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Book Club: Carole Mahoney on Creating Behavior Change Through Mindset

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club: A Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m so excited to have Carole Mahoney join us.

Carole, I’d love for you to just take a second and introduce yourself to our audience.

Carole Mahoney: Yes, I am the founder of Unbound Growth. It’s funny because we were just talking before we started the call that — I’m in the country, so if you stalk me on Instagram, you probably already know that I’m a country girl, a dog mom, a wife, I’m a mother to two sons and a little bit of a nerd.

I started Unbound Growth when I saw that salespeople were selling in a way that didn’t allow buyers to really want to engage with them. It was just a misalignment. And barely half of salespeople were making quota year after year, despite huge investments in time and in money and in tech and in training. I found that even if they did sometimes make quota, it was not always enough because there was customer churn happening in the company. So, I started doing some research and studying the science behind how people make decisions and how we change our behaviors.

As a result of that, I transitioned my lead generation agency into a sales consulting, training, and coaching firm. And I took all of that science and data and I started testing it in the field with sales teams. And we’ve seen salespeople who were on plan about to get fired, go from that to being top performers in the company, selling the largest deals in company history, hitting over 200% of quota in some cases — in less than a year.

By working with some frontline managers, we’ve seen teams go from barely scraping together 80% of quota at the end of every month or every quarter, to then hitting 130% of quota or more consistently, and growing their teams and the size of their teams.

We’ve also consulted business owners and founders, and those in the C-suite to help them to hire the right people for the right role to begin with, because even today with the market being what it is, as far as hiring people goes, we still have to make sure we’re hiring the right person for the right role. We’ve also helped them cut down their hiring costs in the time to hire and increase the success of those sales hires by up to 90%.

So, I really kind of see myself as a change agent. I kind of go when there needs to be a behavioral change happening in the sales organization and I really dig into not just what they see happening, but why it’s happening and really get to the root cause of it rather than throwing more training and tactics at people. Although that’s part of it — changing the approach and the tactics — we’re really digging into what’s going on behind the scenes. What are the hidden weaknesses that we might not even realize is the thing that’s actually tripping their teams up from executing the way they want to.

OF: In your book “Mindset Matters”, you said that improving sales comes down to behavior change. Why is behavior change so critical to success in sales?

CM: When you think of success in sales as being successful in any kind of a job function where you have to perform under high stakes pressure, managing our behaviors in those situations is critical. Whether you’re performing in sports or in the arts, whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer, even as parents and partners to our spouses and loved ones, being able to manage your behaviors, your emotions, and how you show up is critical to success. And sales is absolutely no different. In fact, I’d say even more important, I think. Because one of the things that I love about sales and I’ve talked to a lot of salespeople and a lot of sales leaders, and I hear this consistently — is that one of the things that they love is the ability to tie their results directly to their activities and their behaviors. That if they want more, if they want to be more, their efforts directly contribute to that. And you know, from how much we reach out to people, to how we follow up and follow through and what we said we were going to do, how we communicate with people to help them to understand their problem and for us to understand their world and be able to offer them insights that they might think differently about a problem or a solution. And hear things like, ‘well, you know, I never thought of it that way before.’

This is also though our biggest challenge, right? In being able to manage our behaviors, to get our results. It’s also our biggest challenge because how we show up a lot of times depends on how we think and what we think. And that can be sometimes those hidden weaknesses that get in there in our way. Our beliefs, our mindsets about ourselves, our value, our environment, and the world around us.

Those things become our mindsets and how we see ourselves in the world, which is then becoming our behaviors, and how we act and show up becomes our results. Behavioral scientists called this the theory of reasoned action and our intents in that is the theory of planned behavior. Our mindsets and beliefs directly impact our behaviors in all aspects of life: sales, weight loss, performance, in every way.

OF: Behavior change can often be a difficult process, and you’ve talked about the need for sellers to really have incentives to put in the effort necessary for growth. What are some ways that sales reps can be incentivized to change their behaviors?

CM: In a lot of the research and studying that I did is digging into this and identifying, why are we so resistant to change?

It’s usually in relation to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of an uncertainty of what the future is going to look like, which we are all suffering from to some extent right now. And this is why I think one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a cognitive approach to sales coaching embedded within your coaching framework. Because cognitively, when we’re dealing with those fears and those types of things, it’s hard for us to imagine the future. And because it’s hard for us to imagine, the unknown is scary to us. And so, we avoid it. And when we avoid it, that causes all kinds of other problems.

In order to get over the fear of the uncertainty, we need to have identified what our personally meaningful goals are for making the change. What do we want our future to look like? And why is that so important to us?
So, goal setting for — I see this happen in school, many sales organizations, when I asked them about, do you or your team have personally meaningful goals that are driving them to make these changes that you’re talking about implementing in your training and coaching programs? And they say, ‘well, they have quotas and they have activity plans and they have playbooks and they have a smart goal setting model to use.’

And the problem with that is when you try to use quotas and commissions as a standalone to try and motivate and incentivize people, the problem with that is the data shows from over 1.9 million sales professionals that the top percentage of salespeople are not necessarily motivated by just money. They’re actually motivated by things that are more interesting intrinsic, like being the best at something, being reputable with others, being a resource to others, mastering their craft, being the best they can be.

And frontline sellers and managers who dig into the reason why those things are important and the why behind their actions are more likely to do whatever it takes to reach the goal, no matter how scary it might seem. And that might include letting go of some long-held beliefs and mindsets.

There’s a story that comes to mind of a client that I worked with. His name is Michael Douglas, not the actor, the salesperson. And when I started working with Michael, he had a goal of increasing his income and his revenue by a certain percentage. And we dug a little bit deeper into it and one of the things that we found is that he really wanted to feel that he was able and confident from now and into the future that he was going to be able to provide for his family. And that he wanted to make that investment in being the best that he could be for that reason. Now that’s something that’s a lot more motivating than you need to hit X number of quota this month. For Michael, this was the incentive for him to change the beliefs, long-held mindsets, and now as a result of that, he’s closing largest deals in company history. He went from selling three, six figure deals a year to selling three times that in less than nine months.

So, this is how we get people to change behaviors, is by guiding and helping them to tap into their why. And not that we spend forever there, that we have to imagine the perfect why that’s going to be the magic pill that’s going to motivate us through everything. It’s still going to be hard. It’s still going to require grit. But when you dig and you think, why am I doing this? And you were reminded of the reason — then you’re willing to go through the uncomfortable changes that you need to go through to get there.

OF: You have another book that’s dedicated to sales coaching, and more specifically about determining the value of sales coaching for sellers. From your perspective, what is that value and why is sales coaching so important?

CM: Revenue. I think that’s every salesperson’s, every sales leader’s answer to that question is going to be its impact because of revenue.

There’s a lot of other reasons why, so let’s tackle the revenue question first. Same data from 1.9 million sales professionals — I also did an analysis on the sales managers and the salespeople who reported directly to those managers, and the things that I found were that when managers who were trained on how to coach and had been coached themselves and consistently did coaching multiple times a week for an hour and more total per week per rep, and it was about 50% of their time — that those managers who did those things saw their salespeople were 49% stronger than those that didn’t.

And if you acquaint abilities to revenue, you can look at a 10% increase in abilities can equate to as much as 33% of revenue give or take. You start increasing the abilities by 50%, imagine what that does to revenue.
So, there’s that, there’s a retention of your top six salespeople. I think it was a Deloitte study that showed that salespeople who are coached are more likely to stay. And I think it was actually a study that was done by The Bridge Group and ExecVision, that showed the salespeople who were coached not only were likely to stay longer, but they were 45% more likely to recommend others to come and work for your company.

So, imagine if more of your top performers who you’ve been coaching then had more others that were like them who could be like also top performers coming to your company, which goes back to the hiring piece. Here’s the other thing of it though, is that coaching doesn’t just increase revenue. It doesn’t just increase the retention of your top salespeople and make it easier for you to hire more salespeople.

It also helps you to retain more of your customers. We talked about in the beginning, in the intro, how — I don’t know if I mentioned this part, but actually the increase in revenue is one piece, but we actually saw teams retain customers of over 98% retention rate. And when you’re a SaaS based company, that is an absolutely critical number, especially right now.

But the interesting thing — it wasn’t just because of customer service. There was an interview that was done by Mark Roberge, who was the CRO at HubSpot, and he was talking about when they were scaling the sales teams there. And he said that when they started having churn issues, they thought at first that it was going to be related to customer service issues.

But what they found was that it was actually tied directly to the rep who initially sold them. So, when they started instituting this type of coaching and training, they found that reps who set the expectations properly with buyers so that churn was less likely to happen later, and then retention went up.

I saw the same thing happening when I was working directly with some of HubSpot’s teams and others that not only did retention go up but discounting went down because they were selling more on value and selling consultatively. So, they’re not only getting more revenue, keeping more revenue and the customer longer, but they’re doing so at a higher dollar amount.

OF: How does sales coaching help create behavior change?

CM: It creates behavior change if you’ve done it the way that it’s not just your sales manager going in and telling them what they should do, it’s not a pipeline review. It’s not a one-way conversation. It’s also not an hour-long conversation that you might have once a week.

Ideally, sales coaching helps to create a behavior change because you’re challenging their beliefs. You’re helping them apply the knowledge that they’ve learned in training to actually execute in their day to day on the job execution. There’s a model that’s the adult learning theory model, which shows that the largest percentage of our learning happens in the application and then the day to day, and not theoretical, but real life.

So the more that we can have coaching be not just a reinforcement of what they’ve trained, but actually allows salespeople to take what they’ve learned — the knowledge in their head — and apply it to the words and the actions that come out of their mouth. So that’s one way that coaching helps to create that behavioral change because in order to change the behavior, first we have to recognize that the behavior needs to change, so challenging beliefs and approaches, but then we have to practice those new approaches, those things that we’ve learned.

And so coaching should really be like practice sessions, like drill sessions. The two-letter word, every salesperson almost hates is “role play.” And not like the theoretical, take it easy on you, this conversation never really actually happens kind of roleplay. But actually, even taking your recorded calls that you — everybody should be recording their calls right now — and listening to them and finding one point in the conversation, one set of questions to practice and drill and practice and drill until it becomes second nature to that salesperson.

That builds their confidence in executing in those new abilities and skills that they’re learning. Or fine-tuning the ones that they thought they had perfected as well, because coaching applies to experienced salespeople as well as new and in the practice, in the challenging and in the beliefs, it also happens that coaching can help create behavior change. When we’re having managers who are not giving them all of the answers, not telling them what they need to do, but asking the critical thinking questions to get them to start coming to their own conclusions so that the behavior change isn’t something that’s imposed on the salesperson. It’s something that’s collaborated with them. That’s something that’s really important in the coaching and coaching relationship is that they have to feel like they’re part creating that conversation, otherwise you’re just nagging them.

OF: In your opinion, what does good sales coaching look like? What are some of the skills that you really think are necessary for good coaches to have?

CM: There’s over a dozen different skill sets and mindsets and even beliefs that need to be incorporated into a good coaching persona, and we measure for all of those with using the same data we mentioned. First, we talked about this before — what’s the impact? It has to be done consistently, not ad hoc, whenever issues arrive or end of the month or pipeline review time, but something that gets scheduled like a religious event on their calendar that if it’s Christmas day for coaching time. So that kind of consistency and structure to it.

When I’m working with sales teams as their outsource manager, I sometimes will schedule two or three, a minimum of two or three, 15 to 20 minute calls a week, minimum. And sometimes it’s every day, depending on how much work needs to be done with the salesperson or how motivated they are to want to get to the next level.

And each of those calls, like for Monday’s example, we’ll debrief. And Monday’s debrief or Friday afternoon’s debrief is really looking at: What happened? Why do you think that that happened? And what’s a different approach that we can do? A lot of times a debrief might be like a call review, where I will have a salesperson send me a call and they’ll say, I really felt like I struggled at this particular part, here’s where I think it’s going on. They’ve listened to it and they’ve thought, all right, this is where I think I need to improve.

And then I can debrief with them and ask them questions. Like, all right, how did you get to this point? What’s the background story? I’ll ask them questions like, why do you think that they reacted that way on the call? What question do you wish you had asked in that moment now that you’ve listened to it? And we’ll practice that so that the next time they get into a situation and call like that they can execute on it.

But then I’ll also debrief with them to figure out okay, what’s next? What can happen next with this particular call? What’s the strategy? What’s the approach? What’s it going to sound like? Let’s role play that too. So that’s part of the debrief. And as I mentioned, I’m asking a ton of questions. I’m not telling them what I think happened, I’m asking them what they think happened, and I’m asking more and more clarification questions to get them to start actively recalling what happened and come up with a plan for attack, so to speak.

Another thing that’s really important for managers who want to coach is you can’t have a need for approval from your salespeople. If you’re more worried about whether or not your sales, person’s going to like you because if you don’t like your manager, then you’re not going to listen to your manager, then you’re not going to be able to have those tough conversations. Those coaching conversations that you sometimes have to have when they fall flat on their face and they will. And you have to be able to do that and if you need their approval and you need them to like you, it’s going to be tough. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to control your emotions. If you’re emotionally invested in this deal closing, it’s going to be really hard for you to sit on your hands and close your mouth and ask the questions to get them to learn.

They have to have a sales process. It’s kind of like, if you don’t have a sales process that you’re following and using that in your coaching, it’s trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t know how to read a GPS or a map. You don’t know where you’re at and you don’t know where you need to go next.

Obviously, if you can’t tell, I have a passion for this. And that passion for coaching and really that patience even for coaching –I have a side story. I have a little bit of a scar here on my lip because I have a rescue dog and this rescue dog has a few emotional issues. He’s been abandoned. And so he has some beliefs that get in his way, and it manifests whenever he has to go into his doghouse. He goes into his doghouse and he has this little front porch and he stands on the front porch and he stands there and he barks and he whines because he believes in his mind that he can’t take the one-inch step off of the porch to be able to get them to run around in his little doggy area.

And so one day, I was actually getting ready for an interview, very similar to this one, and I had to get on the phone and he was outside and whining and barking because he was stuck on his dog porch again. And so normally what I would do I do is I would coax him out, I would basically doggy coach him to try to get him to come off of this thing.

But that day, I didn’t have time. I was running around, I was going a little bit crazy and I’m like, you know what? I just need you to stop barking. So, I’m going to come over there and I’m going to rescue you. And before I realized what was happening, he got this look on his face. Like he suddenly realized, Oh, mom is coming. She probably has lunch. And he takes off running and he has this 50-foot long cable, and the cable hit my head, hit my face. I thought I lost teeth. There was blood everywhere.

And I realized I had done exactly what I teach and coach sales managers to do all the time, which is don’t rescue your salespeople. You’ve got to let them work through it. And that’s what happens when you don’t have the patience and the passion for coaching, is that you’re going to give in, you’re going to try and rescue your salespeople, and there’s going to be a disaster at the end of it. And — you robbed them of the opportunity to learn.

You have to understand those things — by rescuing the salespeople, you’re hurting them. You’re going to hurt yourself because you’re going to always be rescuing them and handling things like joint sales calls effectively, getting commitments from your salespeople to make these changes, these are all of the things that are necessary to learn to be an effective coach for your salespeople and not get clipped by a dog runner coming at you at 25 miles an hour.

OF: Well, this has been some fantastic advice for our audience, so thank you so much, Carole, for joining us.

CM: It’s been so much fun. Thank you for letting me tell you about my rescue dog.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.