I was talking with a client who spent quite some time explaining how he always follows the sales process, carefully prepares the questions he wants to ask, makes sure he remembers to thoroughly qualify, prepares and plans his presentations and considers all the possible objections he may encounter along the way.
That is much more than most salespeople do and it’s great that he cares enough and is conscientious enough to be so disciplined. But at the same time, it’s not only too much work, it’s also too complicated. If we compare what he is doing to driving a car, he is still a beginner and here’s why.
Try to think back to when you first learned to drive a car. You had to think about safety (seat position, seat belts, mirrors, speed limits and the rules of the road), placement of your two hands on the wheel, making sure your feet can reach the accelerator and brake pedals, when to use your turn signals, remember to use the rear and side mirrors, when to use your high beams, and if it was a car with a standard transmission, how and when to shift and use the clutch. And that was before you drove anywhere!
Of course, today you don’t give any of that a thought. But it’s not because you forgot any of it. Oh, you learned it alright, and you internalized it, embraced it, and finally mastered it. Mastery is the art of not having to think about what you are doing. Most drivers listen to the radio, carry on a conversation and navigate to their destination without giving a single thought to how to drive the car. Selling should be exactly the same as driving a car.
At some point, salespeople are presented with the company’s sales process, its stages, and the milestones for each stage. If they are receiving effective sales training, they will also be trained on the methodology or conversation required to seamlessly move from milestone to milestone, along with the strategies and tactics to ask questions, build a case, thoroughly qualify, and present a compelling proposal/presentation to get people to buy from them.
When you first learned how to drive you probably sat in the driver’s seat of your parents’ car. You were also required to take a professional driving course, road lessons, drive your parents around in between lessons, and eventually (most of you) mastered driving a car. Some took driving a bit further and went on to become professional drivers, including the best on the planet – NASCAR drivers. Karl Scheible, a sales trainer in Austin Texas, said, “I was a professional race car driver for the factory and these days, I spend a lot of time teaching performance driving at the beautiful Formula 1 track here in Austin. I have an analogy. I tell the student drivers that, ‘You are not going to learn a new skill in a crisis-situation. You need to practice certain skills over and over until they are internalized and become second nature. Then when the crisis occurs (and it will) you will survive.’ It’s no different on sales.”
Salespeople must go through the same process, including the professional instruction, practice and desire to be the best on the planet. Most salespeople skip three important pieces that should occur between learning (initial training) and mastery (effective selling. They skip:
The only way to get from learning to mastery is to practice! Role play!
In his book, “Back from the Dead”, Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton talked about the UCLA’s practices and how they were so incredibly challenging and yet the most fun. He said the practices were so well scripted that he called them symphonies! The practices were so powerful that the games, even against the best competition, were always much easier than practice. The games were so easy that the players did not need to remember plays or even think. All they had to do was execute. The team’s system of running the fast break was so well ingrained that executing was easy as it led to an 88-game winning streak!
Translating this story to selling, I need to point out that most salespeople not only hate to role-play, but don’t believe it is necessary. Remember, as much as the basketball team practiced, it was only their own part that they were practicing. They didn’t have the other team’s playbook and didn’t even prepare for the other team. They simply practiced every possible scenario that could come up so that they were completely prepared – for anything.
Why should that be any different for salespeople?
The difference is the degree of Desire and Commitment to be the best. From commitment comes discipline and from discipline comes not only consistent practicing, but consistent execution.
Albert Gray, an insurance company executive in the 1950’s, said something that remains true today. He said something along the lines of, “The only difference between successful salespeople and the other 77% is that the successful salespeople actually do the things they don’t like doing.”
Dan Caramanico, a sales development expert in the Philadelphia area, said, “Lots of teams practice but the difference lies in the adage that it is not practice that makes perfect. It’s perfect practice that makes perfect. Half-hearted practice or practicing the wrong things is no help at all.”
And I’m reminded of this message from Dave Pelz’ Short Game School. “Practice makes permanent!”