Mastering Sales Skills: A Deep Dive into Deliberate Practice

Most sales professionals want to improve their performance. They know there is another level but it takes time, commitment and failure along the way. Some are willing to take the challenge while others are ok with settling for "as is".

When I worked in corporate sales, I was continuously honing my craft. Practicing my presentation skills, discovery questions, pausing for impact etc. Some people are natural, but I was not. I had to put in the work. I also had a higher standard than others.

Like in sports or music, practice is essential, it is the main part of the activity." Practice makes permanent, not perfect". My kids have a piano recital next week, it will be an hour-long event. They have been practicing for months leading up to the event. The amount of practice time compared to performance time is imbalanced, sales are no different. We can't expect to read a script, pick up the phone and have an insightful conversation without practice. Too many variables to control, including nerves and the pressure we place on ourselves.

To see permanent growth and results, we can't just practice, we need deliberate practice. The difference is, that we are honing in on skill growth, and progress moments which involve improving specific aspects of an individual's performance through repetition and successive refinement. In essence, we are creating new habits that can withstand the pressure of certain sales situations. When done correctly, these can lead to meaningful behaviour change and improved performance. Who doesn't want this for all parts of our life?

I role-play with my team regularly. Once we craft the script, we mark it up to show where we pause, intonation, share a story etc. Then we deliver it. I ensure we practice in the environment we will be in, ie) zoom, phone or F2F to emulate the real situation. We focus on certain areas or as Johnathan Mahan from the Practice Lab refers to them as "moments".  We chunk them down, isolate them and practice them until we are comfortable. Then we move on.

When we are in high-pressure sales situations, stress and emotions are running high- we struggle to access the information stored in the frontal cortex of our brain. In these moments, there are physiological changes that are taking place in the brain. Where oxygen and blood flow in the brain go, it changes how fast different parts of the brain can operate and function. Parts of the brain that tend to slow down that we lose access to, are the same parts of the brain where knowledge is stored.
The parts of the brain that speed up and get all the oxygen are parts of the brain that have to do with habit, rituals and defaults. Only 2% of information is available to us at the moment, this is not due to lack of will, this is how our brain works, and we need to get around this.

So how do we do that?
With deliberate practice. We can rewire our brains to access knowledge and skills under intense pressure. Most traditional sales training does not involve this level of practice. The few times we role played during my sales career, the VP of Sales played the customer and my boss played another buyer, not a very controlled or safe environment to disarm and try new material. Being a high achiever, I struggled with this activity, I wasn't prepared to fail in front of my leadership team, perhaps this is my ego, but I know others felt the same.

In my head, I was thinking you hired me to close business, I have to show my best self, "be a performer". The sad part is, never growing, progressing, tapping into the next level of awareness and learning. I was closed, unwilling to move out of my comfort zone and show vulnerability. In this example, recognizing that failure was part of the improvement process was something that was required to advance.

I had to work on this over years of practice. Now I acknowledge failure is part of whatever I am trying that is new. There will be varying degrees based on the activity and my starting point, but it is there. The sad part is, that this is the sole reason many people avoid embarking on a journey of change, self-improvement, and FOF (fear of failure). Guess what, our customers are no different.

I embraced it and saw it for what it was. Being closed initially in my career was actually the awakening I needed to go inward and embrace the fear, and vulnerability with the desire to improve. This has become one of my superpowers when working with sales teams across various industries. Seeing in them what I saw in myself many years ago and aligning with it. With all that being said, I strongly believe with the right environment,  the right mindset, script and psychological safety we can absolutely train sales professionals to effectively role play. See it as an "improvement zone" to experiment and develop their skills without the pressure of immediate performance.

Isolate parts of the call, like a piano song go over them bar by bar, iterating different moments until it feels natural and we can do it effortlessly while taking a conversational tone. When I see the DJ voice taking over, I know I have lost them and my ego has stepped in. The goal is to be our authentic selves. When we practice, know our message, understand why we are asking the questions and make them our own we get excited, our confidence is heightened and any call reluctance we had Is out the door.

How can you incorporate this with your team?
First, set a cadence and commit to it. Carve out time weekly where you work through specific moments in a sales call or within your sales process and define what you are looking to improve and the results you are seeking. Some examples are asking open-ended questions, practicing active listening, curiosity, storytelling, booking next steps etc.

Some leaders record their team so they can play it back and allow them to be observers. What do your prospects see? Look at the spoken and unspoken words. What does your body language say, it represents 55% of communication. Our Posture? Hand gestures? Are we smiling? Your goal should be to make slight improvements every day. Over time, these amount to big moments and end up being the reason you closed the deal. Remember 53% of the reason people buy is due to the individual, this is within our control.

Let's remove chance, luck and hope from our strategy and put our future results in our own hands through deliberate practice. If you need help getting started, or reinforce what you have already started reach out to us and see if we can help.

About Karen Kelly

For 20 years Karen has been specializing in the art and science of sales and communication her passion and experience are helping technical sales professionals become more confident and to disrupt with value.

Her dedication to developing and delivering customized sales training programs provide her audience practical, relevant tools  that can be used immediately to break down the barriers in a competitive landscape and separate themselves from the noise.

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We encourage you to take the first step towards change.
There are so many areas of business out of our control, yet we continue to invest in them and hope for a different outcome. What about your people? You have control over them and their development pathway. The ability to build a positive learning culture, improve their level of confidence and increase bottom line revenue.
Invest in them. Hone their sales skills to  attract your most ideal clients, gain the required commitments through  discovery, engage authentically  and create an enjoyable repeatable experience for your clients.
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