The One Reason Your Sales Team Is Not Improving


I spent the first 20 years of my life playing soccer, and the last 15 years playing sales.

What do soccer and sales have to do with each other you might ask?

It turns out quite a lot.

At least that was my first impression when I made the decision to hang-up my cleats and pick-up the phone.

On the first day of my first sales job I was put into a team with about 10 other teammates, given a target of 25 meetings per month, and told that stack rankings would be sent out weekly.

Hang around on the bottom of that list too long and your name might fall off.

My jersey? Grey suit pants, white dress shirt, black shoes.

Team, teammates, stack rankings, jerseys. This sounded all too familiar.

I hadn’t left sports behind — I’d just found a new one.

And finally one that paid.

All I needed to do was score “25 goals a month.”

And so from that day forward I couldn’t help but see the similarities between sports and sales.

But in all the sales organizations where I’ve worked, consulted, and coached, I have noticed one massive difference.

A difference so significant that I wonder how sales teams have missed it.

And here it is.

During the soccer season we spent 90% of our time practicing, and 10% of our time executing (in matches).

During “the sales season” we spend less than 5% of our time practicing, and more than 95% of our time executing (in pitches).

What’s wrong with this picture?

In most sales organizations their teams go from pitch to pitch to pitch. There’s no time for practice. All of the practice happens in the games: live, in front of your customers.

In soccer, on the other hand, we spent hours, every single day, focusing on developing each individual skill that we knew we needed in order to be great soccer players: passing, shooting, heading, left foot/right foot, corner kicks, quickness, stamina.

Coaches observed us on the pitch and helped us understand where we were strong, where we were weak, and tailored our practice sessions accordingly, so that when it came to game time we were ready.

More importantly, week after week, month after month, we could see our specific skills getting better which had an enormous impact on our motivation.

What would happen if we adopted this mentality in sales organizations?

How many opportunities are we losing as a result of an upside-down practice-to-execution ratio?

Eduardo Briceno, Co-founder and CEO at Mindset Works, gives a phenomenal TED Talk on this topic, sharing research and insights on exactly why we need to adopt this mindset in sales.

The top performers in any domain, whether sports or sales, go through their careers alternating between two zones: the learning zone (practice), and the performance zone (execution), and they are very mindful about when they are in which zone, and what the goals are for each zone.

The reason most sales teams don’t actually improve over time is because they spend almost all of their time in the performance zone, leaving no time to consciously focus on practice and development.

Here are 5 steps to get you started on building a culture of practice and improvement. Note that these steps can also be applied to any other domain, whether personal or professional:

Step #1: Make a list of all the skills your sales team needs to be successful.

Step #2: Prioritize the top 12 — one for each month of the year.

Step #3: Focus on one skill per month, and block 60 mins each week to practice that skill, either in a 1:1 or in a team setting.

Step #4: To ensure relevancy during practice, have each team member use their next upcoming meeting as the scenario for practice.

Step #5: Prioritize these practice sessions over anything else. People will want to miss practice because they have a meeting, but herein lies the problem. We are all execution and zero practice.

Follows this process and in just a few months your team will have evolved tremendously.

Have you successfully built a culture of practice and development? Share your insights with us in the comments section below, and share this post if you believe in the power of practice.

By Ryan Paugh

Hi there!

With decades spent exploring the outer world and the inner world, I share some of the insights I have learned along the way.

Topics include mindfulness, spirituality, growth, perspective, and career.

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