Top-performing athletes, do you think they practice more or less than the mediocre athletes? And top-performing musicians, do they practice more than the average performers?
But, when it comes to sales professionals, they have many, many excuses for why they don’t need to practice.
Today we are going to talk about why you should practice with your colleges before you get on the phone with your next sales prospect.
Hi, it's Ian Altman. Welcome to the Same Side Selling podcast, your source for integrity based sales and marketing that can really help to grow your business. I'm joined by the talented, brilliant Meridith Elliott Powell. And Meridith, can you give people a little bit of your background, so they have some idea of, other than just my endorsement, why they should listen to you?Meridith Elliott Powell:
Well, I think your endorsement is pretty powerful, but I am a business growth and sales strategist, and my passion is helping my clients turn all of this uncertainty into their competitive advantage.Ian Altman:
And, of course, Ian Altman, many of you know me through the book, Same Side Selling, and oftentimes people call on me because they have trouble standing out from the competition, they get stuck being treated as a commodity all about price, and they want to see how to unpack that and sell more on the results side rather than price. Today, what we're focused on, is something that is near and dear to my heart, which is practice. See top performing athletes, do you think they practice more or less than the mediocre athletes? And of course, top performing musicians, same thing, the top performing ones practice more than the average performers. But, when it comes to sales professionals, they have many, many excuses for why they don't need to practice. What are some of the things that you hear from people as their explanation for why they maybe don't need to practice?Meridith Elliott Powell:
Well, I think one of the biggest ones is, just, I was just doing some sales training, and when we got to the roleplay part, people just said, “Well, we hate to roleplay, and if we hate to roleplay, we shouldn't have to roleplay.”Ian Altman:
And, and so, so when they say, “I don't like to roleplay,” what do you think that is? What, what is it about the roleplay that they don't like?Meridith Elliott Powell:
Well, I think that people worry that they’ll be a little embarrassed. I think they worry they're going to be judged, and I think all of a sudden, we're gonna know they're not really good at the sales conversation. Because, if you can't do it with one of your buddies you work with, I really question how good are you in front of a customer?Ian Altman:
You know, I love that. The way I often describe it as this, “So, it would be uncomfortable if you did this with a colleague of yours, because, I guess you'd rather screw it up when it really counts with a real client, right?” Because, we don't want to make the mistake in the safety of our own office, or over a Zoom call with somebody else, where if we get it wrong, we get to say, “Oh, I didn't do that right. Let's start over.” Because you can't do that with a prospect. You can't say,” Oh, you know what? I shouldn't have said this. I meant to say that instead. So, can we just rewind this meeting and start over?” It doesn't work that way. And if you were, if you were a golfer, and because I know you and I both play golf, so for anybody who's not, not a golfer and you're listening to this, just bear with us for a second. We're not going to recount every shot we hit in our last round, because that's something that golfers often do. But, if all of a sudden you took a golf lesson and learned a new bunker shot on Saturday, if you were playing on Sunday morning in a match that mattered, what's the likelihood you're going to use that new swing you just learned yesterday?Meridith Elliott Powell:
Not likely, unless I spend some time in the middle, in the bunker, practicing like crazy to get it down. Because, I love the fact that you said that, because that is like going to sales training and thinking you can come out and use what you just learned. I mean, I go to a golf lesson, and if, I just know I need to spend the next week on the course, working on what I was just taught, because it's not ingrained in me yet.Ian Altman:
Exactly. And so, that’s, that's the area that I think that people often overlook. So, the first one is this notion of it could be uncomfortable. So, of course it's uncomfortable to practice with somebody else. There is that potential for embarrassment, like you pointed to, and we don't want our friends and colleagues to know that maybe we're not as good in that situation. But, we're much better off having that experience with them, and figuring it out. And, guess what? You're going to learn from each other also. So, you're going to see things that someone else did that you think, “Oh, that's a good idea. I should try that in my meetings.” And you're going to hear things that you say, “Oh, that sounds awful. And you know what? I say that too. So now, I want to make sure I don't say that anymore.” I think that, that's an aspect that is often lost on people. So, that first one is that idea of embarrassment. The other one that I hear a lot, Meridith, I don't know how often you hear this, is people who say, “Well, sure, I would practice but we just don't have time.” Do you hear that often?Meridith Elliott Powell:
Oh, yeah, sure. Definitely. Definitely hear that one. You know, my husband is a dentist, and a few years back he had asked me to come in and do some work with this team. Now, I really vowed I would never be the wife of the dentist who came in and did anything, but then it occurred to me that my financial benefit lies in this too. So, I set it up. I said on one condition. I said, once a month, your team is going to roleplay, and we got them to a well-oiled machine. And, they complained about it all the time. They never had the time. They were too busy with patients. But, we carved it out. They became a well-oiled machine. The moment we quit roleplaying, the wheels came off the bus.Ian Altman:
Yeah, absolutely. And, I think that's an important element of this, which is, the people who roleplay, if you roleplayed an hour a week, so there's, there's a, there's a game that we have in the Same Side Selling Academy, called Same Side Improv. The idea behind Same Side improv is that, you pick cards from, from a, from a deck, and the person who's playing the customer takes on that role. So, you might pull out a card that says you don't trust vendors, or you're seeking free information, or there's like, you know, 30 different cards that you can you pick from, and then you play that role. And, if you practice for an hour a week doing that, do you not think that you'll save at least an hour a week in productivity and efficiency? Of course you will. And to your point, it's interesting, we had a client of mine who they would, they were amazing, this group, they went from 20% to 95% of their team hitting their numbers in one year. The single greatest reason, I believe, they did that is, not necessarily the things that I taught them, or they learned in terms of Same Side Selling, but it was the fact that they were meticulous and vigilant about practicing for an hour week, every single person. In fact, it was part of their comp. plan. If they didn't do that, they actually missed out on a bonus. So, there was, there was a portion of a percentage that if they practice for an hour a week and it was confirmed, then they got an extra half a percent on their sales. And if they didn't, they didn't get that, which I thought was brilliant. And, it was interesting, because they had one group in the organization who, everyone was performing well, they're all going the same trajectory, and this one group kind of fell off, and had plateaued. And I said, “Well, so what kind of problems you're running into?” And, they were describing them. I said, “Well, how do those play out when you do improv each week?” And the manager of that group says, “Oh, well, you know, we actually stopped doing improv”. And I said, “Well, do you think that has something to do with it?” He says, “Well, no, because, because, I mean, this, this stuff started happening four months ago.” I said, “Okay, and when did you guys stop with your weekly improv?” He goes, “Oh, it was probably like five or six months ago” It was just, and the funny part was that it wasn't obvious to him what he was saying. It was like, no, no, we already got good enough at it, so we don't need to practice anymore. And, I think, that's the great misnomer that's out there is that either, well I practiced for two weeks and that's enough or, well, once we get good enough, we don't need to practice anymore. And, in every other industry, it doesn't work that way.Meridith Elliott Powell:
It doesn't. Oh, my goodness. You know, it's, we've talked so much about, about athletes, and we have a guy here in town who, who made it to Wimbledon, he actually played with, with Agassi. And, when you talked about, so, he was on the tour for years, and good enough to be on the tour, get the retirement and everything from the tour. So, he played in the top 50 for years. The amount of time he practiced versus he played was just unbelievable. I mean, he would get in, he would fly into someplace, he would land and immediately go to the tennis courts. He never saw any place he visited in the world, because he would practice from the time he got there. Before a match, he and the rest of the pros, they show up three and four hours early and just get grooved into doing what they need to do. And we're talking about an hour a week.Ian Altman:
Yeah, exactly. And that's, that's the fascinating part. So, there's a fellow speaker, I don't know if you know, Alan Stein Jr. So, so, Alan tells a story about, so, he was a basketball performance and training coach for years, and he was involved in the late Kobe, Kobe Bryant's camps with Nike. And so, he went to an event that that Kobe was at and he said, “Hey, I'd love to come out to your training session tomorrow morning.” And Kobe says, “Well, you know, I'm just gonna let you know that we start early. It starts at 5:30 in the morning.” He's like, man, I don't want to mess this thing up. He said, so I made sure to get there early, and I showed up at 5 A.M. He said, and Kobe is on the court in a full sweat already. And, what Kobe was doing was fundamental basics that they teach these kids. The same thing they were teaching high school and early college athletes, th is is what he was doing in these exercises. And, Alan tells the story beautifully, and he says, he says to Kobe, “Well, so Kobe, you're doing this really basic drill.” He said he was doing it with amazing precision, amazing velocity, but just, but just this very basic drill. He says, “You're arguably one of the greatest players in the world, but you're doing this basic drill.” He says, “Well, how do you think I became that level of a player?” It’s because he's practicing those fundamentals over and over.
And, it's interesting, because what I tell people in sales is, look, how many phone calls are you making, how many outreaches are you making, and how often do you get somebody in and you're fumbling through what you're going to say? When you find yourself in that same situation, 30 times a week, or 30 times a day, it shouldn't be something that you're winging. You should have a consistent process that says, here's the way I deal with that when it comes up. And then when the client brings up that scenario, you know exactly how to deal with it because you've practiced it with half a dozen of your colleagues. You practice it for an hour a week, and see two or three different people each week go through the same type of scenario. So, when it comes up, you don't freak out. You're not concerned. You say, Oh, I know how to deal with this. And I'm sure that as a dentist, your husband, you wouldn't want a dentist to perform a procedure for the first time on you having never practiced that, or never trained it.Meridith Elliott Powell:
Never, no. And I even think, I think it goes deeper than that. I mean, you certainly you have a Kobe Bryant out there working on fundamentals. But there is, when he goes into a game, because he's done that, there's the confidence that you deliver. And that's how I feel like when I practice. I mean, you and I are both keynote speakers, and the keynote speaking is so much more than the hour we get up on stage to keynote. There's the, every time I see somebody, my husband sees somebody walking around talking to themselves, he says, outside, he says they must be a keynote speaker. Because I've been known to go for hikes or a mountain bike ride, just to get my, just to say my keynote, you know, because if I can do my keynote while doing something else, I know that the keynote is coming from here. But, you practice it and you practice it and you practice it, because then when you deliver it, you believe in it. You're sold. You're speaking with energy. Well see, it's the same thing in a sales call. I mean, I sit here, after being in sales for 30 years, I'm far more confident in a sales call than I was at 22., because I've practiced it. I've done it, I’ve, those types of things. But it is always the best people that continue to practice.Ian Altman:
Absolutely. It's fascinating to me, because when people get in these scenarios where they're working with a team of people, and the organization makes it optional, so some people practice and some people don’t, what I'll find is that if we're in a session together, the person who is saying, Well, here's another way you may want to try that is the person who practices all the time, because they've worked through 50 different ways to solve that puzzle, as opposed to the person who is winging it. And then my favorite complaint that I hear is, well, just, just know that I'm much better when it's real. It's like, well, actually, you probably aren't. You probably aren't much better. That's the unfortunate reality. You think you are, which is a great testament to your confidence, no matter how misplaced it might be. And instead, what we want to do is, just have you be in a situation where you know what you're doing. There's a concept that someone referred to as staircase brilliance. And I wish I could attribute who had said it. I don't recall who it was, but they referred to a staircase brilliance, is when you have absolute brilliance of what you should have said as you're walking down the staircase. And you're like, oh, man, you know, I should have said this. Well, when you practice, you get those elements of staircase brilliance, where you say, oh, in this particular improv, in this roleplay, I should have said this. And the next time that presents itself, you might say it, but I can assure you that if you go through that scenario, five times in practice, by the fourth or fifth time, that's just going to be your natural response. And then when something comes up, you won't be fazed by it. So, when the client says, “Well, this all looks great, but you know, you're just too expensive compared to the alternatives.” You don't want to say, oh, uh, uh. You want to be in a position to say, “Well, the only way we could reduce the price is if we scale back on some of the results we're talking about, and my sense is, that wouldn't work for you. Did we miss something?” And so, you want to have that ability to know exactly how you deal with that situation when it comes up. Rather than, you're winging it, now your emotions kick in. You're not giving the best response.Meridith Elliott Powell:
I would say agree with that. I gotta tell you one other excuse that I love. This one just popped into my head, but I love it when they say Well, somebody might ask me something I don't know. And I always think, why would you want to be asked something you don't know when you are smack in front of a customer and it matters? And, wouldn't you rather be asked something you don't know by one of your colleagues, when there's nothing to lose? And, you know, it's like, you know, if you've ever, if you've ever fallen on your face, whether it's a sales call, or a keynote, or you know, just, just anything, it is so much better to have fallen on your face, when it doesn't matter, because the odds are, you are going to fall on your face. Life just works that way. So, you want to do it at a time when other people can say no big deal. Let's talk about why that didn't work, or why you got stuck? Or, how you can handle a question that you don't know, so that you look in control, at least, of that, of that situation. So, it's just interesting. I mean, it's, it's something that could make you so much better, but people really salespeople really struggle to think that practice is a good use of their time.Ian Altman:
And it's bad. I do think that part of it is that ego aspect that says, well, I don't want people to know that maybe the emperor has no clothes. But, I think, I think, the other side of it is the notion of, we need to set certain rules or guidelines that guide people for success. For example, my rule of thumb is, you're not allowed to say, “okay, timeout, timeout, wait.” That doesn't work. You can't do that because you can't do that in a meeting. So, if someone asks you a question, and you don't know the answer to it, you need to know, how do you deal with a question, and you don't know the answer, you need to know how do you deal with a question where you don’t know the answer? And, it might be something as simple as, I don't have the complete answer that right now, and I don't want to give you partial information. Is it okay if I get the answer that question, and then get back to you later today or tomorrow? Right? So, that's, that's totally fine. But if you said, Well, I don't, I don't know, and now you pause, what you're doing is you're making it so it's not real. And I think it's critical that the examples, A. be real and B. that they change. When we introduced the Same Side Improv, what people said that was really fascinating is, and one, one of the outcomes was something that was intended, and one was something that we didn't intend at all. So, the first one is that people said, “I met with this client, and the meeting went almost exactly like we had rehearsed it.” It's like, well, of course, that's the whole idea of practicing different scenarios. The second thing that happened is, so, we have these secret cards that people select, and the secret card basically tells them, and it's all digital now, but the secret card is, here's an attribute that, that the customer has, that they're taking on, you can pick between one and three attributes for each round. So, it might be things like, you don't trust vendors, we've had bad results trying this in the past, you have a friend or relative that sells the same thing, you're seeking the cheapest price, you want to get free information, there's executive pressure to solve this, things like that. And what happens is people say, “Well, so, we practice every week, and I went and met with a real prospect, and the prospect said something, and I thought, I know what secret they have. Now, when I first heard that, I thought, Oh, dear God, you actually printed this stuff out, handed them the cards to take on the roles. We didn't do that. It's just the client was saying the same thing that we say are asking the same questions that we asked when we have that card. So, when they started doing that, it was like, aha, they're just trying to get free information. And they said, it sounds like you're content with your current vendor, you're just trying to get a different perspective or different input. Is that right? Yeah, that's, that's kind of where we're at. Okay. And now, you know, effective sales is not about persuasion or coercion. It's about getting the truth as quickly as possible.Meridith Elliott Powell:
Yeah, for sure. I mean, there's, there's, you know, there's so many good things that come out of a practice. You know, it's even, I find the top performing teams that we work with, even teams that are doing exceptionally well, every time you go in and you do a roleplay, you find some things you could tweak, and you could do even better. And with competitors on your heels, that's what it's about. It's not about reaching the crescendo and stalling out. It's about constantly looking at it and saying, you know, this really worked, in fact, we landed a multimillion-dollar deal. Let's go back and pick it apart, and let's see what we did that really nailed it. And if there's anything that we could do to even take it up a notch. So it isn't always about preventing mistakes. A lot of times it's about really taking it up a level and making what is a high performing team, even better.Ian Altman:
I love that perspective, because it's about, whether it was a successful outcome or not, I would often say to my team, okay, regardless the outcome, what should we have done differently, right? And oftentimes people say, well, no, we won the account. Like, that's not the point. We won the account. What should we have done differently? Even if it was, it would have made things easier for the client, it would have been a smoother process, whatever it is, there's always something that we should, we should envision doing a little bit better. And I think that's, that's a critical aspect of this element of practice.
So, let me do kind of a quick 30-second recap of what I think our takeaways are, and then I will give you opportunity for rebuttal to find the ones that I miss, and so, I'm doing these on the fly. So, when people don't practice, we know that the top performing athletes and, top performers in every industry practice, people in sales often have excuses why not. Some of the favorite excuses that we hear are things like, well, I don't have time, it's uncomfortable, I'm already good enough, I don't need to, or that notion of, well, I've already been practicing a little bit so I'm good enough, or that one that we didn't mention that comes up often is, well, I talked to clients all the time, so I don't need to practice because I'm doing it all the time. What we want to do is make sure that we dedicate an hour a week to real live roleplay scenarios. We can't pause in the middle, because you can't with a real client. You've got to go through from beginning to end during that timeframe. And then we want to solicit feedback, not only during practice, but after we have actual meetings with clients, recap the meeting as a team and say, what, what worked well, what didn't work, well, what should we change. So, I'm sure I left something out there, Meridith.Meridith Elliott Powell:
I think you really came close to completely nailing it. I would just say the only thing is to really shift your mindset around it, is that really think about the fact of it is, practice is the place where you want to make mistakes, where you want to have challenges, where you want to have obstacles, don't save those for the for, the real meetings, and make that a safe place to work and, and to improve. And at the end of the day, it's 100%, your choice. If you want to be a top performing team, if you want to own the market, if you want to take the confidence and the energy in front of the customer, which is really all they're buying from you, then you have to put, then you have to put in the practice.Ian Altman:
Phenomenal perspective. I think that notion of having that confidence, and recognizing that the way you approach the sales process, and your sales methodology, actually can be one of the greatest differentiators for your business compared to your competition. Meridith when people want to learn more about you and connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?Meridith Elliott Powell:
They can find me at ValueSpeaker.com. That's my website, just the words ValueSpeaker.com. I'm a big believer, in build your network, it will change your life. So, if you connect with me, I will connect with you. The social media channel, I tend to live on is LinkedIn. So, reach out and connect with me there.Ian Altman:
You know, and likewise, I spend most of my time, in terms of the social media world, on LinkedIn. And of course, you can always visit me at SameSideSelling.com. Thanks, and we look forward to speaking again on the next episode.