Every so often, we like to highlight stories from frontline sellers and sales leaders to discuss the applications of sales philosophy and methodology not just in theory, but in practice. I sat down with Charles Forsgard, VP of Global Sales at Honeywell, to discuss his own experience on the frontlines of sales leadership.
Effective Leadership in Sales
As the head of Honeywell’s Global Sales team for Advanced Sensing Technologies business, Charles manages and leads a large team of hundreds of sellers and their managers. I asked him what it’s like to lead a team of leaders: “I think the trick is figuring out the balancing act between what you want to be common to everybody and what you want to be individual interpretation of style.” Essentially, you need to ensure you have a cohesive salesforce, not just a collection of people.
For example, Charles has been leading his team recently on a charge of “proactive selling” as he calls it, which is about balancing how much time sellers spend reacting to what happens on a daily basis versus how much sellers take control proactively of their time. That part of the equation is non-negotiable, but the “how” surrounding the execution and implementation, Charles leaves up to each individual manager to determine the best way to do so based on their own team.
The Importance of Coaching Culture
I asked Charles to share his thoughts on the importance of a coaching culture in sales organizations, and specifically within his own teams.
Charles told me that coaching is a central component of any successful sales organization, but he believes that most people, even leaders, misunderstand what sales coaching actually is and what it entails.
“Coaching is not telling someone what to do.” – Charles Forsgard
Really good coaching actually helps you come to your own conclusions. Charles told me he often uses Socratic questioning to accomplish this goal. The term comes from Socrates’ approach to teaching a class. Instead of lecturing, he would ask questions to skillfully draw out answers from his students.
And it’s actually quite similar to a concept we teach at ASLAN called GAP questioning (Get At the Problem questions). When applied to sales coaching sessions, this idea is this: getting someone to understand or admit (even if they don’t see it clearly at first) what the problem is or what the solution could be, is so much more effective than just informing them of it. People don’t argue with their own data.
The best advice for leaders and coaches that Charles usually offers is this: when someone comes to you with a problem, your default answer should be, “What do you think we should do?” In his experience, 9 times out of 10, they will tell you what they think should happen. They’re typically just looking for permission and validation that their instincts are correct. This is how reps get better, by owning their own development and becoming more self-sufficient and proactive.
The problem is, most leaders simply want to tell their salespeople what the solution is. It’s a more immediately efficient response. It saves time and effort in the short term. But this doesn’t breed development. In some cases, you may have to coach someone through the problem by asking good questions to get them thinking. You might have to coax it out of them, but most reps can usually arrive at the answer on their own. And this is a much better way towards sustainable progress than just giving someone a solution to the problem at hand.
This approach is simple, but it’s hard to put into play for many sales coaches and leaders. It’s common sense, but not always common practice.
Inspiring Leaders to Lead & Coach
I also asked Charles to comment on how he inspires his own team of leaders and managers to take on this coaching role and develop a regular and structured practice with their sales teams.
“I always tell everybody in my organization, just lead by example. And I try to do the same thing myself when people come to me with a problem. ” – Charles Forsgard
One of the biggest problems that leaders face, especially in today’s day and age, is having so much on their plates. Their days are jammed with meetings, calls, reports, etc. It would be so easy to say, “Look, I don’t have time for this” and just give someone the quick answer. But that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do.
Just as we instruct our sales reps to put the customer’s needs first and make time to serve them well, leaders need to do the same with their coaching practice or management strategy. “I’m too busy for this,” is a terrible way to approach any conversation. So leaders need to learn to shift their mindset accordingly. Charles checks in with himself regularly to ensure he is doing this. He always tries to make time to give his attention to whoever and whatever is directly in front of him.
Younger leaders will model the behavior they see happening above them. So as Charles stated, it is absolutely critical to lead by example.
Summing It Up
If you found Charles’ insights on coaching and leadership to be as interesting and helpful as I did, you can check out his book, “Stop Kidding Yourself: The way that you are managing your salespeople is not helping them” for more. In the book, inspired and based on his own experiences, Charles reveals a fundamental flaw in many sales teams: too many sales managers are forced to focus on the wrong things by their organizations, so much so that their primary role — actually leading and coaching their salespeople — ends up taking a back seat.
Sales leaders, if you’re looking to take these concepts a step further, you may want to check out our programs and tools for becoming a Catalyst for change within your own sales teams.