When a new head coach is hired to take over an elite sports team that has had several losing seasons in a row, one of the first things they do is look at the training schedule and practice routines and that is generally where they focus most of their energy. Improving the training is how they improve performance.
When a young Navy Officer is selected to join an elite military unit like the Navy Seals, the first thing they will experience is a far more demanding and carefully designed training approach to take their skills to the next level.
When a famous rock band gets ready to hit the road for a new world tour, the first thing they’ll do is rent out rehearsal space, often for several months, for the band to practice, get used to the new stage, decide on what new songs they’ll play and get their performance chops up to speed.
Improvement, in general, starts with better training that accelerates learning, breaks bad habits and builds better skills through practice and repetition.
Think of salespeople as corporate athletes
This same dynamic is true with sales teams. Salespeople are, in many ways, more like athletes than anyone else in the company because their results are determined by their performance in very specific “game like” performances, under pressure. The time they actually spend in sales calls and meetings, verbally going at it to make a sale, is very similar to what an athlete goes through when they play the competition.
As such, more sales managers and executives need to approach sales training the way coaches train elite athletes, dancers, musicians, and elite military units. Consider for a moment how much time, money and focus a football team spends on training and preparing for games? When a new Broadway show is planned imagine how much is budgeted for practice and rehearsal to prepare for opening night and to keep the talent fresh and performing night after night? What are the likely costs to train a team of 10 Navy Seals every year?
4 tips to take your sales team training to the next level
First, accept the reality that sales training needs to happen every week. It’s much better to integrate an hour or two of sales training every week than to cram 16-30 hours of training into one big splashy event every year. The studies on retention from these 1-2 day events taught by sales training experts are extremely disappointing (80% or more is forgotten within 12 weeks) which is why athletes are not trained this way. Re-think how sales training can be integrated into a weekly routine and what kind of sales management training and coaching that sales managers need to support this kind of approach.
Second, recognize that elite sports teams have a practice system that their coaches and trainers learn to use on a daily basis. Most sales organizations we have worked with over the years do not have a practice system, they have training events. That needs to change. Challenging simulations and selling drills need to be developed that sales managers and coaches can run and they need to be constantly refreshed.
Third, realize that salespeople, at first, often find more practice awkward and can react negatively to it. This is simply a knee jerk reaction to comfort zone resistance. Make a commitment to weekly practice to crash through this resistance. Over time, as they improve and start succeeding more in practice sessions, their competitive instincts will take over and they’ll begin to enjoy and look forward to practice and more challenging sales training.
Finally, recognize that coaches need to be trained. Align yourself with outside resources that can provide the sales management training needed to transform sales managers into effective coaches that can run drills, simulations, best practices contests.
Remember, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Set up your training the way elite sports coaches do. Schedule and track it. Put the numbers on a scoreboard. Start with a minimum of an hour a week and you’ll find sales training is the best investment you can make toward improving the performance of your sales teams.