? Now Jason can tell me his plan and commit to it. The next time we get together, we can discuss how his plan is going and make adjustments.
Nondirective coaching is powerful when people have what they need inside them already.
Q: I’m selling plenty, but customers are slow to pay my invoices. What can I do to receive the money faster?
—Farooqbhatt Sopore, via email
A: As Farooqbhatt’s coach, I’ll be directive, supplying him with a strategy and specific language to use with customers—motivating them without alienating them. (If he already had the strategy and the words, he wouldn’t be waiting on payment, right?)
Here’s a general, but adjustable, plan for getting paid promptly:
First, quick payment is easier if you establish terms at the beginning of the relationship. The best way to do this is to say, “The prices that I am quoting here are based on our invoice being paid upon receipt. That’s how I am able to deliver this value to you at this price. You can pay on receipt, right?” Maybe your terms are 30 or 45 days. It doesn’t matter. If there is going to be a problem, you want to know now so you can discuss it and maybe negotiate. Can you make this change and start doing this with new customers right now? Excellent!
Now let’s deal with your existing customers who have unpaid invoices. You will need to call them and ask for payment. These relationships are precious, so you want to honor them and still receive the money owed. The best way to do this is to call and directly ask to be paid. You say something like, “Tom, our invoices for July haven’t been paid. I know you didn’t mean to overlook those payments. But I really need to be paid so I can continue delivering the value you expect from me. Can I pick up a check this afternoon?”
Now be very quiet. Don’t speak. You’ve said this in a way that protects Tom’s ego by suggesting he overlooked this instead of being adversarial. Tom will say yes or will negotiate a date for you to pick up your check.
When you pick up your payment, you want to have that conversation about establishing terms. Because you already are serving this customer, you say, “Tom, I’m sorry I didn’t explain our terms when we first started working together. To provide the value that I deliver for you, I base my pricing on payment terms of net 30. Can you get my business set up in your system with those payment terms?”
Many companies pay the vendors who ask for—or demand—payment first. They stretch everybody else. You need to be one who asks for payment.
You are asking for your own money. You have every right to ask for it, and no one has the right to withhold it unless you haven’t delivered the value you promised. Be polite. Be professional. And remember that part of being professional is asking for payment so you can run your business well and continue to serve your customers.
One more note: If you aren’t being paid because your customer doesn’t have the money, you have a different problem. In this case, you may have to re-evaluate the whole relationship. Sometimes a customer has a short-term cash-flow problem, so it makes sense to work out a payment schedule and tie your continuing service to being paid promptly. But if the customer can’t or won’t pay, you may have to take legal action or hire a collection firm.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the September 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine. We gave you, the reader, the opportunity to ask the SUCCESS columnists anything—and these are some of your best questions answered.