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Sales performance training – do your people prepare like the best?

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 11-Jun-2014 12:10:00

sales_performance_training_is_like_preparing_for_anything_perfomed_at_a_high_levelThe performance preparation ratio

Are you a sports fan? Do you look forward to watching your team play each week – to marvel at their skills or groan as their opponents outperform them? Are you astounded by the amazing athleticism of the players?

Perhaps sport isn’t your thing – maybe you love to listen to a band, go to a concert or watch a play. In my case, as a long suffering Richmond supporter, I generally prefer to do anything other than watch! For our international readers, just accept that is a moment to direct every scrap of sympathy you can muster in my direction!

Whatever you enjoy seeing performed at the highest level, there is a ratio that we should take notice of. How much time do these people spend actually performing – and what percentage of their time is invested in preparing to perform? 

The point of performance: arriving ready to excel

Every high performer knows that, when they arrive at the point of performance, it is too late to prepare. They must arrive at that point primed and ready to execute at the highest level.

This article about an average week for Brad Johnson, outlines the range of things he does that are purely about arriving at the point of performance perfectly prepared. Remember, this is a guy who was reaching the end of his career when the article was written and who was already a legend of the game -one of the all time greats. Someone less experienced and aiming to reach a level of high performance probably needs to do even more.

A rough tally suggests Brad Johnson was spending around 30 hours a week at his football club for structured and optional activities – plus some extra time for the optional things he was doing because he held himself to a high standard. This all adds up to around 35 hours a week preparing to perform and only 2 hours a week (the approximate duration of an AFL game) actually performing. It all boils down to 5-8% of his time actually doing what he is training to do.

It isn’t just sports people – according to Aaron Frankel, author of How to Write a Broadway Musical, actors should “budget one hour of rehearsal for every minute of stage time.” That equates to less than 2% of their time spent actually performing although they will then perform the play many times with reduced need for rehearsal. Remember, this is just rehearsal and doesn’t include all the other things an actor needs to do to arrive at the point of performance in the best possible shape.

Sales as a live performance

Subscribe to blog Some workplace tasks can be repeated and revised without any real consequence. If I don’t like this sentence, I can sit back, think about it, delete and retype (if you think I should have done that, please let me know!). Just like sport, music and drama, the critical moments in sales happen ‘live’

Salespeople don’t have the luxury of doing their performance again in those critical moments that define sales success. Once a live performance is out there it can’t be taken back. Let’s face it, sales people sometimes fumble the ball, forget their lines and hit a bad note! We are never going to make sales people perfect but we can reduce those errors by working on the preparation performance ratio. 

How much time do you allocate to sales performance training?

Do a rough calculation – how much time each week is devoted to developing the skills of your sales people? How much time is spent with them selling with whatever skill level they have – whether that is high or low, good or bad?

I am not going to suggest you adopt the preparation performance ratio used by athletes, musicians and others. If you train them for 38 hours and let them sell for 2 hours, they will be 2 hours of very well executed sales but you still wont hit budget!

However, we can still learn from the habits of people who have an ability to perform at the highest level. What will genuinely produce the best sales performance?

  • Average sales people spending 40 hours a week selling?
  • Great sales people spending 35 hours a week selling?

The great sales people may not speak to as many people – in fact, great sales people often don’t. However, they make every opportunity count.

Remember to think about preparation for performance broadly – what do your people need to arrive at the point of performance in the best possible shape. An athlete needs to think about their skills, aerobic fitness, strength, mindset, tactics, etc. A sales person needs sales skills but they also need skills in communication and self-management and the ability to keep positive and motivated. 

What if there is no money for training?

Implementing a sales performance training program isn’t just about spending a lot of money with people like me – although you should feel very welcome to do that! In fact, sales teams who rely solely on external providers generally perform at lower levels than those who are supported by a broader program.

A structured sales performance training process could include:

  • Articles and resources that a sales manager shares with their people (such as those you find on our blog). The follow up is critical - don’t just flick them an email with a link, let them know that you will come by for a chat and to see what they thought about the article
  • Regular time for training included in sales meetings. Be careful this time doesn't get swamped by general sales talk. Have a specific topic or focus and stick to it. You may only need 30-45 minutes
  • sales_performance_training_-_teach_them_to_fishHaving a schedule in which team members prepare and present on a specific sales topic – it may be something they need to research (a great way for them to learn) or something they do especially well
  • Invite guest sales leaders from non-competing industries to come to your meeting for a short presentation and Q&A session
  • Use free online resources such as TED Talks
  • Spend individual time with each person coaching them on specific areas for development – hold back on that impulse to share all of your knowledge and ask questions that guide them to find the answers for themselves
  • When a team member asks you how to do something, teach them to fish rather than giving them one. Respond by asking them what they think they should do – a great way to start a coaching conversation
  • Stretch experienced people and develop new ones by setting up a mentoring system or buddy program
  • Give your people simple workplace assignments to implement the things they have learned – for example, if you have done a short session on creating an account management plan for key customers, ask them to come to the next meeting with one prepared and ready to discuss
  • So far, none of this has cost you any money which means there may be budget left over to invest in a structured sales training program such as our Sales Academy

Staying sane for the busy sales manager

A busy sales manager has a lot to do and they do it with pressure coming from all angles - that is why we have created this free Essential guide to staying sane for the busy Sales Manager which you can download here

Another resource that will help you hold yourself to a high standard are these free and inspirational wall posters - constant reminders of quality leadership habits.

sales manager

photo credit (lady with violin): Chema Hdez via photopin cc photo credit (fishing): Fadzly @ Shutterhack via photopin cc

Topics: Sales, Sales Management