At a friend’s recommendation, this weekend I read a short but poignant book by Jon Gordon: Training Camp, A Fable About Excellence. You may recognize his name from one of his many other books, such as The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and The Positive Dog. Jon has a gift to take business and life wisdom and bring it to light in simple and relatable tales. This one, in particular, is about Martin, a hopeful NFL rookie at Training Camp who is trying to earn a spot on the team.
Jon studied and interviewed hundreds of successful people in business, sports, and other fields to determine “What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else.” He was surprised to realize that success boils down to doing the basics better than anyone else. It’s the small differences that make a successful performance. There is skill, talent, faith, and timing to consider, but the common thread amongst “The Best” is that Pros continue to fine tune and work on the fundamentals to do them incredibly well. They practice, they train, they make mistakes and take chances so they can continue to be the best.
It’s not simply the performance on Game Day that counts, but most importantly, it’s how you prepare for Game Day that determines your success.
For professional athletes, their performance on the court or the field is what we see and what we remember, but what defines their success is their commitment to the weight room, their non-wavering nutritional diet, and their attitude of mental toughness.
What I’ve realized about coaching sales “players” – the team members out in the field, on the phones, and in front of customers – is that there are two camps of players. Those that are open to feedback, receptive to learning, and humble enough to practice . . . and then there are those that cover up their insecurities with diversionary tactics: complaints about time wasted to train and learn new things, bragging that they’re above the “fundamentals”, pushing the blame for poor performance on operations, marketing, price, competitors, or the economy.
This is how this plays out on sales teams . . .
Last year, I started working with a new client and sat in on a sales meeting. It became clear within minutes that the meeting focus was on “Ops” instead of “Opp’s” – operations, instead of opportunities.
I followed up the meeting in a discussion with the business owner who had brought me in and I expressed my concern that all the talk about “Ops” issues was really a deflection for the lack of opportunities and the clear absence of selling activities (as well as serving for camouflage for some of the wrong people being in the sales roles). We designed a game plan to help focus the sales meetings on business development actions and activities and rolled it out at the next sales meeting. They had specific targets for the week for a number of new business conversations, meetings, and referrals.
Crickets. No buy in. Some nods, but clearly, this was not something they were going to subscribe to so they could become better and earn more business. (I wasn’t entirely surprised as this was more of a test by design. There are more issues at play here but let’s just focus on the sales performers.)
At the next meeting, I asked about what they felt about the business development activities they’d been challenged with completing . . . CRICKETS, again.
Until the Sr. sales leader spoke up.
“Let me just tell you that we’re beyond this. What you’re telling us is Sales 101. It’s elementary. We’re all pros here and we don’t appreciate being taught how to ‘tie our shoes’ before we go out on the field. We know how to do that already.”
I kindly invited him to have a conversation about this after the meeting. He explained that activity wasn’t the issue – wasn’t the reason behind his lack of new business. There were other problems. He was happy to list them all.
“We have a lack of leadership . . . “
“We don’t have enough resources . . . “
“Our pricing model is way too high . . . “
“We’re not incented well enough to perform. The compensation plan is too low.”
“I’m doing other things that are someone else’s job.”
I nodded my head and listened and left after explaining that “I clearly hear you and see the point you’re making.”
He, indeed, had made a point.
He made my point. It’s my experience that when people balk at doing the essentials, push back about learning new things, and challenge feedback, that they are covering something up. They are trying to deflect focus from their shortcomings with evasive and manipulative tactics. They’re projecting – displacing their own negative behaviors by focusing on the negative actions/behaviors of someone else and is most often driven by self-doubt and insecurity.
Call it blame shifting, diversion, evading, et cetera. It’s highly effective in business cultures. It’s extremely toxic when left unchecked and can creep into the accountability culture and attitudes of your other players.
And this attitude is extremely caustic in a sales organization.
I don’t argue with sales players that push back about learning or practicing the fundamentals. I wouldn’t create action around the essentials it if it weren’t crystal CLEAR that they are lacking or missing. It’s more telling that someone isn’t willing to practice and learn to improve their results.
Improvement doesn’t happen without effort.
That’s about as basic a truth as you can find.
NFL Quarterbacks still practice taking snaps. Legendary speakers practice moving across stages for hundreds of hours. Rock and Roll icons still work with vocal coaches . . . the best improve the basics so they’re better than anyone else.
If you’ve got players on your team that aren’t willing to practice and improve their in the fundamentals, immediately question them as to “Why”. Why aren’t they willing to be better on the phone? Why wouldn’t they want to improve their communication skills? Why would they discount learning how to use social media as foolishness?
I wrote about this last year when I was coaching a different type of team – a volleyball team and I shared my thoughts with my players about why practice was so critical:
“When you mess up during practice, it’s a mistake.
When you mess up in a game, those are points you’ve handed the other team.”
Practice and the pursuit of continuous improvement help build muscle memory and good habits that increase reaction time and better responses. Everyone wants to win the game or score the sale, but professionals dedicated to continuous improvement are the most successful against their competition. In other words, the game can’t be won on the court, if it’s not first won in practice.
This particular sales player I referenced was complaining about being asked to perform basic sales activities. Though you and I know he was projecting and deflecting, he objected to doing the fundamental sales work that would fill his pipeline and develop opportunities. He felt he didn’t need to do the basic work or improve those fundamental skills. He knew how to “tie his shoes” so he didn’t need to do it ever again.
I couldn’t help but think, though, that it’s hard to even make it on the field, much less even score, when you’re wearing slip-on loafers – as he was.
He may know how to tie his shoes, but he’s not lacing them up for the game.
When you’re a sales pro, you are compensated for performance. Start acting like it.
Until next time, stop hoping, start PRACTICING (and you’ll sell more)!
PS – If you’re wondering if your sales team members are executing the right sales activities or you’re curious about how your sales results can improve by coaching their performance . . . let’s talk. And if you’re a sales pro that’s cringing right now because you recognize yourself, pick up Training Camp or I can recommend a half dozen other books that can help you move improve your attitude and ability to learn and improve.