I have trained seasoned sales professionals along with newbies to sales, as well as those who don’t usually sell to begin with, and the secret to truly achieving extraordinary results is not only through practice but Deliberate Practice.
If you are a sales manager or sales trainer, when designing training it is always a challenge to find the time to run practice sessions. Most training sessions involve a heavier focus on the transfer of knowledge rather than picking out the actions, skills and conversations that sales professionals have with clients to create a meaningful practice session.
Sales managers also have this challenge as they are tasked to coach and train their sales team in the field. However, time is never given to deliberate practice because you are too busy jumping from one sales call to the next, and you most likely have not been adequately trained or provided with resources to train your sales team. So what can a sales manager do? What can sales trainers do to help?
IT STARTS WITH THE SALES TRAINING DEPARTMENT
The sales training department’s value is in the focus and expertise of designing value-added training, and resources provided for sales managers to coach and train their sales team. The ultimate goal should be to help the sales team improve their sales performance. I feel that this should start at the sales training department level to design and then deliver through a “train-the-trainer” format with in-the-field feedback from managers and linked back to the training department.
When I was a sales manager, I did not get a lot of formal training on how to coach and train my sales team, and I learned most on my own. I also wasn’t given many resources to train my team and created the training myself. But, if you have a sales training department, then a portion of the time should be used to create in-the-field training programs for specific skills that should be practiced in the car, or when the rep and sales manager are preparing for the actual call with a customer and delivered by the sales manager.
New sales team members should be introduced to the skills during boot camp and at live training events/meetings, but then continued through practice with the sales manager. The deliberate practice should immediately be followed with feedback on the specifically observed practice.
For the feedback to be effective, it needs to be focused on improving the performance of the selected skill that is being practiced. When I trained in the martial arts, I always appreciated the immediate feedback that I can try out right away. Same goes with role-playing in sales, or practicing a sales pitch for an important client; the sales trainer or sales manager can provide that informative feedback to help with performance. The best practice sessions involve repeating the skill that you want to improve performance on and to provide the informative feedback to refine the skill. The skill that is selected to be practiced needs to focus on improving performance and not just practice for practice sake. The repetitiveness of the practice should involve the informative feedback that should result in improved performance.
So what kind of practice am I talking about, what does a good in the trenches practice session look like? Have you ever tried to learn to play the guitar or learn martial arts? You can go about attempting to play your favorite song from beginning to end, and in my case, I tried playing Hotel California from the Eagles. The youtube videos make it look so simple, and I only struggled to play parts of the song in the video. In martial arts, you can attempt to train by focusing only on the sparring and stepping into the ring to just start fighting.
The first thing I do when designing sales training is to break down the elements of a skill. Not only do I select any random skill, but I look for the skills that are repeatedly done with the customer, such as asking great questions, conducting a discovery call, closing the sale, generating interest, handling objections, being consultative. Like in the martial arts example above, when I used to train in martial arts, I trained different skills such as boxing, then focused on my legs with kicks, defense, footwork, blocking, etc. With the music example, I learned to start with chords versus trying to tackle a complete song.
So to achieve extraordinary results, you have to put the efforts towards deliberate practice and to make the time to train your sales team and coach them with immediate feedback with repeated practice sessions.