"If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax."
Sage advice from Abe Lincoln. But if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re in sales - certainly a better chance than you being a lumberjack, anyways. So what’s honest Abe getting at? And why am I including it here?
He’s talking about honing your instrument so that when you get to the task at hand, you are in a position to succeed.
He’s talking about practice.
I’ve shadowed literally thousands of sales calls in my career and in my work at SharperAx. Through my experience I’ve learned that nothing helps people become better sellers like sharpening their pitch through practice.
How do you practice selling?
Practicing sales is a two-part process, consisting of crafting a story and roleplaying.
One of the clients I've worked with was losing two-thirds of its bids against its main competitor. Thirty weeks, and 30 story sessions later, my client was winning two-thirds of its bids.
Here’s what we did, and what you can do as well.
We instituted a 60-minute meeting every Friday in which the sales team worked together to streamline a story, cutting it down to just two minutes long. Then the team rehearsed it through roleplaying with each other. Each week we recorded the best version, posting the videos for the team to revisit as refreshers, and for new reps to practice and accelerate their time to first deal.
By stories I simply mean responses to common questions about your solution, your competition, your industry, etc. Questions like:
Which customers like me have had success with this approach?
How do you help me solve problem X?
How does your approach differ from competitor Y?
By rehearsing the stories over and over, whittling them down and sharpening their edge, the sales reps came to know them by heart. Not only did this make them more effective communicators, it made them better listeners too. If your stories are down pat, you can actually pay attention to your customers, instead of trying to figure out what you’re going to say when they’re done speaking.
And, perhaps most importantly, recording the videos allowed reps to revisit the stories and sharpen them up if they had grown dull from use. (You see, Abe didn’t spend six straight hours sharpening his axe and the next two chopping. He sharpened, then chopped, then sharpened again).
Bonus for Sales Managers: Agenda for Training
Sales managers, be honest, how often does your team actually practice selling? How often do you sit down and roleplay, work on your stories, hone your skills? I’ve worked with sales organizations of all different shapes, sizes in my career and I can tell you, wherever I go, the answer is usually: not very often.
So, why don't you give this a try with your team? Here’s an agenda for how a training could go:
1. Choose a story and an expert to help tell it. For example, if there's a new product launching, grab the product manager!
2. Hold weekly meeting with the sales team and domain expert. Split the meeting up as follows:
10 - 20 minutes: Domain expert (i.e. product manager) educates team on story topic.
10 - 20 minutes: Domain expert / team discuss story outline to whittle the essence of the story down to five to six bullets.
30 minutes: Each team member tells a two minute story with feedback from the team after each telling.
10 minutes: Record the best story from session to create a best practice video.
3. Store the best practice video in a place where reps can find it and practice it.
How else do you practice your sales skills?