How to Become a Sales Champion (Interview with Keith Rosen)

Become a better sales coach and sales manager.

Is sales the right career path for you? What are the most common mistakes sales managers make? What qualities make the best closers stand out? Learn the answers to these questions and more.

Last week, I was interviewed at Bitrix24 by Yana Prokopets, their Social Media and Marketing Manager. With almost 4 millions users worldwide, Bitrix24 provides a complete suite of social collaboration, communication and management tools for organizations.

Here’s the interview. Whether you’re a salesperson or a manager, I thought the content and topics that we discussed during the interview were valuable enough to post and contribute to your success.

Yana: Let’s imagine our readers are just considering sales for their future career. Are there any signs or prerequisites which show that a candidate has chosen the right path?

Keith: Aside from the candidate going through the interview process with the potential employer, there is some foundational due diligence that anyone who is considering sales position needs to do prior to accepting a position. For example, many companies require a candidate to complete some type of self-assessment or personality profile to see how much of a fit they may be for the sales, as well as for the company culture. While these tools are effective, they don’t determine the success or failure of a particular candidate. There are some candidates that score very high on these assessments, yet fail in the position. Conversely, there are some that do poorly on the assessment and become a top producing salesperson. As such, these assessments are just one tool to use in a comprehensive screening process. While it’s meant to act as a way for employers to determine whether the person is a fit, it also becomes a tool for the candidate to self-assess and identify the areas are for them to improve or develop, and whether or not they are in fact, a good fit for a sales role.

Additionally, when going through the interview process, it’s essential that the candidate comes prepared to the interview with their own set of questions so they can interview the interviewer. I wrote an article about this, which you can find here that contains dozens of questions candidates need to ask their potential employer.

Finally, there are a few additional steps I would take if I were to self-assess whether I’m a fit for a sales position. First, I would want to interview and spend time with some of the salespeople who are currently employed with the company, both the high performers as well as the mid to low performers. Second, I would want an opportunity to shadow them for a few hours if not a full day to truly get a realistic sense of what my day would look like and what I would be responsible for. Finally, in an ideal scenario, it would be great to speak to some of the employer’s customers to get a sense of their reputation in the market and the value they deliver.

Yana: Mistakes are inevitable at any stage of the career. What are the most common mistakes a typical sales manager makes and how to avoid them?

Keith: Most managers naturally ascend from a top salesperson to a manager, practically overnight. That is, they were a top salesperson and then were asked to take on a management role. Upon doing so, their world is immediately turned upside down. When they were a salesperson, they were only focused on themselves and their success was based on their performance. Now, their success is based on how their team performs and rather than the focus being on them, it’s about focusing on the care, coaching and development of their team. Herein lies the greatest mistake. When promoted, the majority of managers are never trained on how to become great leaders and coaches. The assumption often made by the employer is, “Well, they were a great salesperson, so they’ll make a good manager.” This can only happen if the manager is taught how to effectively coach and develop a team of champions.

Otherwise, the greatest trap managers fall into is taking on the role of Chief Problem Solver. That is, since they are intimately familiar with being a salesperson, when their direct reports approach them with a question, the manager is quick to dispense an answer and a solution or worse, take the problem off the shoulders of their direct report and start handling it themselves, whether that’s solving a customer issue or closing a deal.

The manager now becomes the super-salesperson and creates the very problems they want to avoid. A paradox. That is, when solving their people’s problems, they inadvertently sent the message to their team, “If you have a problem, come to me and I’ll fix it for you.” Doing so not only robs people of the opportunity to sharpen their own problem solving skills and build their confidence but it makes them fully dependent on the manager. And you can’t scale dependency. The real cost here is, if the manager provides solutions to their direct reports, and the solution doesn’t work, then who’s fault is it? The manager’s! Now the manager has given a license for their direct report to go back to them if the solution doesn’t work and say, “Boss, I was just doing what you told me and it didn’t work. It’s not my fault, it’s yours.” Essentially, the manager has robbed their people of the very accountability they want to instill.

Now, every day is spent putting out fires and solving problems, instead of focusing on the primary objective of every leader. That is, to make your people more valuable. The solution? Relinquish your role as Chief Problem Solver by learning how to effectively coach and empower your people to self-assess in order for them to create solutions on their own. The great transformation for any manager is to learn how to lead with questions, rather than answers.

Yana: Everyone wants to win, but not everyone succeeds. What qualities make the best closers stand out?

Keith: What makes the best closers is a paradox. The best closers are actually the best openers. There’s a fundamental misbelief amongst salespeople that you have to, “Close a deal.” And often, in order to do so, you have to, “Overcome the prospects objections.” Here’s the thing. Who is the only person who can overcome a prospect’s objection? The prospect! Why? Because it’s their objection, not yours. Consequently, when salespeople hear an objection, they immediately shift into defensive mode to try and overcome that objection with either a talk track or all the reasons why the prospect should buy from them. In essence, the salesperson is making the sales process about them and what they have to gain, rather than about the value they can deliver to each prospect and customer.

Now, the salesperson has succeeded in creating an adversarial position between them and the prospect. And who is always going to win the battle? The prospect. Conversely, great salespeople realize the only way to overcome an objection is to create a new possibility in the mind of the prospect. They realize that in order to overcome any objection, it starts by seeking to better understand the prospect’s objection or concern by asking better questions. Once they actually get to the root cause of the objection or concern, rather than deal with symptoms or smokescreens, they have opened up and created a new possibility and a better outcome for the prospect that delivers the measurable value they want. The result; a sale is won by leveraging better questions, rather than answers, so that the prospect winds up closing themselves. This is how salespeople can stop closing and start opening new selling opportunities.

Yana: Digital innovations affect almost all industries. Are there any sales trends in 2016 that sales managers cannot miss?

Keith: I recently wrote about a current trend that’s becoming more of a detriment in the sales profession, which you can read more about here. While LinkedIn and other social media platforms are great vehicles to connect with people you may not normally have access to, I’m noticing how it’s quickly becoming a roadblock to new business development as well. Reluctant salespeople are using social media as an excuse as to why they don’t need to prospect in more traditional ways, such as cold calling, networking, delivering workshops and webinars, writing an article or creating a newsletter wh ere they would actually have to deliver something of value that would contribute to the success of their target audience. While I’m a fan of all approaches, as well as LinkedIn, the use of social media needs to be balanced out with a holistic and carefully crafted business development strategy to generate more leads and ultimately new business. For this to happen, it’s up to the manager to take a step back, embrace calmness and demonstrate patience and unconditional support.

Then, sit the person down and most important, avoid getting on your soapbox. Instead of talking at them and telling them all the reasons why they need to do more than just prospect via social media, or what other salespeople do to be successful, or how they are never going to hit their sales goals if they don’t do something other than focus on social media for new opportunities, seek to understand the why behind their thinking so you can better understand their position. After all, in their world, they believe in what they’re doing. So, if you want to stimulate the law of reciprocity and have them listen to you, it’s important to respect their position and listen to them. Now, they will be more open to respecting and listening to your position and point of view.

Once you have a better understanding of their strategy and the why behind it, you can then create a new possibility in that conversation by enrolling them around exploring other strategies they can engage in to generate new business and achieve their goals, while assessing their comfort level in doing so. Here are some questions managers can use to facilitate this conversation.

Yana: In your bestselling book “Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives” you say that sales training doesn’t develop sales champions, managers do. Can you share some tips with managers who want to grow a great sales team?

Keith: Unfortunately; most managers don’t deliver consistent, effective coaching because they’ve never developed the coaching skills and framework needed to improve and sustain their people’s performance. Instead, managers act as Chief Problem Solvers and get too involved in fixing their people’s problems; then get frustrated over the dependency they’ve created, rather than empower people to create their own solutions and become more accountable.

All the data, KPI’s, commitments, reports and all the scorecard metrics are meaningless if you don’t use the insight gleaned from them to change the selling behavior of your team through coaching and observation. That’s why sales training doesn’t develop sales champions. Leaders do. If you want to make your salespeople more successful, first make your managers world class coaches – the critical skill of top sales leaders.

The secret to developing a team of high performers isn’t more training but better coaching. When managers effectively coach their people around best practices, core competencies and the inner game of coaching that develops the champion attitude, it makes your training stick. While training may develop salespeople, coaching develops champions. To summarize, if you want to develop a team of sales champions.

  1. Learn what it means to authentically and effectively coach by learning and developing core coaching competencies and a framework you can use in every conversation.
  2. Uncover the power of effective observation and deliver feedback in a way that people would be open to in order to change behavior.
  3. Take the time to tap into each person’s individuality rather than manage everyone the same. Rather than assume what motivates each person on your team, how they like to be managed, even how they want to be accountable, ask them.
  4. Take the time to seek to understand each person’s point of view, before you start solving their problems.
  5. Focus on leading with questions in every conversion, instead of leading with answers and solutions.
  6. Realize that you don’t coach the result. You coach the process which in turn, creates the results you want as a natural byproduct. So rather than coach the what or end result, you coach the who, the how, and the why.
  7. Give up being the Chief Problem Solver. It’s about your people getting it on their own or sharing what they didn’t see to stimulate ownership, confidence, trust, greater accountability and results.
  8. There’s always time to coach and ask for someone’s opinion! Here’s how. “I’m happy to share my opinion with you, Tim. However, you’re much closer to this situation than I am and I trust you and your judgment on this. So, what’s your opinion on how to handle this?” Then, to ensure they have the right solution, walk through it with them in a collaborative way. “Thanks for sharing your opinion, I really appreciate it. Let’s walk through your solution to see how it could play out and ensure it will achieve the results you want. Then together, we can share some best practices each of us have used in order to create the best possible outcome for you.”

When managers take the time to master these best practices, it reduces their workload and makes their job easier. Coaching is what makes any sales training stick and facilitates the sustained behavioral changes managers need to consistently achieve their business objectives faster.

Yana: What resources, books, blogs, podcasts can you recommend to our readers who’d like to learn more about a career in sales?

Keith: Well, this is kind of a subjective question. On my blog, I have dozens of resources for salespeople and managers to help them accelerate their success, which you can find at There, you will find hundreds of articles on sales and sales leadership, as well as my ebooks, 8 Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture and Coach Up! You can also tune into and observe me coach people who I’ve never met before. These coaching sessions were unscripted and broadcasted live. Here’s the link to watch these coaching sessions. Of course, there’s my book, Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions. If you don’t have it yet, you can download three free chapters here, along with my newly released book, Own Your Day. This book was specifically written for sales leaders who want to take ownership of their time, master your day and create their ideal lives. You can also download a few free chapters of this book here.

Yana: Thank you for the interview, Keith!

Photo Credit: Mark Cornellison