At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Derek Gillespie – SVP and Global Head of Sales – Market Leading Global IaaS provider, he shared some fascinating insights on the correlation between top performing sales professionals and athletes. Early in the interview, Derek explained how competitiveness is a key determinant of success, similar to the competitive drive elite athletes need to make it to the professional level…
“My colleagues and I have coined the phrase ‘White Collar Athletes’ to define our high-performance salespeople. White Collar Athletes are typically “type A” in nature, they’re very capitalistic and they ultimately like to compete not only with the competition but also internally against their peers.”
In working with thousands of sales teams over the last 25 years, we have found the exact same thing to be true. It’s remarkable how many top performers, when asked what sets them apart, will bring up their competitive sports background and how physical training has played a big part in their success as a salesperson. A fairly high percentage of top performers continue to compete in different sports throughout their life.
Salespeople perform the way elite athletes do…
Professional athletes, musicians, dancers and actors are all public facing performers. These people are highly trained and spend more time practicing and preparing for performances than any other group with the possible exception of elite military units. It’s their repeated practice, coaching and training that enables such breathtaking performance under pressure. Salespeople are the performing arm of the organization because they meet with and talk to customers and prospects and perform the consultative-challenger sales process, sales messaging and value proposition elements to influence buying decisions. Derek explains…
“White-collar athletes mimic the behaviors of pro and collegiate athletes in terms of the competitive landscape when it comes to not only doing the work, but preparing for the work. Whether you call it training, homework or preparation, these unique people don’t start their day at 9:00 am and end at 5:00 pm because they are the kind of people who are continuing to try to learn and understand and gain every fair competitive advantage they can to do their job and do it the highest level.”
Without great training, most salespeople level off
Imagine, for a moment, if a new head coach was appointed to lead a struggling NBA team and his first decision was to radically change the training regimen and organize it around a couple of big, splashy 3-day events with extreme training and education crammed into those events. Then, the rest of the year, that coach gave a little feedback here and there to the players, posted stats regularly, but pretty much expected them to learn on their own and figure it out from trial and error in scheduled games. It is pretty likely that team would be at the bottom of the win/loss column simply because the training was poorly planned. Derek points out…
“More times than not, what I see are people that have been poorly trained because companies are either investing in the wrong kind of training or they’re not investing at all.” He added, “A training evolution needs to last more than a day or two. I just don’t see people master the art of anything in one or two days.”A training evolution needs to last more than a day or two. I just don't see people master the art of anything in one or two days. -Derek Gillespie, SVP and Global Head of Sales, Market Leading Global IaaS provider Click To Tweet
Derek explained how their organization prepares new team members for the selling challenges they’ll face…
“We bring people into the organization and sideline them for about a month. We take the time to train them on who we are and what we do but more importantly, what are the things that work very well in selling situations? What are the things we want them to focus on as part of their core activity week over week? When we feel like they’re ready to do it the way we want them to do it then we turn them loose on our clients.”
What Derek and his team is doing is powerful because they set the bar high, train the new team members to clear it before they give them the opportunity to perform live, under pressure. Far too many sales organizations turn their salespeople loose on their prospects and customers knowing full well they are making rookie mistakes day after day. This brings to mind the famous Peter Drucker quote, “if you think training is expensive, try ignorance.”
Elements of great training
To understand how to break salespeople out of bad habits and ruts that limit results, we simply need to look at how elite athletes, musicians and dancers practice and train. First and foremost, they have a practice routine, or schedule that is carefully planned and reported. Secondly, they get rigorous coaching from people that know how to coach and teach top performer skills and best practices. Finally, their progress, in training, is carefully measured and reported with clear expectations for progress to be achieved in regular intervals. This exact same approach should be applied to more sales teams as this is the way to break bad habits and raise the performance bar for the entire team.
How the best sales organizations approach training
Train sales teams how to prepare for calls
One area where sales managers will see immediate improvement is if they focus effort on training all team members how to prepare effectively for sales calls. The most common mistake salespeople make is simply talking too much and this is often caused because they take a “wing it” approach to pre call planning. Derek explains what top performers do…
“Top performers tend to stress consistency of preparation in terms of the intelligence and the due diligence associated with the pre-call and pre-meeting activities. They’re not just picking up the phone hoping to catch a decision maker at the right time who just happens to be in the buying cycle and wants to ask you what you sell so they can buy it. They prepare and do research to ensure that happens.”Top performers tend to stress consistency of preparation in terms of the intelligence and the due diligence associated with the pre-call and pre-meeting activities. -Derek Gillespie, SVP and Global Head of Sales, Market Leading Global IaaS provider Click To Tweet
A higher level of preparation gives salespeople big advantages because they walk into selling situations with a game plan and more understanding of how to approach each unique situation…(The best salespeople) focus in on the things that are germane to our sweet spots and don't try to push opportunities that aren't in the strike zone. -Derek Gillespie, SVP and Global Head of Sales, Market Leading Global IaaS provider Click To Tweet
“Our best salespeople, outside of being extraordinarily prepared, understand where the customer is headed and ultimately the landscape of influential people in the business and spend a lot of time building value. It’s not just showing up and saying, ‘Hey, what are your requirements and when do you anticipate making a decision?’. They present the sale based on the prospects level of knowledge and how they feel we can solve their problems leveraging our pedigree solving similar problems for thousands of similar customers. They focus in on the things that are germane to our sweet spots and don’t try to push opportunities that aren’t in the strike zone.”
So, in summary:
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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