Finding the time to coach is a challenge, so it’s important to optimize the coaching time you do have with your reps. As a sales leader, how can you keep your reps from backsliding into old habits? Why does it happen, and how should you address it?

Sales managers frequently ask, “Why do I have to have the same conversation with my reps over and over (and over!) again?” It’s a common complaint with four main problems:

  • It’s frustrating for everyone.
  • The repetitive conversations are time-consuming and waste everyone’s
  • Change doesn’t happen.
  • Reps start believing that they can’t

Often, managers inadvertently contribute to this vicious cycle. Let’s illustrate with an example: Let’s say you’re working with a rep on discovery skills. You agree on a plan of action — a development plan to improve his capability. He has a set of new questions that he’s going to ask in each discovery meeting with the prospect. You observe him in action over a few sessions, he asks the questions and everyone celebrates (rightly so). Then, you move on to another skill gap for development.

The problem is that as coaches, we are moving on too soon. Every time we do, we take our reps’ attention away from what they were working to improve, and they can’t maintain their progress. In a sense, we are setting them up to fail by not keeping their attention on that skill gap and development plan long enough for the new behavior to become a habit.

Instead, stay there until the rep consistently demonstrates the new skill. Stick with it until it becomes second nature. As the adage goes, “The amateur practices until they get it right; the master practices until they cannot get it wrong.”

Here are five tips to combat the frustration and avoid the backslide in your sales team’s habits:

1. Celebrate Their Success

When you notice your reps demonstrating a new skill or behavior, it’s important to celebrate it. You want them to see the progress they are making. Praise them, but don’t move on yet. As Daniel Pink points out in his book “Drive,” when we can see progress toward mastery, it fires up our intrinsic motivation.

2. Ask, “How Is It Helping You?”

When your sales reps demonstrate the new behavior, ask them, “How is this behavior helping you?” When they can see how their new skill is tangibly improving their results, it feeds their intrinsic motivation. It will help them push through obstacles along their path to cementing the skill as a habit.

3. “Stair-step” Toward Mastery

Are your reps demonstrating the new behavior or skill 25% of the time? Once they reach 25%, take it to 50%. Once they are using it consistently 50% of the time, take it to 75%. And so on.

Never ask someone for 100% from the beginning. It’s unrealistic to ask reps to exhibit a behavior all of the time, especially when they’ve just learned it. If you do, you’re setting them up for failure. No one bats 1.000.

4. Help Them Manage Their Expectations

You don’t want your reps to be frustrated by the pace of their progress. When we have low points, or black slides, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But just because wee make mistakes when working on a new skill doesn’t mean we’ve failed; it means we’re learning.

5. Help Them Adjust

When trying out a new skill, it will work sometimes, but it may not work other times. What works well for one customer might not have the same result with another. Help your reps adjust and tailor their new behavior to this reality. It is a process.

Never coach when you are frustrated, because your frustration will do more harm than good. It will come across as judgment, and your reps will become closed off and unreceptive to your input.

Here’s a little neuroscience for you: You cannot feel frustration and empathy at the same time. So, clear your cache. Come to each coaching session with a clean slate and fresh perspective.

Looking for more on coaching? Check out ASLAN Training and Development’s Catalyst Core offering, available online.