"Deliberate Practice"...and Sales

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Thu, Apr 18, 2013

Click for Video on our Sales Management Boot Camp:  Oct. 6th-8th

Sales Management Boot Camp   Copy resized 600


We're dialed in for another exciting, engaging, and exhausting Sales Management Boot Camp from late Sunday afternoon, October 6th through Tuesday afternoon, October 8th at the MIT Endicott House.

-Six years, 350+ highly satisfied graduates!

Everyone who attends is focused on answering two (not so) simple questions:

1.  How can I improve my own sales effectiveness?
2.  How can I enable my salespeople more effectively?

We've confirmed senior executives from Brainshark, Salesforce and Hubspot as speakers. In the meantime, click HERE for more information and Save the Date.  Just email Jack at jack@derbymanagement.com to answer any questions.


At the end of my last blog, I wrote a comment about the Final 4 and basketball players...
"The most winning players simply practice longer and harder, and that's what perfecting Value Propositions takes.

My friend, Scott Taylor of The Taylor Group , a superb market research company located in in Portsmouth and NYC, commented...

Talent is Overated resized 600There's a book by Geoff Colvin called "Talent Is Overrated," in which he makes the strong case not only that talent is overrated, but so is longer and harder practice, UNLESS that longer and harder practice is comprised of what he calls "deliberate practice."

I Kindled a copy and breezed through it last weekend, and it confirms my recent concerns about sales people and their skills training (as in the lack of).


Sales Training First, what passes for sales skills training at most small and middle market companies is simply filler at the annual sales meeting.  A couple of hours here and there sandwiched into all of the other firehosed topics in a death-by-powerpoint whirlwind.  Trying to remember what to do on a sales call after most sales training sessions is like trying to remember everything that your golf pro told you that you're doing wrong.

Second, to the point of the book, most of what passes for sales skills training is mere practice by repetition like going to the practice range and hitting a couple of buckets of balls.  Makes you feel pretty good-especially now that it's spring-and it energizes you so that you can't wait to get out on the course this Saturday, but in terms of really learning anything as a result of that hour at the driving range...pretty worthless.


Third, this concept of Deliberate Practice, requires...

  • (1) intense focus and concentration,
  • (2) repeated (very) high volume,
  • (3) active, hands-on engagement and
  • (4) most importantly, professional coaching.


...and that's the issue...and the opportunity.

Most small and middle market companies treat sales skills training as a random "activity".  If they do it at all, it's not "deliberate"; it's just a one-off "activity".  It's like someone going out to jog, and what that person ends up doing is just running around the block a couple of times, or it's that average golfer in the spring spending an hour or two a month at the driving range. 

In the world of small and middle market company sales, the training process is most often even worse than that since the  "activity" of training becomes even more watered down by the sales manager simply telling their salespeople that they should be getting out to jog more, or telling them that they should be going to the driving range more frequently.  There's no actual engagement, no high volume repetition through role-playing and consistent weekly drills, no testing, no certification, no accountability, and therefore, no improvement. 

I just had breakfast with one of my recent ex-students out of my Tufts marketing class.  She's very bright, has a broad variety of excellent skills and is now working for a high powered and very fast paced marketing firm.  As she assimilates into her new objectives , her very enthusiastic comments this morning about the company were... "It's like just starting medical school, but already I'm expected to be prepared for surgery in the operating room."  

I thought that that was a great concept to carry into our thinking about sales training.  Physicians and surgeons are constantly being trained, tested, calibrated and re-certified.  Why shouldn't we think about our sales professionals in exactly the same light? 

Every month, we work with new customers-mature sales organizations-older companies with experienced men and women who have been playing the game for 10-20 years.  Our experience is that years on the job does not necessarily make them experienced salespeople for today's buyers.  While there's a lot to be said about experience, old experience, gathered over the last 20 years of relationship selling is not very useful in a Sales 2.0 world which is now moving rapidly to Sales 3.0 and into the brave new world of Sales Enablement


Practice makes perfect...

Take this concept of "deliberate practice"-focused, concentrated, high volume, consistent training with a professional coach and narrow that down to just two selling skills that you want your sales team to improve in over the next six weeks.  

What are the two selling skills that if you ramped them up right now, the result would create short term improvements that could be realized in this quarter.  One of my new customers responded to this question last week with "time management skills", and we're going to do an intense couple of hours session next week on that very specific and necessary skill, plus we'll throw in "meeting management skills" while we're there.  Everyone will then need to do homework and come back in a week with real world examples and results.

So what are the two selling skills for you or your team...

  • closing skills?
  • negotiating skills?
  • discovery question skills?
  • value proposition skills?
  • meeting networking skills?

Those two skills are whatever you think will be the most impactful in achieving your Q2 numbers and making sure that you're beefing up your current pipeline to take you through the long hot summer.  

Sales Training
Don't overthink this..."just do it".  Expert instruction.  Hands-on drills.  Role-playing.  Video-critiques.  Peer reviews.  Two to three hours next week and for the next six weeks after that.  Think..."Spring 2013 [Your Company] Sales Certification", followed, of course, by the summer and fall certification programs on two or four more skills with the [Your Company] Senior Sales Leader Awards at the end of the year. 


You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Good Selling!

 Jack Derby 


Head Coach
Linked In and Sales


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