By: Rick Lamos
It will not be too long before rookies (i.e. superstars from the college ranks) and seasoned pros alike take to the practice fields of summer training camp across the National Football League. Grueling two a day practices in the summer heat are spent fine tuning skills, developing new techniques and learning to execute as a team. All in preparation for the coming sixteen game season in between which are four to five days of practice each week.
So why do grown men, arguably some of the world’s best athletes subject themselves to any of this? Simply put, for the next sixteen weeks they are expected to execute flawlessly for sixty minutes against similarly skilled and practiced millionaire athletes. They need to peak as individuals and as a team in front of thousands of fans (customers) each time. With the stakes being so high, they choose to practice and make mistakes on the practice field as opposed to in front of a national television audience.
There is precious little time for a quarterback to fine-tune his release of the football or for the wide receiver to memorize the intricacies of complex pass patterns in the heat of battle.
In addition, in collaboration with the coaching staff, detailed, carefully constructed game plans are written, practiced and re-written. Are adjustments made in the middle of the game? Certainly, once the game commences, adjustments are made to the game plan depending on the competition’s efforts and game plan. Do they work? Not always. Even these seasoned pros find it difficult to improvise under this pressure but with the appropriate focus, coordination, teamwork and sometimes even a little luck the best prepared, most practiced and most highly skilled team usually prevails.
And what does this have to do with you and your role as a sales professional?
To start with, we are not blessed with the luxury of an off-season, a time to recover from the previous year’s disappointments, re-think our approach and work on skills. The cylinders must roll year round. If we can all agree that our customers’ businesses have changed, marketing practices and strategies continue to evolve, indirect and direct competition continues to grow then one has to ask “When do sales managers, seasoned sales pros and rookies alike fit training camp and practice into their calendar?” Without new skills, practice and a new game plan, how can you expect to grow your margins, win new business and keep the competition out of your key accounts?
The question is: Would you rather bleed in front of your customers or sweat a little in practice with your peers? If you choose bleeding, then no need to read on. But if you choose a little sweat, here are some ideas for a year round training camp for what print buyers describe as leaders, the type of sales pro they want calling on them.
It all starts with a plan. A plan by definition must have a beginning and an end (goal). Your “ends” or goals should of course include the metrics critical to the bottom line -revenue, margin, expense, etc. – and even more important, the specific actions that will have to occur to achieve those goals, the playbook or roadmap for your goals and skills, actions, behaviors and attitude. Take the time to conduct a SWOT analysis of yourself, your company and your competition. What are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats?
Once you have a firm grip on where you are (your beginning) then you have a fighting chance to map out how to get to your goals. And I am compelled to insist that doing this in writing is essential. Next step is to select the top one to three skills or behaviors most likely to have the greatest impact on achieving your goals. Keep in mind that business must go on, so focus on just a few key items at any given time.
Identify the best resources and methods to learn, practice and perfect each. Usually a combination of approaches will keep things fresh and offer you the best chance to learn effectively. Read industry as well as non-industry books and periodicals, participate in seminars, give seminars, and teach something! Listen to tapes! How many hours a week do you spend behind the wheel of a car with a CD or tape player? Make that time productive. There are thousands of excellent books available from your library system and bookstores on audiotape and CD. Turn off the music and talk radio for part of that time and feed your brain with what will help you the most!
OK. So far it has been painless. Now here is the part where you have to “sweat” a little. Practice what you are learning, just like your NFL counterparts, with your peers and sales manager (coach). Role-playing can be embarrassing and clumsy at times but better this occurs in front of your team than in front of those you are trying to win over. Videotape your performance – if it is good enough for Deion Sanders then it is good enough for us.
Then get out there, it is time to walk through the door and execute. Assess each call candidly and go back to the practice field when necessary to fine-tune the execution or even the plan if necessary.
Is this a lot of work? Yes. Is this easy? No. Uncomfortable? Likely yes. But if the alternative are the low margins, shrinking profits and voracious competition you are unable to win against, isn’t it better to sweat a bit and feel clumsy with your peers than to bleed in front of those to whom you need to sell your solutions?
Rick Lamos is the Director of Business Development for Frost & Sullivan. Rick can be reached at email@example.com