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Dramatically Improve Sales Productivity Through Systematic Coaching, with Meredith Bell [Episode 3]

Noted business performance coach Meredith Bell dishes out the straight talk on a radically effective framework that managers should use to become effective sales coaches and to help their sales team achieve great results. Supported by years of research and proven results in the field, this is a methodology that every entrepreneur and manager should be using to optimize the performance of their teams.

About The Show

It’s time to accelerate. Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you.

Let Us Introduce You to Our Guest… Meredith Bell!

Hello and welcome to the show. Today, our guest is Meredith Bell, president of Performance Support Systems, and she’s an expert in professional development for salespeople and managers. And we’re going to talk a lot about that today. So, Meredith, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Andy. I’m really glad to be here with you. I appreciate your inviting me.

Tell us what you do and who you do it for?

Okay. We are a software company that helps organizations and people in all levels, in all levels in organizations really improve the people side and the interpersonal skills in their work with others. So that might include a leader interacting with direct reports, salespeople interacting with clients and prospects. The idea is that that interpersonal component, the personal development side, if you will, of a person’s effectiveness at work is really critical. So, we don’t get into the technical skills. It’s more the interpersonal skills. And so, over the years, we’ve created products that are used to help people with assessing their current strengths and areas for development, as well as helping them make improvements in those areas where they feel that they need to become stronger.

Okay. So, really addressing sort of the whole person, not just to make you better and how you do a sales presentation or a particular sales skill, but fundamentally sales about a person to person communication. How do you improve those interpersonal skills?


Very much, very cool. Okay. So, before we get into some of that in details. Tell us a little bit how you got started in sales.

How Meredith Bell Got into Sales

Well, that’s an interesting story. I’ll make it quick. My background had nothing to do with sales. I was in education. I started out as an elementary school teacher. And then I got my master’s and worked. At that time was considered, a fairly prestigious position within the organization moving to central office administration but what I realized is I was not cut out for bureaucracy or politics. So over 30 years ago, I left that whole arena and decided I was going to just jump off and do something myself. And Andy, I had no background in business or selling. So, it was one of those situations is probably good that ignorance was bliss because I didn’t know what I was getting into. And I realized that I didn’t know anything about selling. And I started studying books. What I discovered was that a lot of this gills and strengths that I brought with me were naturals in the selling arena because I like people. I enjoy working with people. And it turns out, in teaching, you’re really trying to persuade people to learn and acquire certain information. And so, there were some skills that ended up being pretty natural for the selling process.

Yes, it’s interesting because I’ve interviewed a number of women that have become very prominent sales thought leaders and so on. And there were some actually interests, a very similar career actor as I started in education and then moved to sales. And as you said, it’s probably not a dissimilar skill set required in terms because really, it’s about educating, sales fundamentalist, but educating. That’s right.

In your work, you’ve coached a lot of salespeople, you’ve worked a lot of managers. There seems to be sort of confusion. But in the marketplace, we hear that people are drawing this distinction between management and coaching. I mean,

Is there a real difference between managing and coaching, and what is that?

I definitely see a difference between those two. When you think of management, one stark distinction you could make is that management deals with managing things, processes, whereas coaching really involves interacting with another person to assist them in perhaps seeing things they didn’t know or learning lessons from experiences they had, whether they’re successes or mistakes. So, to me, there’s a real distinction between the two. Someone can be an effective manager and not a very good coach and vice versa. And of course, in sales for someone who’s in a sales management role, they really need to be effective at both things. Because, of course, they need to know what needs to happen, how it needs to happen. Those kinds of things. But they also need to be really good at coaching the salespeople that are on their team. So, they get to know them individually and understand what it is really takes to help this person with their motivation, with their beliefs in themselves and what’s possible. So, yes, they’re quite different in my mind.

Yes. There seems to be a trend, I’ll say.

In some cases that you actually see sales managers sort of abdicating the coaching role. I’ve seen companies where their sales managers hire coaches to coach their salespeople. Yet, to me that seems strange. It seems to me like the primary responsibility of sales manager should be to coach their salespeople. I mean, if they’re not coaching their salespeople, then, they’re decreasing their own odds of success, right? Because they only succeed if their team succeeds.

So, why is it that some managers seem to have such a hard time coaching?

Oh, I think there’s a couple of reasons for that.

One is they themselves don’t have the skills or they don’t perceive themselves to have the skills. So, they don’t have the confidence in their ability to do that well. And, they may not have ever had a manager who was an effective coach for them. So, they don’t have a role model to look back on, to really understand what does that look like? What would an effective coach do in this situation? And sometimes, Andy, they’re just so busy with some of the processes involved with managing certain things that they lose sight of the fact that if they’re not coaching their salespeople well, they’re not going to get the results that they need.

So, I think sometimes it’s just a matter of not understanding the importance of that role. And if I could speak for a minute to this thing of hiring outside coaches, there can be a benefit to having an external person. In fact, our online coaching system is sort of an external piece, but I think it’s really important for the manager to be involved in the process as even if they bring in an external coach for them and a year to serve as another type of coach so that the individual sales person really sees, a team of coaches, just like college or professional sports. They have different kinds of coaches for different functions.

So, specialized coaches, offensive coach, defensive coach.

Exactly. And so, there’s nothing wrong with having more than one coach because each one can serve a very specific function. And I think that the role of coaching for a sales manager is a really critical role if you’re going to maximize their productivity performance results from a salesperson.

How do you coach a managers into becoming a better coaches?

Well, I think one of the key things is having them understand what it does mean to be a coach? So, they’re not intimidated by the process. And, you know, to me, a key element of being a good coach is having certain interpersonal skills, like listening, like the ability to give feedback, both positive and constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t cause the person to be defensive, that helps them relax and be able to learn from what the person is telling them. Also, a coach, there’s just some simple things like helping the person process it experience they’ve had. Let’s say there’s a specific sales situation where a sale didn’t go through or maybe they had a great success.

There are a series of questions that a manager could learn to ask the salesperson so that salesperson is able to process what happened and at the same time figure out for himself or herself what needs to be done differently going forward. I think a key thing that a manager needs to understand that would actually help the manager relax more is to recognize that coaching doesn’t mean giving advice or giving direction. It can be sharing experiences or insights that you’ve learned over time. But it’s not feeling like you’ve got to have all the answers.

And so, if a manager understands that role, don’t you think that would help them feel a little more calm and relaxed about taking on that additional responsibility? Because it’s not like they have to become an expert in it in order to do it well.

So, in some respects, what you’re saying is that the role of a good coach and sales is about asking the right questions.

Yes. It’s not and similar to being effective in sales, period.

Yes, I’ve sometimes drawn an analogy with successful sales coaches a little bit like a therapist, right? Is if you want to be effective as a coach or not providing the answers as you’re asking the questions that help the person you’re coaching. Arrive at the answer themselves.

Exactly. And just to give you a few of the questions to make it more concrete and real. We have a series of five questions that we’ve built into our system to help people process when something has happened.

So, if there’s a particular skill they’re working on and they’re applying back on the job and then they come back into the program. These are the same questions a manager could ask.

The first one is what happened, just to describe the events and why did it happen that way? And then what were the consequences of it happening? And what do you learn from that process and what would you do differently going forward? Or perhaps you’ll do the same thing if it’s something that went well.

5 Questions of Reflection Exercise

So, let’s go through it. So, the first question I’m going to ask is, what happened?

1. What happened?

What happened? Okay, right. Just specifics. The sequence of events. All right. So, if you’re coaching someone first, what happened?

2. Why did it happen that way?

Second question? Why did it happen that way? So, the person is looking at, let’s just say it was an in-person sales call and maybe they were running late, and they weren’t very well prepared. So, they would look at, what happened is that the person asked me questions. I didn’t know how to answer them. And I kind of fumbled through my answers. So why did it happen that way? Well, I didn’t adequately prepare for the call. You know, I wrote last minute putting together everything. So, they get to thinking about what’s behind what happened. So, they don’t just move from one activity to another without processing it. So that’s all purpose of questions. Okay.

3. What were the consequences of it happening?

Third one is, what were the consequences of that? What good things? What bad things happened as a result of that?

4. What do you learn that process?

And so, the fourth one then is, so what do I learn from that? So, reflection.
Yes. In the whole process we call a reflection exercise. So, yes, looking at reflection.

5. What am I going to do now?

And the fifth step is, Okay. So, what am I going to do now? So, this gets them thinking about what can I do differently on my next appointment or in preparing for my next appointment or whatever that next thing might be. What am I going to do? So, they’re making a commitment to take an action that in the case of a mistake or a bad outcome, they’re going to look at what they can do differently. And Andy, one of the things that is so powerful about this processing is it’s a way of helping a person let go of the past. So, they’re not beating themselves up on an ongoing basis and can and have a clear idea of what they’re going to do going forward.

Well, exactly and I think for coaches, the importance of these five questions on this reflection exercises that. We’re trying to do is are trying to teach salespeople. We’re trying to teach people work for us. How to think, right? Is that, too often, especially in sales. We tend to think of it ourselves as rote process that we go through. No one wanted this exact same thing every time. The exact same situation. In fact, is that every sales situation is different, and you can’t treat it as a rote process. So, I think this has become so important because, selling has to be a deliberate act. Has to be a thoughtful act.

Yes. Yes. And each person is different. And you’re absolutely right.

You can’t treat everything. One plan does not fit all. Right. And especially in your book, which I really have been enjoying, Amp Up Your Sales, you talk about how things have changed so much in the selling environment.

And, I’ve been in sales now myself for over 30 years and it really is different. The Internet has changed everything in terms of preparation and just the whole research that people can do now prior to contacting someone in sales. And so, that one size fits all absolutely does not work. And the ability to shift gears and think creatively about how to handle a specific situation. I think going through a reflection exercise like this is really it’s an excellent way to get that your mind thinking away from one’s rigid set of steps for doing something.

Great. I like it. So very, very good advice from Meredith Bell, who’s our guest on the show today. And we’re going to take a quick break. But before we do Meredith thing and I give you a question for you to our scenario, let’s say, for you to think about and we’ll talk about it when we come back after the break. Here’s a scenario you’ve just been hired as a new sales manager at a company whose sales have been pretty stagnant for a while and they’re really looking to turn things around and really accelerate going forward. And so, some pressure on you to do things quickly and have some impact. So, what would be the two things you would do in the first week that could have the biggest impact? And we’ll talk about that when I come back after the break again. My guest is Meredith Bell, president of Performance Support Systems. And we’ll be right back.

What would Meredith Bell do in this kind of scenario?

So welcome back. My guest today is Meredith Bell. You can find Meredith online at strongforperformance.com. And so, before we talk some more about coaching, which has been a great discussion so far as let’s talk about the scenario I posed right before the break. Your new manager brought in to help turn around the sales team cast happen quickly, what are the two things you do in the first week that could have the biggest impact.

Oh, that’s such a great question, Andy.
Well, one thing I would want to do is talk with the salespeople and get a sense of where they are. What’s working? What’s not working? What are you most excited about? What are you most frustrated about? What one thing do you think we could do that would make the biggest difference in you? Being able to improve your own personal sales so that we get a sense of where they are, and that would then guide what I would do next with the sales force based on what came out of that.

The second thing is I would want to talk to some of the customers and ask them similar questions. What do you like best about doing business with us? What do you not like? What one thing would you like us to change that would make it a delight for you to do business with us? So, to get perspectives from the people who have already bought as to what’s working and what isn’t. And I think that would then guide me to determine what plan of action to take from there.

Okay, good answer. Good answer. So, before the break, we are talking about coaching and helping managers become better coaches. I saw take it down to the salesperson levels. You’ve coached lots of salespeople. I have as well. But I want to ask you,

What’s the hardest part of coaching an individual salesperson?

I think helping them change their beliefs about themselves and about selling it will just I think beliefs in general, but beliefs they have about themselves and their abilities about approaching other people, how to talk to other people and helping them break through their beliefs is challenging because we all have these established beliefs that have been built up many times over our whole lives, over what we’ve been taught about sales, about people, about ourselves. And I think of those the hardest one is the self-beliefs. Am I worthy? I’m going to be an intruding on people if I call them. It’s beliefs about self have to be altered in other in order for the person to become more effective, more confident in approaching perspective or existing clients for that matter.

Right. I think a key element of that, and I guess, it’s our guest has been on the show. His name is Bob Thoreson, talked about this. Which, I’m sure is what you get into as well as is salespeople, the self belief issue, so large as you have to realize that you’re not as you said, you’re not intruding. But there’s a reason people are spending the time to talk to you, right? I mean, absolutely, you haven’t twisted their arm. They’ve freely given and invested some of their time in the process of talking to you.

Right. And helping them reframe the whole thing that I am there to provide value. You know, I am adding to their lives, not subtracting from it. And I think that’s such an important. View to have when you’re talking to somebody that they clearly have a problem and that’s why they’ve even agreed to speak with you. Right. And so, you can help ask questions, get them to clarify in their own minds, what the problem is, what the solution would look like and discover if there’s a match between what you have to offer and what they have. I know for me, Andy, because I’m responsible for sales and marketing in our company, it is a huge difference when I’m speaking with somebody, whether it’s for the first time or a follow up conversation. If I have in my mind, how can I serve this person? How can I be of service and a value to this person without focusing on how can I sell them our product? My body feels different. My mind is different. I’m in a more relaxed state. They can sense the calmness and my authenticity and genuineness. And really listening to what they’re saying and responding with information that I have may be resources I’m aware of that could be a value to them.

Without them becoming defensive or becoming guarded about talking to me because they are concerned, I’m going to be jumping in and trying to offer my product, is the solution right off the bat?

Right. And I think you brought a good word, which is service on sales is fundamentally a service that you provide to customers and buyers but doesn’t mean that you’re a servant. And I think this is the problem that lots of salespeople have, at least by experience, has been. You said, your point of view. The point you made earlier, which is. you’re the equal of the buyer. Yes. You have to have that perspective. You’re their equal. They brought you in. They’re investing their time to talk to you for specific reasons. They want to extract some of the value that you are able to provide. So, you’re they’re equal. You’re their peer. You’re not subservient to them.

Right. You know what I think it ties back to Andy is somebody, the salesperson giving herself or himself credit for who he is and what she knows. I think too often I don’t want to project onto others. One of my challenges in sales when I was starting out is feeling like I had to be so prepared for every possible thing that could come up. And again, when I learned to relax and give myself credit for what I already had experienced in life, for what I already knew, I didn’t need to be concerned about what might this person throw at me that I don’t know the answer to? Because there’s nothing wrong with saying, I don’t know the answer to that. That’s a great question. I will check on it and get back to you. And as your advice in your book that responsiveness is what really is going to make a positive impression on the person. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect good service and responsiveness.

So, if you don’t have the answer in the course of a conversation, you can let them know. I’ll get right back to you with that. And then do it. That’s the key thing. They’re checking. They’re watching to see. Do you follow through and do what you say you’re going to do? Quickly.

Exactly. Yes, if you think about it that’s the impression you make on a potential buyer is not just about what you know, it’s also about how you how you do your job. Exactly. That can be the ultimate discriminator differentiator between you and your competition.

Well, you know, when people get up on stage, folks that coach people about public speaking often will say, focus on your audience, not yourself. And I think in sales, that’s also true. If you’re really focused on my definition of serving is asking good questions so that you can really find out what the core issues are that the person is struggling with and come up with solutions that will really help them solve that problem. And if you’re focused on them and not yourself, then the self-consciousness, the insecurities, the doubts, all those negative things that can get in the way of being effective in sales, those tend to go away because you’re so focused on mentally zeroing in on what this person is really saying.

And if you can stand out as a powerful listener, I mean, you will just set yourself apart either as a sales manager or as a salesperson, because so few people are good listeners. They’re usually waiting for their turn to talk or even worse, they’re interrupting. And so if you can be silent, comfortably silent, and really pay attention to what the person is saying and not saying, and then rephrase in your own words what you understand them to say and they feel understood, that is a huge win.

And I think that’s a great tip right there, which is this. I know some psychological terms. I talk about mirroring to some degree but reflecting back to the customer what it is they said. And in your terms, to make sure that you understood it, you’re also sort of confirming with them that you understood what they said. Yes, very, very, very important, and customers take a lot of comfort in that, knowing that you’ve listened and knowing that you understand, because oftentimes that will be the difference within a customer’s mind or feel walk out of me and think, gosh that that sales guy really just didn’t get it. You can tell where the questions are asking. They just didn’t get it. And you know, customers aren’t going to go out of their way to explain themselves to make sure that you get it a hundred percent. So that’s really your job.

Exactly. That is so true. And unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that often. Some of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had are when I have listened well, and I will reflect back to somebody what I understood. And they will tell me, you’ve said that better than I said it myself, because I captured some of the unspoken things that I picked up in their tone of voice, their body language or, some way that they conveyed certain words that they might have used. And I’ll just throw it out in the form of a question. I think that’s also important. It sounds like, blah, blah, blah.

Is that accurate? Or do you agree with that? So that you’re not trying to be adamant, or certain you’re checking it out to see if you did get it. And if you’re on target and they will let you know. Oh, yeah, that’s right. Or no, no. That is not. Either way, you learn more about that person and what they need. That I think helps to strengthen the relationship.

Great advice. My guest today is Meredith Bell, president of Performance Support Systems

I kept saying strong for performance, but that’s their website. So, all right. Here we go the last segment of the show here. I call the sales corner to get some rapid fire questions. And you can give one-word answers or elaborate if you wish. But are you ready? I’m ready.

Rapid Fire Questions

Okay. So, what’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?


Name one tool that you use for sales or sales management that you can’t live without.

I would say my outlook. I have extensive folders created to organize people, and that’s helped me a lot.

That look very good. Okay. Who’s your sales role model?

I’m trying to decide if I have just won the first name that comes to mind was Chet Holmes, who wrote The Ultimate SALES Machine. Right. And I think the reason why is, he was fearless. He had no qualms about contacting anyone and he was very disciplined. There were just unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. But there were just so many things I admired about his boldness and willingness to just do whatever it took. I I’ve always admired that. All right.

So, what’s the one book every salesperson should read?

Well. One of them is not a sales book. Think and Grow Rich. It’s so much broader than just selling. But it is a lot about selling and it’s about serving and recognizing that you have to go above and beyond in order to achieve your own goals in serving others.

And that’s Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. That’s been on the favorite books people have raised or I’ve asked that question.

So, what’s your favorite music to listen to psych yourself up for a sales call?

Well, it needs to be upbeat. I’m a big fan of the music of the 70s. I get positive energy from people like the Eagles and Jackson Browne. Good stuff, I liked that.

Yes. So, what’s the first sales activity you do every day?

I alternate between meditating and reading. If I’ve got something, I’d mix especially excited about reading about it might be, a sales book, but it might just be inspiring.

There are so many great books.

And then just taking time to be quiet because I get so busy going from one thing to another. I take at least 10 minutes to sit and just quietly meditate. And that’s important for helping me get centered for my day.

What’s your favorite social media tool and why?

LinkedIn, for sure. I use it in conjunction with Twitter. But if I could only have one, I would use LinkedIn because it allows me to look at somebody’s professional profile to get a sense of, what they have done, what they are doing, what their interests are. And when I’m getting ready to contact somebody. I go through their LinkedIn profile because I want to see where our common ground is. And it just gives me excellent background information. And so, I use that as a way to reach out to people that I want to get to know.

Okay. So, what’s the one question you get asked most frequently by salespeople?

I guess for me, because of the business that I’m in. What is it take to really establish a strong relationship with someone so they’ll want to do business with me?

Got it. All right. So last question for you.

So, what do you do every day to improve whether it’s in life or in work?

Part of it is reading. But part of it is, of course, taking action. Reading alone isn’t going to do anything as far as changing the results that I get. It’ll inspire me, but I’ve got to do something. One of my other favorite authors, by the way, is Steve Chandler and I would recommend his books. Wealth Warrior and Time Warrior for every salesperson. And one of the things he recommends doing that I do is to ask yourself, what’s one thing I can do today that scares me or what is one thing I can do today that would be a big request. So that question alone causes me to stretch out of my comfort zone and extend to myself in a different way so that I do something one thing different every day. That then expands my beliefs about myself and expands possibilities for me.

I like that. Do one thing every day that scares you. Great advice. So, I want to thank you for joining me today. My guest has been Meredith Bell. Meredith,

How can people learn more about you?

Well, they can connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love that on Twitter. I’m Meredith M as in Mary Bell. And the Strong for performance Web site is a great place to look. There is an About US page where you can also learn more about our company and of course, learn more about our product.

Great. Well, again, thank you very much for joining me. And remember, people, if you want to accelerate your sales and amp up your business, then you have to deliberately learn something new every day that we empower you to achieve your goals. And I think we helped you with that today. So, until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling, everyone.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at andypaul.com