Practice, practice, practice then play

Too often, sales teams spend too much time on the ‘play’ aspect of their skill, and not enough time at the practice. SUE BARRETT

Sue Barrett

By Sue Barrett

In the sporting world it is expected that athletes make the time to practice, practice, practice and then go and compete or play the game. Through regular practice they hone their skills, behaviours and attitudes to ensure they are match fit and ready to compete at the highest standards.

A sports team needs to make sure that when they are in the thick of the game they can draw upon those skill drills and perform well as a team and perform well under pressure. When an individual is neck and neck with a competitor racing for the finish line they need to know how to dig deep and draw upon their experiences, skills, and mental and physical reserves to cross the finish line first. This cannot happen without lots of conscious, purposeful practice.

I know this to be true. As a former competitive swimmer we constantly practiced our starts, turns and finishes as well as doing lots of race practice and skills drills to prepare us for competition. This was in addition to doing the kilometres of laps to build our fitness and stamina.

Sadly in the business world, and especially in sales, all we seem to do is play, play, play the game and rarely put in the time to regularly review, practice and refine our skills.

What we are left with are salespeople who are given little time to reflect on how they went and what they need to do to build their sales capability. They often lurch from one customer sales meeting to the next.

While they will know whether they won or lost a sale, very few will know “why” or “how” they won or lost sales.

And in our experience fewer still take the time out to work on their sales businesses and create viable “go-to-market” action plans which keep them focused and on track.

For instance we are in the process of training over 300 sales people in sales planning, prospecting, selling and sales communication process. Many of them have said that this is the first time they have had to really work on themselves and their business.

For instance, as part of the program we run a sales simulation exercise which tests the robustness (or not) of people’s sales skills, behaviours and attitudes. It gives sales people real insight into how they actually perform as sales people. For many people this is the first time they have ever had the chance to reflect on how they measure up in a real sales process.

Simon Madden, former VFL/AFL Essendon great, qualified teacher, experienced sales person and one of Barrett’s sales facilitators lamented that businesses are very poor at letting our salespeople take time out to practice and apply the skills, behaviours and attitudes they need to use in the real world. All they do is play, play, play.

I have to agree. The number of times we meet sales people attending our sales programs who have never had any formal sales training is staggering. And even those who have been on sales training programs before, comment on usually attending “events” which either did not reflect real life situations and were more “rah-rah” in spirit, which was a waste of time, or had no follow up back in the field, which meant much of the training was lost and not applied. If they have had any form of regular training it was usually product based which is not the same as proper sales training.

Given selling is a critical function in any business, and even more so now, we cannot leave it to chance that our frontline will survive let alone thrive in these markets if we do not train them.

Please do yourselves and your sales people a favour, and take the time to give your sales people some time to practice their sales skills in proper learning environments. It doesn’t take much time or money to give them the proper processes and training around the essentials such as sales planning, prospecting, selling and sales communication process.

Any sales training you do should be easy to follow, feel natural to your people and use a behavioural competency based approach. Many people can learn how to lead successful sales careers. Just give them the chance to learn and some time to practice. And while not everyone can be the “Ian Thorpe of selling” many can learn to apply successful sales processes, skills and strategies which will keep them sales fit and producing sales results.

If you are looking for effective sales training I recommend it follows these guiding principles:

  • Interval training: When training is implemented over a period of time is facilitates behavioural change and skill development that become habitual and the new “way of life”. This approach progresses in incremental stages and helps to maintain a focus on manageable tasks, ensuring earlier stages are successful before the latter stages are attempted.
  • Discovery learning: Results from an interactive environment where information is given, principles are practiced, questions are asked and real-life situations are created to enable people to learn for themselves.
  • Evidence-based competency/behavioural learning outcome approach: Responsibility and ownership for embedding a sales culture is given to the management team.
  • Relevant content: Make sure the program is relevant to your sales team and your customer markets. Documentation of requirements, sign-offs and quality controls that define objective measures for assessing quality throughout the development process.

Investing in the right sales training can give you much greater returns very quickly. Sales manager, financial institution after targeted three month sales training program: “My team sold $55 million in the half I arrived as sales manager. This half we are on target to sell $150 million. My two lowest performers when I arrived finished last half third and seventh in Australia out almost 200, 80% of my sales people made budget last half when traditionally less than 20% achieved target. The combined ages of my best three performers is 154.

For many industries, other than retail, the next few months are a little quieter on the sales front and are the perfect time to do some sales training and practice, practice, practice.

Happy selling.


Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

For more Sell Like a Woman blogs, click here.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.