Anita Nielsen is the Owner and President of LDK Advisory Services and is focused on Sales Performance Coaching. In this conversation with The Collaborator, Anita explored ideas for improving sales leaders coaching skills.

There was a ton of gold from Anita in this conversation, including insights on what a great sales coach looks like:

1️⃣ They are focused on their team and each person’s individual success

2️⃣They are dynamic and flexible, not married to one singular approach but willing and able to meet their individual sellers where they are and with what they need in the moment to be successful.

Tons more, give a listen and remain curious.

Audio Transcript

The Collaborator
First off, I love your book, which I know came out last year I read it, I devoured it, it was fantastic. I respect the hell out of all of this stuff that I see you doing. With do me a favor, tell. Tell everybody a bit about who you are what you do, and just make sure we’re all on the same page about that.

Anita Nielsen
Yeah, sure. So I’m an email saying, I am a sales performance coach and consultant, I work with sales leaders to help them determine what are the gaps in their skill sets and competencies of their salespeople, and put together programs to help them achieve the goals that they need to. So that’s the shtick. In real life. I’m a mom that has two teenagers. So every day is a game of survivor. In my house, I have been in this business for private eight years. And I love every minute of it. And I learned that when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like a job. So that’s something that I’m really excited at this point in my career to be able to say,

The Collaborator
you know, what I love about that is I completely agree with you. I still find myself many nights exhausted. But I’m exhausted from having done, spent the day working on stuff and talking about stuff, and engaging about stuff that I love talking about. So who cares, I’m exhausted, it was fun.

Anita Nielsen
It’s worth it’s like at that point, it’s worth it. Right. I think that’s what matters. Because you know what you’ve done, you’re good today, you’ve done what you needed to do.

The Collaborator
Exactly, exactly. I love that. Anita, let’s dive into it. My friend.

Unknown Speaker
Yes.

The Collaborator
The topic I know, I wanted to explore with you was how do we get you know, sales leaders? And I shouldn’t have said sales execs because that’s a confusing term. Because we do the same thing here. We call them account executives. So but how do we convince and why is it important to convince sales leaders that they need to become sales coaches? Maybe start there?

Anita Nielsen
Yeah, I think and I hoping that what as I’m saying this, there’s a lot more sales leaders that have understood the value of coaching, I feel like it’s something that’s been really displayed just about everywhere you read about sales and improving sales coaching is the top thing that always comes up. And I think the convincing part comes in with helping them understand that they do have the capability to do it. I think there’s just fear that I’m you know, I’m not a coach, for example, or worse, they think that coaching is a drive by exercise. Right? So either way, they have a misperception.

The Collaborator
That’s close that deal, right? Okay. See you later.

Anita Nielsen
You got it, right. Oh, good, awesome. And that’s it. Or, you know, hey, okay, well go do this, go do that. Or if you don’t have to deal with stuck, here’s what you do. So anyway, it’s the telling. It’s the misperception of coaching. I think that’s really hard. But I believe that once you explain to sales leaders, what coaching is, any leader worth their salt wants to care for their people. And I think coaching is largely a function of genuinely caring about your people and wanting them to succeed.

The Collaborator
And I love that, Anita, so much, because we, we, as business leaders often fail to properly identify, train and nurture sales leaders, we often leave them with the false perception that you are good at closing deals, go go do that with the whole team. So I love that you said worth their salt cares about their teams, because I think great sales leaders do that. They care about their teams. Yeah, they do. And

Anita Nielsen
that’s the thing. So when you think about it, if you are a sales professional, and you’re killing it in your career, you’re just you know, always a performer, and you want to grow, you want to move into something, naturally, the thought process is let me be a sales manager, sales leader. And you get into that role. Now all of a sudden, you who is so good at managing your world, who is very good at being self oriented, in terms of driving forward, you know, towards success. Now, you all of a sudden are a shepherd for all these people. And your success depends on their success. So it takes it it takes a different kind of person to be able to say, Okay, I can either go tell them what to do, and that’ll help us all be successful, or I can coach them what to do. And then we’re looking more to long term success. So it’s unfortunate, we say sales leaders up to fail. To be honest, I can’t even blame them. Companies just don’t. They don’t understand that that’s not a natural thing for most people, much less high performing salespeople. So it’s important and I think it’s incumbent upon organizations to put something in place to at least help them get a feel for it.

The Collaborator
Oh, my God, so Well said, so. So tell me this. I consider you an expert in sales coaching. I really do and Nita and I know their strengths and weaknesses across all coaches. But what does a good sales coach look like beyond caring for their people? Like do they look like?

Anita Nielsen
Yeah, I think it’s, um, and this is a tough question, right? Because I think everybody does it a little bit differently. But I also believe there’s some magic in that. So I think sales coaching, the good sales coaches are dynamic and I can tell those words I don’t normally use that. So perfect for this. There’s so They can go into the situation, assess kind of where that salespersons head is at, look at the system around the salesperson, look at the data, all those things, and then figure out what is the best course of action to help this person be the best that they can be in this role. And so the best salesperson isn’t somebody who’s so married to a framework that they don’t see the wood for the trees. I think that’s one of my frustrations is, I see teams out there sending their sales, frontline sales managers this like list of questions or this checkbox thing that they have to do. We’re just looking at numbers and reviewing numbers that’s not coaching that’s reviewing that might be managing on a good day, but it’s not. And so I think that’s a challenge that we continue to face.

The Collaborator
I love I love so much how, you know, you set an extremely well, we set them up for failure from the beginning. And I know I didn’t throw this question your way. But sometimes sometimes we go that way, how do we do a better job of helping our how do we, as businesses, as leaders do a better job of setting them up for success? Yeah,

Anita Nielsen
I mean, first of all, it’s acknowledging that you haven’t, I think, you know, sea levels that hire these high level sales leaders, they just assume that they’re going to be fine. And when the numbers aren’t what they need to be they it doesn’t occur to them necessarily think that it’s a, it’s because of that sales leaders, coaching, at least not yet. I mean, we’re getting there. But let me just first acknowledge that there is an issue and that that’s a gap that has to be filled, it’s just like any job, right? If you’re going to go sell medical devices, you’re gonna have to learn all of the medical device content in order to be able to go do it. Same thing to be a coach, you have to learn what coaching is, and you have to practice it, and you have to want it, those are all things that the company a company can do to help their sales leader be successful. Now, what I’ll tell you is probably going to happen, sometimes you’re going to get in the middle of that, and leaders are, like Peace out. I don’t want any part of this. So I’m actually really say that but it becomes like a terror zone for them. Because this is not something they want to do the idea to some really strong salespeople of having to babysit salespeople, it’s like, it makes them crazy. So you know, to set them up to to be successful, you have to help them with their mindset first, first acknowledge then help them with their mindset, and then give them you know, the knowledge and the tools and everything they need to be successful in tech, like tactically with that coaching calm.

The Collaborator
You know, mindset is awesome. And I don’t think we spend nearly enough time talking about mindset. I think we focus a lot on skills, here’s how you can run a great discovery call. Here’s how you listen, Stefan funk, who bring a guy over in Germany, I think, Stefan for SAP, just when you know, coaching is not just another forecast call. He’s right. But how do we teach them the skills around empathy? or understanding and compassion? Because to me, those are skills.

Anita Nielsen
This is that age old question. I can answer this sucker. I don’t even know where I’ll be in this world.

Unknown Speaker
You’ll be Jeff Bezos.

Anita Nielsen
Exactly, exactly or Benioff or one of them. I think that I believe that you can learn things, including empathy, if you practice them, and if you understand them, and if you’re bought into doing them. Sometimes when you have been someone who is not natural for you, but it’s been coached to you and you’re trying to practice it, you’ll maybe go in to that conversation. And it’ll sound kind of robotic, right. And it’ll sound like you’ve been taught how to be empathetic. And that sucks. But there is a time period when that happens. The hope, of course, is to continue to coach that and get to the point where that that feels more natural to you. It feels more intuitive. So you’re like consciously competent of it instead of, you know, just being being afraid to do this empathy, because people who don’t have empathy, they haven’t had it. And so coming at the age that you are as professional and trying to come come into something that’s so important that pretty much gets instilled in the first five years of life. This is no small feat. So you, you educate them, you empower them, you help them see the behaviors that empathy is about, you tell them that they need to go do them, ask them how it went? questions, questions, questions, it’s hard. And I can tell you, I’ve done it, maybe, gosh, five, six times in my entire career, because it takes a long time to write you have to be with somebody for a long time to be able to get them to that point. So it’s time to do the tough one. And it’s not just for sound leaders. It’s anybody really, anybody. Yeah,

The Collaborator
exactly. Not everybody is empathetic, and that’s okay. We all want different people. That’s what makes this world wonderful. Let me ask you this, though. I’m going off track a little bit. Because you just you sparked a thought there, Anita. And so many times we don’t worry about if our sales leaders are great coaches, if they’re hitting the numbers, we’re just sort of like, hey, everything’s going well, and Nita must be a great coach or teams nailing it. And sometimes it’s just the region’s Whatever. Yeah. And

Anita Nielsen
well, the problem with that is it’s like there’s correlation, not causation. Right? So yeah, you’re sitting here attributing the success to something going well, when realistically, it probably isn’t. So that goes back to just as a leader, you know, knowing your purview, and being able to look at each area, okay? Is this really happening, right, and not just sitting back when you are hitting the number, it’s going back to the mindset, nothing story on that for you. It’s a mindset of constant improvement. And that very much comes from the senior leadership team. And if there’s somebody who really likes to learn and grow, then typically the culture will have that aspect of it. But if they don’t, it’s going to be another tough, tough situation for you to kind of navigate through

The Collaborator
brand brand, what was the story you’re going to share?

Anita Nielsen
So mindset. So this is kind of this is one of the things that makes a dynamic coach, right, somebody who’s looking at the whole person, not necessarily just their sales performance, because the mindset is truly what dictates your behaviors. And at the end of the day, so I was working with a sales rep A few years ago, brilliant young man he was doing, he was killing his numbers all the time, top performer, we are going to club every year, all of those things and just super successful. Well, I came in to work with the sales leader, and the sales leader was confused, because now this person was not really making their numbers. And they were struggling. And when they talk about the excuse would be something like, Oh, I don’t have enough leads, or Oh, this market is saturated. Any one of you know 100 excuses that you can find. But I mean, I talked with I that’s not it, I can tell you right now, there’s, there’s no way somebody is that successful, and then they change to be not successful without something behind it. It takes a thought process to change a behavior. And so come to find out, they talked to the sales rep. And I talked to him. You know, as I as I’m asked to do, I started to ask about, hey, what’s your life has your family all these things will come to find out? He’s a new dad, here’s a new one at home. And my God. So yeah, exactly. So he’s a newborn. He’s a new dad, he’s just bought a new house, and we’re going to new house. So when you look at like the top five stressors on any psychology test, you’ve got even over performing and that exactly, you think of it that way. I mean, now, are you? Are you a psychologist that you’re going to go under and help that? No. But what you do is now you can acknowledge it, you can name it. And you can say, listen, is this what’s impeding you don’t let that get in your way, or do a better job of for example, empowering them and making them feel competent, those types of things, they’re just taking on a huge responsibility. I’m pretty sure no one’s ever ready for it when it happens. So we have to be able to look at the whole human, that’s where you get that long term, sustained success with salespeople.

The Collaborator
I gotta tell you that the chat is blowing up with love for you and for and a lot of great suggestions coming from many different people on books and other things like that. But one of the questions Shannon just asked me that I want to throw in there was she was asking, do you have a template that you use to give managers sort of a coaching outline how they approach these coaching conversations?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I

Anita Nielsen
do. I’ve got some guidelines. So I’m, like, allergic to templates, it just drives me bananas. template. And, you know, they’re, they’ll tell you a story about why I came down to business templates, but I have guidelines. So for example, when you’ve got a person who’s a frontline sales leader who’s newly acclimating to coaching, I first thing I got to do is get them good at answering asking questions. Now, the sad thing is, you know, if they were a super duper salesperson, they probably did a good job asking questions of their customer, because discovery helps you win. So the idea is making them think, Hey, you have to ask the questions of your sales professional, you can’t coach what you don’t know. And so that first few calls is just a list of questions and their monster open ended questions so that the salesperson can just tell them everything. And then that’s just the first phase and the second phase, when you go into you look at Okay, talk to the salesperson about their your goal in one year, you’re going three years, you’re going five years? And then let’s figure out what are the gaps that you have that from getting you there? So for example, if I want to be in five years, I’m looking at being a startup CEO. Okay, that’s great. Good luck with the finance aspect of it, like you hate numbers, how are you going to do that? Figure out how I can coach them on finance. Well, good luck with the operations never liked a service organization in your life. So pretty sure that we’ll go over well, let’s figure out how you can get some insight on operations. I love that because

The Collaborator
you’re not just talking about their business goals of hitting the number you’re talking about. These are things that they’re passionate about their goals for their career, and that instantly, in my opinion, creates engagement and positive job satisfaction and leads to better results.

Anita Nielsen
And it’s psychological safety in some way to you and one of the challenges with coaching is that if your sales leaders coaching you a lot of times as a salesperson, you probably aren’t going to tell them everything. I mean, at the end of the day, they are your boss. So it does take time. To get to that level of relationship where they trust that, if they tell you how much something sucks that you’re not going to go use that against them

Unknown Speaker
on their performance report, right?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
I’m not kidding,

Anita Nielsen
I’m not kidding, that stuff happens. So, you know, you just, it’s really important that you get to that level of trust with that sales professional and easy way to do that, as make it all about them, which is what coaching is, and you look at their life goals, all of a sudden, they’re like, Hey, I care about my life, not just my order, which is amazing for most salespeople to experience that, and I think it just kind of it goes from there. So there’s a template for that area. You know, there’s, there’s a bunch of different guidelines and things that you can use. My thing is, I will not use a standard format, because it takes away from that individual, maybe the psychology background, I don’t know what it is, but I cannot do the very formal template coaching, and this is what I’m going to look at, it doesn’t work. Because if that salesperson kind of like that person that was a new dad, if I tried to go through all these mechanical things with them, then it’s I’m not going to get the real person to begin with, because I’m not doing the right conversation. I’m not being dynamic in that conversation. And even though we’re on zoom, I can sometimes tell you know that something’s on their mind, etc. And you have to be able to have that freedom as a coach, because if you’re a good coach, your instinct will guide you, will it always be exactly like what some books said? Hell, no, it’s not, it’s going to be something that you in that moment, felt mattered for that sales professional, and you being the person that is an advocate for their success, have earned that right because of your relationship with them. So I get so that’s why I get a little wonky about templates, because it is really about that individual relationship with your coach.

The Collaborator
I love that. And in a sense, I need to I’ll challenge you and saying you just did provide a template, they just weren’t asked these questions.

Anita Nielsen
Maybe so here’s my mindset. Don’t call it a template, please.

The Collaborator
I get what you’re saying too. And a template feels like,

Anita Nielsen
well that, like you don’t put somebody on bike without training wheels, right? I’m not silly. I’m gonna give them everything, Dave, you don’t know not usually I probably did with mine, which is why they behave so easily. I feel like they have to give them something right. And if my client is a sales leader, I’m not gonna throw them in there, especially knowing everything I just told you. I think there’s no way I would do that. But it will get tailored for every single person. And we’ll name it.

The Collaborator
I love that. I got another question. I want to ask you that came in. somebody’s asking, What if you need to coach someone out of their job? And that’s an interesting question.

Anita Nielsen
That’s a tough one. really a tough one. As a sales leader, I think especially like as an outside coach, it’s a little bit easier. But you ask the questions, get them to the point where they’re realizing that this is not the job for them. So one of the things I like to do is I like to go through and say, Okay, I want you to write down a list, this is your homework, go back and write a list of the things that aren’t going your way or that you don’t like or that are a problem at this job. Okay, they come back and they give me this list. That’s a lot. There’s a lot. And so I go through and I say, Okay, which one of these can you change? Which one of these can you impact? Which one of these can you influence? If it’s none, you gotta go right. And I don’t have to say that to them, they can kind of see us, okay, well, I know you have failed, I know you have talent. You can’t fix these things. What does that lead you to? Right? So then a lot of times, they’ll come up with a patch, should I be looking. And so it’s not unusual that within, you know, few coaching sessions, my salespeople or sales leaders are out there looking for jobs, or they’re on LinkedIn updated. Sad, but it’s, it’s good, because I think too many times sales leaders and companies keep people that don’t want to be there, there aren’t good while they’re there. And not only does that disrupt coaching, it’s just toxic for the whole team. And you have to you have to find a way to manage them out. It’s not mean it’s not awful. It’s the right thing to do for them, because people do genuinely want to be happy in their job.

The Collaborator
I agree. And I love that because a lot of times people think it’s a failure, if it’s not a fit for me here. I was successful before I’m not here. Not every combination works. So that’s okay. So I love that getting them to realize, yeah, the

Anita Nielsen
combination is as unique as the two people in it, right? And then there’s never going to be a perfect storm. So if I’m in this what happens though, sales leaders will go out and hire somebody. And it’s almost like a, they take it personal if that person is not doing a good job, and it’s about them and oh my god, can I not hire etc. And then you’ll get metrics that say, oh, you’re really bad at hiring, etc. That’s not the way to look at it. The way to look at it is You did your best learning about them. And that very finite period of time you had you went with what you knew. What can you do better figure that out for sure that you can’t take the blame and you can’t let that be the reason that you keep that person. God forbid, and I’ve seen that happen and it is I’ve seen a sales leader. Keep somebody He’s not a good fit, debilitated company. And I’m not talking about like, seriously, culturally, it was toxic. And so when you think about that magnitude, you got to do something, you got to address it. And coaching is probably the most gentle way to do it, I think. And the way that really makes that person feel good about having to leave, right, it’s a better way to do it.

The Collaborator
All right, my friend, let me let me go to this. What haven’t we talked about that you want to share with with the listeners about this topic? Because I know you could talk about a billion topics, but let’s just hone in on sales leaders, coaching, any final thoughts you want to get across? And then you got to share with us why you have a halo on a book that you got to tell us that story.

Anita Nielsen
On purpose like that in a second. So I think my final thoughts as a sales leader, especially a new one, so I’ll tell you, I always joke, but only half jokingly, if I ever totally lose my mind and decide to put myself into writing a book again, it will be this it will be about sales people trying to transition into a sales leader role. That is the single most difficult thing I think it companies that they face, and it’s

The Collaborator
an email and text you every day until you lose your mind, right that

Unknown Speaker
goody goody?

Anita Nielsen
You know, I’ll get you know, I’m gonna give it I mean, obviously, if I’ve already thought about it eventually. Exactly. I’m not there yet. But I think for people I love if they’re sales leaders that are new sales leaders on this call, which I hope there are, you know, exercise your curiosity, Never be afraid of asking questions. And this is the same thing I coach when I’m talking about customer sales, right? So ask the questions, you cannot address what you do not know. And if you don’t ask good questions, you will never find that information out to personalize a coaching experience, you have to get the personal information. Right. Again, it’s dangerous. Sometimes you can’t, you don’t want to become a psychologist in that game when you can’t. But you want to do all the best things, so that you get everything out of that salesperson. So curiosity would be a big one. And the second one is, it’s okay to ask for help with this. If you if you’re a sales leader, right now, you’re probably out there googling and reading what sales leaders need to do, you’ll see pretty quickly within the top five, it’s coaching, if you know in your heart, that you’re not very good coach, and you’re going to struggle with that. Please don’t don’t try to wing it. This is one of those things where when you winging it, you’re actually potentially hurting someone else’s success. And I just get, I just get emotional thinking about that, right? So you cannot do that you need to go to your leader and say, Listen, I feel like I need some support in this area. Here’s a couple courses, I’d like to take on coaching, support me, right. And by the way, if they don’t, that just taught you something else about the role you just took, right. So that’s, that’s the second one. And the third one is, bring your whole self to it. Don’t go in there with this facade of I’m a sales leader. And my job is to hit the numbers. Because the minute you do that, they’ll know they’ll understand the intent behind it. They can tell when there’s an agenda behind the questions that you’re asking. Just don’t do it. Go in there be real make it about them. And that is how you will succeed. So those are my three biggies. I

The Collaborator
think for people I needed those were three 100% dead on wonderful points. Last thing, and then I’m gonna let you go because I know you have a busy day ahead of you tell us about the Halo. Yeah, so

Anita Nielsen
in my infinite wisdom, because I mean, I do pay attention to some things, I realized that I was looking like I was underneath a you know, a cloud over here and you cannot see with the, with my desk the way it is with the sunlight behind it. And so, I’m gonna go get this awesome light setup that will give me You know, this aura that I’ll yeah, bright and light every time I get on. So after the agonizing situation, trying to put it together, which not surprising, I put it in front of it was in front of me before and so the halos were showing in here. That’s not gonna work. And so I moved it off to the side and somehow it just beat the box got I’m okay with that. And that that part is okay with me. So that’s why there’s a flickering Halo there.

The Collaborator
I love that the halo belongs there belongs in your eyes, glasses to I forgot to wonderful, Anita, my friend, so much. Great insight. Thank you for your generosity of sharing. As always, thank you everybody for listening some amazing questions and conversations. And if you want to reach out to Anita, I know she’s don’t reach out to sell or something, please. But you know, if you have questions I know she’s she’s a truly wonderful and generous person. So reach out on LinkedIn. And I’m sure that would be fantastic with you. Absolutely. For sure. Thank

Anita Nielsen
you for having me. It’s always so fun. I can get talking in the time goes.

The Collaborator
I know I know. I appreciate it to take care of me to take care everybody

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