446: The 5 Levels of Leadership and Universal “ASPIRE” Model To Coaching | John Hoskins

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In this episode, you’re going to hear John Hoskins and George Leith discuss topics from John’s book; Level 5 Coaching System: How Sales Leaders Are Developing Preeminent Sales Teams. John has experienced many levels of leadership. He started his career as an account executive with Xerox Learning Systems and moved to Director of US Sales and Marketing, joined Omega Performance as EVP Sales and Marketing, and then founded Advantage-Performance Group and The Real Learning Company which grew to serve over 300 clients and were eventually acquired by Stockholm-based BTS Group AB. From his vast experience in different levels of leadership, he developed an analysis of leadership that involves the 5 levels individuals may find themselves at (Buddy, Parent, Boss, Expert Coach, then Partner in Performance) and how to guide the progress through each. He also discusses his ASPIRE model to leadership, how anybody can be a coach, and how we use this model with our sales teams, sales leaders, and executives.

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George: This is the Conquer Local podcast, a show about billion dollars sales leaders. Marketers leading local economic growths and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets here. We give you the distilled vision of their extraordinary feeds and connect their stories to your every day life. Our hope is with the tangible take aways from each episode, you can rewire, rework and reimagine your business. I’m your host and the creator of the show, George Leith, and we are very proud to welcome John Hoskins, the founder of Level Five Selling. He began his career as an account executive with Xerox Learning Systems and I’ll tell you one thing in my career, if you can find somebody that sales electronics like Xerox or a Minolta, they’re very very well trained and we’re going to learn a lot in this episode from John Hoskins. Get ready Conquers, coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local podcast And here is our guest, John Hoskins, founder at Level Five Selling, joining us on the phone today, John, welcome to the Conquer Local podcast.

John: All right, thank you George, it’s a privilege to be with you.

No Bad Salespeople, Just Bad Sales Managers

George: You know in four years since we created the show, one of our goals was to just help sellers get better. and what I love about your organization is you’re focused on sales leadership and if you listen back, I can’t remember the episode, maybe I’ve said a number of times, I have to ask the team, they probably will nod and say yeah, you’ve said it a lot but I’ve got this line that there’s no bad sales people, there’s just bad sales managers and I got a feeling that you agree with me.

John: Oh, for sure, there’s that old line which is people join companies but they quit managers, you see it time and time again in sales organizations.

George: So how do we take a sales leader and get them to understand that they’re a partner in their team’s performance? Like, we are all in it together, like, I know the good wouldn’t see that, but when you are coaching what good looks like, how do you get them there?

John: Well, you know, we start with a model that helps them visualize five different levels of leadership style that we’ve observed and our clients have observed in their sales leaders and I think everybody can relate to these levels, if you are listening, sort of visualize a staircase with five levels, one through five, five steps. And I like to describe this in a scenario where maybe Mary is a newly appointed sales leader and in fact, she’s going to be a sales leader on the same team that she used to be a member of and quite often, organizations don’t provide any kind of leadership skills training to new sales managers, the tendency is to hire really great sales reps and assume that they can be really good sales leaders. So the first thing that typically happens in that scenario is that leader believes that, if the team likes her, they’ll perform brilliantly just for her and the problem with that idea is that you know we all know that admiration does not necessarily mean respect and leadership is not a personality contest, You have to make tough decisions all the time that may not be very popular. So, a sales person obviously will perform better for someone that they like verses someone they dislike, however, in order to reach kind of a peak level based solely on being a buddy, what we call the buddy level, it doesn’t work for them and do they realize that, and this is the type of person who can kinda play favorites and of course over time that really does not work for the team. Second level, they move to is kinda like, I think I’ll be more like a parent, what we call the parent level and this is a leader after they learn that buddy doesn’t work, they decide to take this approach and they kinda overlook the sales person’s limitations and that kinda stifles innovation and this creates a mentality of entitlement. So they are sort of like the helicopter parents of today that the performers aren’t allowed to think for themselves but kinda put barriers around them to keep them, from getting hurt or armed, or harmed or injured, which we know sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn but it really stifles the learning of that individual and it has it’s limitations, so, once again Mary says oh gosh, being a parent is not the right way to go here and they move to level 3. And level 3 is basically means me three stripes, you two stripes, my way or the highway kinda a boss approach and it’s feel reacts and every idea, every expectation, every kind of direction that’s given comes from above and the problem with that is, when you tell someone to do something and it doesn’t work it’s not their fault, they blame you and so people, like you said earlier, they’re afraid of losing their jobs and they have very little passion to work and at this point, it’s kinda micromanagement and the whole idea of people joining good companies and leaving bad managers, this is the one that’s it’s kinda that’s where that occurs. So then we sort of move to level 4, because Mary was an exceptional sales person, she begins to become what we call the expert coach and this is someone who actually has the wisdom to success creating mentoring of sales people and she passes along the knowledge tailored to the specific needs of the individual which is actually helpful and the sales person is compliant but not necessarily committed because the expert coach is all about telling someone what to do and a true leader has to learn how to ask rather than tell. And so this kind of expert coach feels very evaluative to the performer and not very developmental. So in time, what we hope is that Mary learns that, this whole idea of becoming a partner, and I have your back, we’re on the same team, we’re on the same side of the desk, there’s no hierarchy here and they pass along their wisdom situationally through inquiry verses telling. And I remember, I had a boss at Xerox, I was a baby rep for a baby manager and I used to call the VP of sales and say hey John, his name was John too, I have a problem and he will say oh, he’ll start asking me questions and I finally got frustrated with him one day and I said “John, every time I call you with a problem you ask me questions, I know you know the answer to this, why don’t you just tell me?” He said, “Hoskins, if I tell you every time you call me with a problem, you never gonna learn to think on your own, so I am gonna continue to ask you questions.” That was a real aha for me, that leader really helps people self diagnose and that helps too because often the leader isn’t there and that individual performer does have to self diagnose. So the partner balances, coaching both strengths, making sure that those people bring those strengths intentionally to work everyday and use them well and then they look for areas of development so they gain a lot of commitment from the performer verses compliance and that’s the model that we developed.

What Is The Most Common Level Salespeople Are Selling At?

George: When you look across sales organizations and those five levels of leadership what is the most common level that you’re seeing today and is that different than five or seven years ago?

John: I would say the most common is probably between the boss and the expert coach and I’ve worked with senior sales leaders who have been in sales leadership a long time, when they see this model, the reflection they often have is and kinda in the expert coach model or in mode and they try to move to partner after realizing this whole inquiry verses tell approach. Newer people tend to fall in the boss thing, I have to get it done, I don’t have time to waste asking you questions just do what I say, not what I do, so.

George: I find that that boss things is a lot of time first time managers, They’ve waited their entire careers, whether that’s a week, two weeks, twenty years, thirty years to be the boss and now everyone has to do as I tell them, Are you seeing that as well, is that your experience?

John: It is, I think you nailed it, it’s new people and just have unfortunately, organizations promote people in the sales leadership so quickly without any kinda preparation. A lot of the projects we do now are with hypos, so they identify people in the sales force early on that look like they are candidates for management and they prepare them so there’s a readiness level when that person does get a new assignment to not fall into these traps of being the buddy, the parents, the boss, or the expert coach.

The ASPIRE Model: Universal Coaching

George: When I was looking through your bio, I see that our experience lines up a little bit and what I’ve noticed in this is, we probably made these mistakes a number of times and what we’ve been trying to do as an organization is have an MIT, manager in training, that’ just the thing, it exists. You kinda aspire to go there because we’ve had people who we promoted to management, we’ve had to back them off and that sucks and it’s super demotivating and it also is not, when you do promote somebody and they happens to be one of your top performers, last thing you wanna do is demotivate one of your top performers, so it’s interesting to hear your take on this and I love the five Levels of leadership, I completely concur with that. I wanna talk about something that you guys have built at your organization called universal coaching and this ASPIRE Model. Please inspire us with aspire.

John: Hey, you stole our tag line there George, that’s great. I’ll like to go back to and just hitchhike on something you said there about your experience with promoting people and then giving your high post lined up, there is a very high percentage of sales representatives who are successful, getting promoted into sales leaderships jobs and failing, I’d say it’s over 50%. And they fail for two reasons, one is they just didn’t have the right DNA, but a sales leader is a very different set of skills than someone who is a great sales professional. So three things happen when you make that mistake. First of all, you lose a good sales person. Second of all, you probably demotivate a great sales team and you have to take a lot of time to replace that manager. But, but the third thing that kind of happens is, you really derail that individual’s career and none of those are good outcomes, so I agree with you, you have to prepare and have a readiness team to move into sales leadership. Let me go back to this universal coaching piece, which I find in the three areas that we focus on as David may have mentioned, we talk about coaching call quality, which we really believe is very very important to the quality of the opportunities that go into the pipeline and the forecast factor we see and the wind rate and margins and profits and revenue growth. If you get call quality right, everything else seems to fall into place. Then there’s accounts strategy, so you’ve made a call you’ve identified an opportunity, it’s in your pipelines, now you have to strategize, how are you gonna navigate the decision process of that buyer, all the influence usual decision makers and move that sales forward and get closure and win the deal. But this is an area of performance challenges, the broader things that front line sales leaders face everyday and these are, it’s actually a problem solving model if you look at it but it’s useful to have a model to have a conversation like this, there are several of them out there, ASPIRE happens to be ours because we think it’s memorable and repeatable and it’s a series of questions again that the sales leader can engage in with the performer and an example might be, you’re launching a new product and this representative comes to you in a monthly one on one and you say well how you doing on promoting the new product and they say, George I’m gonna hold of on introducing the new product to my customers until I see how this things goes in the marketplace. Well, now you have to have a coaching conversation with this individual and it’s not like coaching a call and it’s not like coaching account strategy. So, really it’s a way of having a conversation with someone to help them come to the conclusion that they need to act, in fact act on the new products and begin to sell it to people. And I use the acronym A S P I R E, ASPIRE, and would you like me to just walk you through the steps?

George: That will be great, we’ll appreciate it John.

John: So, the accomplish, the A is accomplish and it really is just establishing what it is you mutually agreed to, needs to be accomplished here. So an example might be, in this situation, George, you and I both know that making our numbers this year depends on us both selling this new product. So the conversation I wanna have with you today is all about making sure we meet our numbers on the new product launch. And you get agreement to what it is that you are trying to accomplish. The next thing is to say, well, tell me about the situation? Why are you thinking the way you’re thinking? And where are you stuck? I mean where are you feeling like you really can’t get the traction with this? Or what are some of the concerns that you’re encountering in the marketplace that make you think the way you’re thinking? And then, sort of says well, here’s what the status is, that’s just really what’s going on, and you say well great, what problems are getting in your way from where we want you to be? Like, what is really, where are the areas where you feel you just can’t overcome a problem that you are facing in getting this introduced in your accounts? And you have a conversation about that, and then the next thing you say is well, tell me ideas, like lets remove those restrictions on the solution, there’s no budgets, there’s no limitations for five minutes here, let’s just talk about things that you can do to get you there and how you could make those problems go away. And now you are innovating, you’re getting that person to generating aha’s on their own of thing they might do and then you just come back in that listening, you say okay let’s put some realism to this, what are the things you think you could do that would move you in the direction of accomplishing the goal that we mutually agreed to? And you itemize those things and then the last piece E is how are you gonna execute? What are you gonna do? When are you going to do it? How are we gonna follow where up? So you have a plan that you can follow and then the next time you have the one on one you can come back to that and say, did we actually execute against the things we said we would? The benefit of this approach is, it’s a collaborative approach. It’s not the manager telling someone they need to do something, it’s taking them through a problem solving discussion in a collaborative way that they’re committed to the actions they’re gonna take.

George: One of the things that I’ve noticed in this model and others like it, I don’t see any difference in the way that you’re interacting with your sales rep as a coach, in the way that you would interact with a customer as a sales rep, there are some may parallels, in the way that, so why is it so hard for a top performing sales person to become a coach when you are just saying do the same stuff you’ve been doing with your clients?

John: Well there’s a couple of reasons, one is often, companies will send a leader away to a workshop and teach them something like the ASPIRE Model and then they’ll hoard it and not teach it to the representative as well. In our work, we always make sure that the representative learns exactly what the sale leader learns, so imagine this George that sales person could be a coach as well. They might coach a peer, they might coach a client, they might coach their boss and they should be able to lead and aspire conversation as well as anybody else. In fact, many of our clients tell us that they use ASPIRE with their kids, so, it’s universal, that’s why we call it universal, it can be used in a variety of different situations.

George: You said something in there that I just wanna call out and that was you can coach other reps and not have a title of a manager.

John: In fact, I think peer learning and peer coaching is probably more potent than manager or leader to individual contributor.

George: Why do you think more sales leaders are not utilizing that component of peer, like I’m starting to see it but yet I’ll still walk in and work with an organization that is, you got to do it my way, this is the way it’s gonna be done, they are not using that collaborative coaching type of methodology.

John: This is cultural, some organizations have coaching cultures where feedback is a norm and people don’t get hair on the back of their neck up when someone tells them, that there is a need for change in their performance and pass them through that. Well, that doesn’t exist and like, I think you see higher turn-over, you see less code activity longer ramp to product activity times, things that are symptoms of an organization where coaching is not the norm, if McKenzie, Gardener group, Bing all of them have come up with studies saying, one of the key strategies in 2022 is to create the coaching discipline in your sales organization.

George: An exponential growth is possible, right? I always like to give people an aspirational wire around revenue if you adopt something new because I found there’s some people that just ah, it’s gonna be fine, let’s keep doing it the way that we’re doing, but we’re talking about, you have case studies where you’ve exponentially increased revenue through these methodologies.

John: We work very closely in the beginning with clients to establish the metrics of the projects and initiatives that we undertake and in fact we do have very good evidence of increasing revenues, we have one situation where we actually, the company have a path in a way they control a group that did not go through our system and another group that did and if there were very large improvements in revenue productivity, margin increases and in fact there is 50% reduction in turn-over in that particular client group.

How To Get In Touch With John And Level 5 Selling

George: All right, it’s impressive and I’ve been impressed with your organization since we met you folks and I really appreciate John, you coming on today and teaching us about those five levels of leadership and then your universal coaching and ASPIRE Model, I’m sure that our listeners will appreciate those learnings. If people wanna get in touch with Level Five Selling, how do they do that?

John: Well, all three of my books of level five selling, the level five coaching system and the level five sell leader are on Amazon, I can be reached at john@levelfiveselling.com, all spelled out and then one word and then our phone is 800 975 6768, 800 975 6768, happy to have a discovery meeting with people and see if we can help them achieve their revenue goals.

George: Now, that’s great John, we’ll put all of that, into the show notes and make sure that people are able to get in touch with Level Five Selling whenever they would like to reach out and thanks for joining us in this weeks episode of the Conquer Local podcast.

John: Thank you George, I appreciate being invited to be on your show and I have a place in my heart for Siska Town I lived there at one point, so I know the best for a hotel

George: It’s iconic. Thanks John.

John: Yeah, take care, bye-bye.


George: Big thank you to John Hoskins for sharing his knowledge this week on the Conquer Local podcast, here are our team’s, top to take aways from this episode, the five levels of leadership and I love this, the buddy, manager, I’ve done that, ah, the partner and performance where we wanna be and the fact that we need to move people from level one, two and three into level four and five and I love that he called out that level three we see some of these, especially in technology. Where I’m gonna show you the shinny button that means you gonna buy, we need to be focused on that partner and performance solution-based selling outcome focus, the five levels of leadership in sales, one of our top to take aways. Number two, the ASPIRE Model in coaching. What do we want to accomplish? What’s the current situation? What problems, what ideas, are those ideas even realistic? And then, how are we gonna execute? That is the acronym of ASPIRE, and that model is universal and to John’s point, we can use it in a lot of different application not just with your teams. If you’d like John’s episode, be sure to listen the next time you’re waiting in the car, having a coffee or walking your dog. Episode 235, there is no I in team sales with my good buddy Peter Harmsen, we discuss this sophistication of customers knowledge and how it’s evolving. The sales teams that need to be on the cutting edge, keeping up with the trans and changes coming from the big guys like Google, Facebook and Bing. Or episode 425 and five mistakes leaders make with their sales development reps from David Delein, by recognizing and avoiding mistakes leaders make, your sales development team will have greater ROI and deliver better results for years to come. Or episode 314 from the master sale series, How to have Effective Discovery Calls. You need to make sure you’re deploying different tactics to match where your customer is, as you perform discovery on your sales calls. That’s just three of the over 200 episodes we produced in the last four seasons to help you Conquer Local. If you found value in this episode, please leave us a review wherever you consume your podcast. This feedback will help us grow and better adopt to what you want to hear in future episodes. Be sure to subscribe to the Feni Award-winning Conquer Local podcast as we continue to welcome extraordinary sales leaders, marketers and entrepreneurs. My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.

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