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3 Steps to Coach Sellers for Powerful Discovery

Business woman with her hands crossed, speaking to another woman.

In my last newsletter I talked about What Sellers Can Do that Technology Can’t. As Gartner shares in its Chief Sales Officer Quarterly, human sellers have the unique ability and opportunity to address the emotional component of purchase decisions.

At any given moment, buyers may be afraid of making a wrong decision, or being taken advantage of, or making a change when a change isn’t warranted. Sellers can and must help buyers navigate the treacherous path of decision-making. This ability depends on an understanding of the emotional aspects of decision-making.

So how exactly does the seller do this? Through a set of skills called mentalizing. Gartner outlines four critical seller skills that are the components of mentalizing:

  • Active listening (be present, listen, and ask responsive questions)

  • Perspective taking (see things from the buyer’s point of view)

  • Empathizing (use EQ to understand how the buyer feels)

  • Cognitive decoding (interpret and predict buyer behavior)

Graph of the information from above.

At first glance, sales leaders may think, “These all sound great, but how do I teach these skills to my sellers? They either have it or they don’t, right?”

The great news is: these skills can indeed be taught.

Teaching human skills through observable moments - AKA coach sellers for powerful discovery.

These skills can be taught, and this is what fires me up about the Gap Selling sales trainings I lead. We teach more than just the framework of a buyer-centric selling approach. In our activity-based trainings, we use observable moments in role play to teach sellers the skills of active listening, perspective taking, empathizing, and cognitive decoding. 

Without teaching to observable moments, these concepts are just theory. Theory can be learned and then forgotten. Coaching in play-by-play moments helps sellers truly absorb those concepts and apply them in actionable ways.

Sales leaders and managers should be coaching calls in play-by-play moments.

The coaching framework for teaching human seller skills

We recommend a coaching model where the coach (sales leader) 1) observes the seller in a discovery call or role play 2) describes what they observed, and then 3) prescribes a change.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • Instead of saying, “ask better questions”, coach your seller. For example, “Mary, I noticed that when the buyer said they cut their team in half last year, you replied with an unrelated question. Instead, follow up with a responsive question. What else could you have asked to learn more about what they just shared?”

  • Instead of saying, “don’t pitch too soon,” describe your observation to your seller: “Stan, the buyer mentioned that they need to choose a solution by the end of the year. What could you ask to learn what’s driving that urgency?”

  • Above all: don’t skip coaching! I speak with many sales leaders who admit they don’t coach as often as they should. But coaching is the only way to help your team get better.

Sellers of today and the future will win by becoming even more human: learning to listen, knowing how to empathize, and understanding how to see things through their buyer’s eyes. The irony is that technology empowers us to do this. To me this is a refreshing and exciting time to be alive – as a seller, and as a human.

"3 Steps to Coach Sellers for Powerful Discovery"



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