We’ve all heard the stereotypes about salespeople these days: They’re coin-operated order-takers who say anything to get the deal.

Ouch. The truth is salespeople face a number of challenges that foster this stereotypical behavior. Conflicting incentives, information overload, inaccurate forecasting and functional dysfunction all play into sales reps who furiously try to close deals at any cost.

How can we help salespeople stop this cycle of madness? At the root of these challenges lies a simple answer: lack of critical thinking. Salespeople – and other customer-facing teams – can miss critical thinking opportunities for several reasons:

  • Internal pressure to close more deals puts the squeeze on the sales process and limits discovery.
  • There’s a lack of knowledge of what information to gather – or tools to gather it – to evaluate the customer’s business.
  • High-pressure negotiation tactics force teams to act first and think second.

Good coaching can change this picture dramatically. Here are three ways coaches can develop critical thinking in sales teams:

1. Provide tools for connecting customer needs and your value.

The best tools a coach can provide help salespeople identify customers’ goals, highlight the best paths forward and avoid challenges that slow customers down. These valuable tools help coaches reinforce how to uncover customer needs and connect the financial impact of meeting those needs. Quite a different approach than an order-taker!

2. Play devil’s advocate to challenge thinking and rationalization.

The pressure for sales to win can often lead to rationalization of an opportunity. The rep might think that every opportunity can be won; there are no bad opportunities. This type of thinking often leads to knee-jerk reactions to requests for proposals, resulting in wasted resources and ill-advised pricing decisions.

Coaches can play a devil’s advocate role here and challenge sales teams to step back and look more critically at opportunities: Do we have a relationship with the decision-maker? Are we in a position to win? In what ways are we different from the competition that matter to the customer and give us a winning advantage? Coin-operated no longer!

3. Plan for contingencies.

Coaches can play a critical role by playing “what if” with sales teams. For each opportunity or conversation with a customer, the coach can run through some brief planning to help teams think through “what-if” scenarios: What if the conversation is cut short, and you only have five minutes? What if there is a change in the bid process; how will we react? What if they ask for a discount? Playing this “what if” game and planning for contingencies takes the mechanical out of the process and thoughtfully prepares teams with less reactive, more proactive plans. This thinking and preparing drives behavior change from say-anything salespeople to say-the-right-thing-at-the-right-time teams.

The benefits we’ve seen include a conservative 3 percent improvement in profit when these tools and approaches are consistently applied. Teams report better customer alignment and relationships, decreased internal negotiating, and more wins. Come on, coaches – let’s get out there and inspire some critical thinking!