8 Reasons You'll Never Get Better at Selling

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Pete Caputa
Pete Caputa




There are no shortage of sales experts telling you how to be better. 

Each week, they’re saying you just need to do X or Y or X and Y, and if you do so you’ll be crushing your quota and killing your customers with kindness without compromising one for the other. They’ll tell you you can have your cake and eat it too with a cherry and whipped cream on top.

It’s all total horsesh*t, at least for you. None of it applies to you.


Because you’re uncoachable.

You won’t get better. You can’t get better. Maybe you don’t need to get better because you’re already perfectly good at what you do. You learned enough in your first few months of selling to carry you through your career. Maybe it took you a few years (slow learner). Either way, you don’t need to improve, right? You’re already the best you can be.

Carole Mahoney, head of sales coaching firm Unbound Growth, recently published the ebook “Is Sales Coaching Right for You?” In it, she shares how she detects whether someone is coachable, whether they are capable of improving their results, whether they’ll accept they don’t know everything and subject themselves to critique and uncomfortable coaching suggestions, and whether she can actually help them. If none of the above is true, Mahoney tells them to bug off -- she has no time for people who aren’t coachable.

As a salesperson who benefited tremendously from coaching early in my career from Carole Mahoney’s business partner, Rick Roberge, and as a sales leader who has had as much failure as success when it comes to coaching my team members, I was eager to read her findings and interview her for additional perspective. (See, I’m still coachable!)

Mahoney rejects more coaching applicants than she accepts. Her sales process (like most sales processes are, if they’re any good) is built around mutual qualification, not begging for attention and orders. Often, she detects that she can’t help a prospective coaching client faster than they figure it out for themselves. She looks for these eight red flags during her sales process as signs that she should kick them to the curb.

Below are those eight reasons you’re destined to struggle along at 90% for the rest of your sales career as you contend with dead-end sales jobs and performance plans.

No? That’s not you? If you’re still reading, there’s some hope for you yet. Don’t get carried away, though. I said “some.” Call me what you will, just don’t say I didn’t give you a chance ...

1) You Don’t Have Time to Improve

Do you ever say to yourself, “I just need more time on the phones and I’ll be fine”?

Mahoney told me that most salespeople who considered -- but didn’t hire her -- as a sales coach think they just need more time for selling.

“When they work just a bit harder, they get by,” Mahoney said. “Since they’re doing okay most of the time by just working a bit harder, they’re not ready to admit that the way they are selling might also be a problem. They are also unwilling to admit that changing the way they sell might be the only way to be effective with the time they have.”

Uh oh. Maybe you’re up sh*t creek without a paddle. Nobody can create more time. But not everyone can improve either ...

2) You’re Happy With the Status Quo

“If salespeople have goals that are nice to have and won’t change their world, there’s little incentive for them to improve,” Mahoney said.

The status quo might be over-, consistent or under-performance for your “man-made” quota. (Man-made quotas are quotas that are given to you. Winners set their own goals.)

If you don’t have big, important, personal goals that fuel your fire, why change what you’re doing?

All's not lost on these souls, though.

“Some salespeople just need a nudge before they’ll think bigger about what they really want in life.” adds Mahoney.

3) You Don’t Follow Through on Other People’s Advice

Like Melania Trump and First Lady Michelle Obama before her said, “Your word is your bond and you do what you say.”

Not you, though. You don’t follow through.

During Mahoney’s sales process, she usually assigns homework to her prospects and gets commitment from them to do it before her next call. Sometimes, she challenges them to do something different than they’re doing now and suggests their next call focus on how her advice helped. What she’s doing may look like free coaching, but what she’s really doing is testing whether prospects can be coached at all.

Unfortunately, she often finds that prospective clients don’t follow through.

“If doing what you said you would do is optional, and deadlines are more like guidelines, then how can a coach help you?” she asked me rhetorically during our interview.

4) You’re Never Wrong

You don’t need coaching. You just need validation.

You know you’re right. You’re looking for someone to have your back, be on your side, and assure you that it’ll eventually work out for you when the stars recognize your brilliance and finally align for you.

“I should have gotten the job. I deserved it more than him.” “I did everything right. That deal should have closed.”

These are common excuses Mahoney hears from help-immune B players.

“These salespeople will spend their time complaining about things that are outside of their control,” Mahoney added.

One example Mahoney gave me was a prospective client who was banging their head against the wall trying to make their cold calling and cold emailing work. “It wasn’t working at all, but he was not open to anything different and just wanted us to help him tweak what he was doing,” Mahoney said. She declined to coach him.

Coachable salespeople ask, “What could I be doing differently to hit my goals despite my current plan not working?”, or, “How can I prevent my deals from going south?”, or, “What would you do if you were me?”

5) You’re Smart Enough to Figure It Out on Your Own

Being highly educated is a positive for most jobs. But in sales, if you’re obsessed with people recognizing how smart you are, you’ll probably struggle. It’s great to be book-smart, but if you think your special “fast learner” skills trump anyone else’s years of been-there, done-that experience, you’re not going to be coachable.

“Your ego can get in the way of a coach being able to help you,” said Mahoney. “We turned down several potential clients because they were too self-absorbed. They were way too proud of what they knew instead of being interested in learning what they don’t know. They certainly weren’t willing to consider that their current knowledge might be their impediment.”

I guess that means that the more wonderful you believe you are, the less coachable you become. (Don’t worry. I’m screwed too.)

6) Your Situation Is Too Unique

Not only are you a special snowflake, your situation is a one-of-a-kind too. You’re so unique there’s no possible way someone who doesn’t know your industry, your company, your products, and your buyer could help you. Or so you think.

Mahoney added, “Some salespeople think their role is too specialized to get help from a coach who isn’t intimately aware of all of the nuances of it.”

She suggested that this uncoachable trait is easy to detect when salespeople start questioning what applies to them vs. other sales roles or industries.

“There are legitimate differences between different companies, but most sales principles can be applied across different industries, buyers or services,” Mahoney said. “These salespeople would rather figure it out on their own because no one else could possibly understand.”

7) You Expect Someone Else to Invest in You Before You’ll Invest in Yourself

If there’s any type of professional that should understand the value of investing upfront for a payback down the road, it’s you. It’s what you ask buyers to do when you attempt to close.

Ironically, many salespeople wait for their companies to invest in them. But most sales organizations take a “survival of the fittest” approach to sales performance management. You might be put through a world-class training program in your first few months before you’re sent to sink or swim, or maybe there’s not even that in place. You might be blessed with a great sales manager, but chances are they don’t really have time to take you from zero to 60, let alone the experience and skills to do so. Bottom line, your company can and will only do so much for you.

So, why do salespeople balk at hiring an independent sales coach and investing in themselves? Mahoney answered this question with one word: Money.

Salespeople don’t invest because they don’t want to risk their own money on their own development. They may have a negative buy-cycle or money weaknesses that prevent them from making smart investments in themselves.

But, before crossing these people off her list, Mahoney asks these people a battery of questions, including, “Why do you believe your company should pay for training? Is investing in your future worth the short-term sacrifices that may be required? If you don’t believe in the investment, why would you expect someone else to? Is the investment not worth the risk?”

If they are stalling, she’ll ask, “How much money is a lot to you? How did you make your last buying decision? Is the way you buy not only not keeping you from hiring a coach, but also standing in your way when you encounter a buyer who doesn't believe in investing in your solution?”

But say the wrong thing, like “I need to check with my boss,” or “My spouse and I need to really weigh this against other things we’re considering buying,” and Mahoney might make the decision for you. To her, if salespeople aren’t willing to invest in themselves, it’s a huge red flag around their commitment to being successful in sales, in general.

Don’t hesitate. When I hired my sales coach, I was in debt and I paid him more than I had booked in the preceding few months. It was a big risk. It worked out, of course. It was the best investment I’ve ever made in my career.

8) You Can’t Handle a Coach

If you’re asking yourself, “Why is Pete being such a sarcastic a**hole” or “How does Carole ever get any clients?”, then I’ve accomplished my goal.

I’m not being sarcastic in an attempt to be funny, nor am I playing devil’s advocate to be devilish. I’m not being dramatic just to get pageviews. The reason I wrote this post in this tone is because effective sales coaching requires you to subject yourself to some tough love from your coach and if you can’t handle it in a blog post, how will you handle it when it’s one-on-one and personal? The language in this post is in your face, just like a good coach will be when you’re not doing it right.

Still reading? If so, and you’re considering coaching, here’s a checklist you can use to determine whether they can even coach the pathetic out of you:

  • You are open to feedback and will dedicate the time to receive it.
  • You have an incentive to change.
  • You will follow through on advice you receive.
  • You don’t care as much about being right as you do about being successful. You take responsibility for losses, and share credit for the wins.
  • You accept there are things you don’t even know that you don’t know.
  • You understand you can learn from others and that some people are much wiser and more experienced than you.
  • You have a personally meaningful goal worth investing in.
  • You have a “whatever it takes” attitude.

Still think I’m being too harsh on you? You might remember the scene where Frankie (Clint Eastwood) in Million Dollar Baby finally agrees to train Hillary Swank’s Maggie.

Frankie says, “If I take you on, you don’t say anything. You don’t question me. You don’t ask why, you don’t say anything except maybe ‘Yes, Frankie.’”

Why was he so hard on her?

“Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t,” Mahoney said. “I want to coach champions, so I have to find the ones who will do what it takes, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

Maybe that’s not for you? Why did you read this far, then?

Psst -- want to see Carole Mahoney speak live? She'll be at #INBOUND16 -- check out the sales track here.

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