Practice Remains an Important Part of Training

I am writing this column as I sit in the Atlanta airport, waiting to return home after attending a national conference that included various educational opportunities. While waiting for the flight, I began reviewing the notes I had taken during the educational seminars I attended.

As I looked through what I had written, my first thought was, how can I take this information home and use it to make improvements in our company?

I realized I had to take the new tools I’d acquired and put them into action. But I also realized it wasn’t going to be enough to just go and do it; I had to practice these skills myself to ensure the best results.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s said that to create a new habit or get rid of an old one, it takes days of repetition. Therefore, if we have a positive behavior we want to make a habit of, we must have the discipline to do things over and over again until it becomes ingrained in us as a habit. Just as golfers take their practice shots over and over to give them “muscle memory,” we as salespeople need to practice our skills so when we’re working with prospects, we will have the “presentation memory” automatically in place.

What’s really great about this is that developing good sales habits has nothing to do with the size of the company. It’s not about being brilliant. It doesn’t require an expensive investment of hard-earned dollars. All it really requires is strict discipline to do it over and over again until it becomes a habit.

At the conference, there were future educational opportunities we could sign up for that would require an additional investment. I didn’t doubt their value, but when asked by a colleague if I was going to invest in this additional training, my response was, no, I am going home to improve my business by implementing what I have learned at this conference. After all, what good is going to conferences to learn if we don’t take the time to practice what we’ve learned so we can incorporate the new habits into our businesses?

I suspect if you think about it, you know there are processes or daily activities that you or your company engage in that could use some improvement. Unfortunately, they may not have received the focus or energy investment needed to elevate them to the point where they became part of the way you do business.

So what do you most need to improve at your firm? It may be basic selling skills, or not having a follow-up system to track potential customers. It may be not maximizing your computer design skills, or the potential of computer programs you’ve invested in. It may be something else entirely.

You don’t want (or need) to make an endless list. After all, trying to make too-broad improvements can lead you to give up in exhaustion.

Rather, I suggest you fight one battle at a time. Focus on one key area where you’d like to make improvements, and invest your time and energies in making positive changes. Then, practice, practice, practice.

How to Do It

To give you some idea as to how to make practice and discipline a part of your company’s day-to-day activities, I’d like to share some of the practices we’ve implemented at our firm. First, we have a sales meeting every Tuesday morning. We structure it in such a way as to not compromise our productivity, with half of our staff coming in for a training session, then the other half coming in while the first half returns to their jobs.

We reserve our conference room from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Tuesday without fail, and use this time to focus on training in areas such as product knowledge, systems and sales skills.

Part of that training time is used to practice our ability to communicate our FABs (features, advantages, benefits) to prospects. I strongly believe that we are never as skilled as we need to be, particularly because working in the kitchen and bath industry ensures that we have such a wide range of products and services that are constantly changing and evolving.

For that reason, each week we assign a product to a sales/designer, and that person does a presentation, listing each feature, followed by the advantages of that feature, as well as the benefits the prospect will gain through ownership of the feature.

In the showroom, we then have them demonstrate the product and speak to their peers as if they were prospects, detailing the FABs of the product.

What makes this process particularly challenging is that no one knows who will have to make the presentation, or what product they will have to make a presentation about. Rather, it’s done something like a game of musical chairs – we will go through the showroom, stopping in front of a random product, and then pull someone’s name out of a hat and ask them to present the FABs of that product.

This is essential training because you never know what the next customer will need to know in their pursuit of knowledge.

You can’t just know some of the products and hope that’s what prospects will ask about. Rather, the only way to ensure that you are viewed as fully knowledgeable and trustworthy is to be able to speak intelligently and helpfully on every product that your showroom carries.

We do this training to position ourselves to keep control of the selling process, and to ensure our service always tops that of our competitors. Additionally, exercises like this help to improve our skills at quickly identifying the needs, wants, desires and expectations of the client.

The result of this training is that the salesperson is able to do more powerful client presentations when it counts, leading to more sales. The salesperson is also more likely to exude confidence and be able to answer tough questions, which will lead to gaining prospects’ trust – critical in this day and age if you want to close the sale.

This is one area where practice really does make perfect, so try it for yourself!

It can be tough to practice in front of peers, but it’s far better to make mistakes during these practice sessions than when selling to prospects. Get everyone on your staff involved. Each salesperson can gain valuable insights from a peer critique, and all will benefit by sharing their knowledge and expertise.

It’s easy to make excuses to put this kind of training off. You may feel you don’t have the time. But this is something worth making time for.

At our firm, there always seem to be areas where we believe we can and should improve. Remember to focus on one battle at a time. When you focus your energy on one battle, it’s like a glass prism catching the rays of the sun – when they are all focused on one spot, they are magnified to be so powerful, they can start a fire.

You can make the opportunity to start your own fire by raising your skills. Just find the skill or system that you most believe needs to be elevated, decide what you want to have done, teach it to your staff, and then practice, practice, practice!