The NFL & Sales Improvement
Would it shock you if I told you there are many similarities between the NFL and sales? It’s true. In fact, sports improvement and sales improvement are achieved the same way – through continuous training. Another NFL season is fast approaching, and as the teams prepare for mini-camps I am wondering whether or not we will hear about any conversations like this:
Coach #1: “Glad we have Tom Brady returning for another season Coach. How about you?”
Coach #2: “Absolutely, veteran player, with that much success means we won’t need to spend much time and energy on him.”
Coach #1: “Exactly! I love it when the owner brings in veterans who have already proven they can throw, catch, tackle and block. Really nothing left for us to do but motivate them and work with the rookies.”
Coach #2: “No doubt! Should be a great season!”
In this context, such a conversation between two coaches seems completely absurd. Unfortunately, in sales this mentality is commonplace. In fact, similar conversations actually do occur. Why? The single most damaging assumption in selling is a successful veteran rep already knows how to sell.
Performance Professions Require Continuous Improvement
The truth is selling is very much like other performance professions, especially athletics. Success doesn’t depend on your executing your assignment. Sales success requires you to execute BETTER than your competition. In fact, most salespeople agree that their interaction with the buyer will likely have as much or more impact on the decision than the product or price. In an environment where winning means executing better than the competition, the best-in-class sales teams are continually striving to improve their effectiveness. That’s why the conversation shown above will likely never happen in professional sports. Why does it happen in selling?
Sales Improvement: Paradigm Shift Required
By the time an athlete reaches the professional level, he or she has likely been practicing for many years. Throughout high school and then into college these people develop the practice habits that help them to leverage their innate abilities and reach their full potential. During this time, they also learn that their learning will never stop and that there are always opportunities for improvement. By the time they reach elite status, they are fully aware of how much more there is to learn. Unfortunately, most salespeople never even intended to be in sales, let alone develop the habit of continuous improvement regarding their profession.
The reality is that the paradigm for most sales professionals is that you study something else in college, decide to move into selling after graduation because that’s where the money is, and then begin to learn about how to become a sales professional. Once you have been in the field and exceeded quota for a while, the assumption is that you have learned how to succeed, and further coaching and development aren’t necessary.
The companies that make a shift in this paradigm stand to gain a significant and sustainable competitive advantage.
With so many in the profession operating based on this flawed paradigm, companies that shift their thinking, invest in developing ongoing learning, and constantly coached sales teams stand to gain an enormous competitive advantage. Continuous incremental improvement in the skill and knowledge of the sales team has a direct effect on revenue and margin performance. For those companies that build processes and structure to drive this behavior, invest in technology, and learning programs to help drive adoption; it can be a game-changer. So how do you make it happen?
Three Simple Steps to Sales Improvement:
1. First, define the models for how your people should engage customers.
This is your competitive advantage in the marketplace. Don’t solely focus on process steps and gates; ensure you are modeling the conversation.
The next model that must be defined is the coaching interaction between your managers and sellers. Training will never impact the behavior of your salespeople as much as they will be by the coaching they receive from their managers. Do not leave that coaching to chance.
2. Second, integrate these behavior models into your tools.
Again, this goes beyond process steps and gates. If you have a CRM in place now, you have a powerful information repository. What information should properly engaged sellers be eliciting from customers? Integrate this knowledge and information into your CRM, and use that information to help the salespeople execute better. Likewise, integrate your coaching and learning into the CRM solution. This way your technology is helping to drive behavior, not just measure the results of it.
3. Finally, implement a program of continuous learning.
Training workshops are fine for teaching new behaviors, but they rarely produce sustainable change. The truth is real change happens incrementally over time, and learning must be designed to support the newly acquired behaviors. Learning libraries should be built to provide online access, refresh and expand on key skills, and increase the knowledge needed to execute them. Done properly, these interactive learning activities help drive the adoption of your selling and coaching models while elevating everyone’s execution proficiency.
If you are looking for a sustainable competitive advantage, the first step is to abandon the assumption that your veteran sellers are as skilled as necessary. Adopt the philosophy of the best teams in professional sports. Commit to coaching that drives continuous incremental improvement.