How to Teach your Sales Team to Solve Their Own Problems

By Ray Makela

Being your reps' chief problem solver is terrible for sales performance. Here's a technique you can use to train your team to solve their own problems.

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***Enhanced Video Script ***

We're going to talk about being a great sales manager, and as a great sales manager, why you shouldn’t be solving all your reps' problems. Managers tell us in every training session that they're too busy and they don't have time to (you fill in the blank) coach their team, conduct training, manage performance, train themselves even, or execute a strategy.

It's because they're so busy being the chief problem solver. Part of the problem is that they're still doing a lot of their reps’ job for them. They never met a rep’s problem that they didn't want to solve, and they can't help but take the bait and jump into the problem solver mode. Most managers grew up as reps, and they find it hard to resist jumping back onto the playing field.

So, here's one thing you can do to create leverage and get more time back in your day. You need to train your team to solve their own problems or at least come to you with suggestions or ideas when they do have a problem. What are some of the common issues that your reps come to deal with every week?

Maybe, "My client isn't calling me back." Or, "I don't have enough leads." "I'm going to miss my quota." Or, "I'm stuck too low in the organization." "Maybe the competition is beating us."

These are the kinds of things that we hear every day, every week from our reps. As I mentioned, most sales managers grew up as top performing salespeople. And often, they have their own opinion on how to solve a sales problem. Well, the issue with that is it often gets in the way of the rep’s learning to do it themselves.

Your approach may not always be the best for that given situation, and it doesn't teach the rep to solve their own problems for the times when you, as a manager, aren't there. I often joke, "If you feel like you have to jump in and solve the problem every time you talk to a rep, what are they doing when you're not there, or you're not accessible?" So, suppose your rep is having trouble getting a meeting with a key decision-maker or the decision-maker won't call him back, and the deal is in jeopardy of stalling out.

You might be tempted to tell them precisely what to do or suggest several options. Or worse yet, you might even jump in and offer to call the stakeholder for them. Well, a different option would be to help the rep help themselves. The technique I want to introduce is called SBAR. So, SBAR was first developed in the military, specifically for the nuclear power industry.

It was then used widely in aviation and health care. And it's been widely adopted across several different organizations. It's become the standard approach for managing problems in a high-intensity environment. The primary purpose was to alleviate communication issues that arise from differences in communication styles. And it provides a simple framework for discussing issues.

What does SBAR stand for?

First is S, the situation. So, what is the problem? What's the background and context? Tell me about what's going on here. And then B for background. What happened up until now? What have you tried? What's going on there? Give me the assessment, A for assessment. What is happening now? What do you think? What's your guess? And then, finally, R for recommendations. What do you recommend? What do you want to do? How are you going to approach this going forward?

So, train your people to come to you, having thought through this framework, and have ideas about what to do. Don't accept the "I don't know" as an answer. Encourage them to use their judgment, make assumptions, make recommendations. You don't have to agree or even take the recommendations, but at least, it's a starting point.

Help them realize that just by thinking through the process, they’ll have started to solve the problem. And often, your reps will come to you with great ideas on their own. Resist the urge. Don't do the thinking for them.

Here’s an example. The situation, what’s the problem? [rep] "Well, the client won't call me back." [manager] "Great, tell me the background. What happened up until now?"

[rep] "You know, I had several good conversations, and then I sent them a proposal, and now, they're not responding to my email or phone call. I've had six different emails that they haven't responded to." [manager] Right, so that's the background. "What's your assessment? So why do you think this is happening? What's going on here?"

And this is where you get the rep to brainstorm a little bit. [rep] "Well, the buyer might be waiting for other proposals. They might be busy with other priorities. Maybe they've gone somewhere else." [manager] "Okay. So now that we understand and we have the assessment, what recommendations do you recommend? What do you suggest we do moving forward?"

[rep] "Well, I might ask them to share their timeline for making the decision, or I can ask them that this is still a priority, or when they like to kick off the project, maybe I can get an introduction to their boss, and their boss will make the decision. I can send them some information or something of value to get back on the radar screen." [manager] "So any of these might be good options. Which one do you suggest?"

And this is where you stop, and listen, and understand where the rep is coming from. And if it's a good recommendation, show your support. [manager] "Agree? And let's move forward and see if that works. Keep me posted. Sounds like a good plan."

So SBAR in practice, you might even consider creating a form or a template that they can figure out or they can fill out before coming to you with a problem.

Create a script, put it on the whiteboard. Remind your reps of the steps. Refuse to discuss a problem or a challenge if they haven't thought through situation, background, assessment, and recommendation. If you can teach your people to solve their own problems or, at least, think through the options, you've just made your life a whole lot easier.

SBAR can help you get precious time back in your day and allow you to focus on more strategic initiatives like coaching, training, and planning instead of spending your time solving all your team's problems for them.

Learn how to transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers

About Ray Makela

Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.

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