Teach your Sales Team to Solve Their Own Problems-- So You Don't Have To

Sales Management

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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We hear from Front-line Sales Managers all the time that they’re really overworked and just too darn busy. For instance, they tell us they don't have enough time to. . . coach their team, conduct training, manage performance, execute a strategy, or even spend time on their own skill development. They’re so busy “doing the job” they don’t have time to think. 

Why? One of the main reasons is because they're too busy being the chief problem-solver for their team. 

Part of the problem is that they're still doing a lot of their reps’ job for them. They have never met a problem that they didn't want to solve, and they can't help but take the bait from their reps and jump into a problem-solver mode.

Here's one thing you can do to create leverage and get more time back in your day: train your team to solve their own problems. It sounds simple, but it’s not so simple to execute. 

What are some of the common issues that your reps come to deal with every week?

"My client isn't calling me back." 

"I don't have enough leads." 

"I'm going to miss my quota." 

"I'm stuck too low in the organization." 

"The competition is beating us."

Most sales managers grew up as top-performing salespeople, so they have their own opinion on how to solve a sales problem. Unfortunately, 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?" Can they overcome obstacles on their own? 

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. A different option would be to help the rep help themselves. 

The technique I want to introduce is called SBAR. SBAR was first developed in the military, specifically for the nuclear power industry. It was then used widely in aviation and health care. 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 and it encourages the individual to take ownership of the solution.

What does SBAR stand for?

S is for situation. What is the problem? What's the background and context? Tell me about what's going on here. 

B is for background. What happened up until now? What have you tried? What's going on there? 

A is for assessment. What’s the likely outcome of the situation? What will happen if we don’t do anything?  What is the impact of this problem on the organization?

R is for recommendations. What do you recommend? What do you want to do? How are you going to approach this going forward?

Train your people to come to you, having thought through this framework, and have ideas about what to do. 

Don't accept "I don't know" as an answer. Encourage them to use their judgment, make assumptions, and make recommendations. You don't have to agree or even take the recommendations, but 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. 

Sales Rep: "Well, the client won't call me back." 

Manager: "Great, tell me the background. What happened up until now?"

Sales 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." 

That’s the background.

Manager: "What's your assessment? 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. 

Sales Rep: "Well, the buyer might be waiting for other proposals. They might be busy with other priorities. Maybe they've gone somewhere else." If we can’t talk to them, we’ll likely lose the deal.

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?"

Sales Rep: "Well, I might ask them to share their timeline for making the decision. I can ask them that this project is still a priority, or when they like to kick off the project. Maybe I can get an introduction to their boss and bring in our VP. I could also 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?"

This is where you stop, and listen, and understand where the rep is coming from. 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."

With SBAR in practice, you might even consider creating a form or a template that 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 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.