How to Effectively Develop Salespeople

By Joe St. Meyer

U.S. companies annually spend billions of dollars on training and coaching their employees. Despite this commitment, a recent study showed that 52 percent of surveyed employers considered themselves ineffective at employee development. Only 13 percent thought they have a proper understanding of the necessary skills and capabilities.

The major problem with training is transferring it to real-world situations. It was estimated that only 10 percent of training investment pays off in the end.

How we view training is crucial. It’s a matter of prepositions becoming positions: training as something done to the employee rather than with him.

Development is too often considered a fixed outcome rather than an ongoing process. Once trained, the employee is expected to be an automaton acting as programmed. Career development isn’t isolated in the so-called real world, where fuzzy concepts such as psychological well-being aren’t related to the bottom line.

What do your employees need?

For more than a century, psychologists have been studying the psychology of work. From their research, it is obvious that we don’t leave our psychological needs at home before making the morning commute.

To lead people, it’s crucial to understand what they need. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan have identified three psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. These needs are interconnected and mutually dependent.

Satisfying these needs starts with establishing autonomy. Employees are autonomous when they feel that they can influence their career’s progress. Autonomous employees act with self-determination, accepting responsibility for their attitudes and actions. Employees self-monitor and use this insight to collaborate with their manager in the developmental process. Autonomy isn’t anarchy; it’s a consequence of management providing choices—such as employee participation in deciding which goals to set or tactics to use.

Fostering autonomy involves providing a rationale for managerial decisions, demystifying what is expected and what needs to be done. It is sustained by positive feedback, necessary resources and detailed plans.

Autonomy leads to a feeling of competence. When we feel that we don’t have control over our careers and that management is manipulative, we don’t feel competent and eventually our goal is to hide our incompetence. Autonomous employees assess their competence and ask themselves how they can be of better service to their clients and the organization. The employees consider competence to be ever increasing mastery, not a possession. Competence for them is the result of a continual process of learning and development, practice and process.

Relatedness, the third need, is built on autonomy and competence. We are inherently driven toward creating relationships, which give meaning to our lives and purpose to our careers. Autonomy and competence affect relatedness because, when we feel constrained and incompetent, we try to hide this burden by detaching ourselves from work and other people. To relate to your employees, discover how they see the situation, accept the validity of their perspective and use your awareness of it to plan their development with them.

A gap exists between training and performance. What I call “coachability” bridges this gap. Employee coach-ability is a mindset, a way people explain things to themselves. Its primary insight is that management views the employee as worthy of investment and a partner in success. It is a situation of guidance, not control. This is essential because employees don’t want to feel controlled, and when they do, they typically act as if control were warranted.

Understanding our three psychological needs enables you to nurture coachability among your employees and make the investment in training a profitable one.



Joe St. Meyer, Ph.D. is a senior consultant for St. Meyer and Hubbard, a sales training and coaching firm in Elgin, Ill. He studies coachability—a set of attitudes and behaviors embodied in the person being coached that links training to enduring performance gains. Email: [email protected]