5 Ways to Cultivate Sales Olympians Make it easy for sales reps to master critical information while building upon previous knowledge.

By Joe Gustafson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


With the Rio Olympics underway, more than 30 million Americans are glued to their TV screens, watching dreams, angst and sports sagas unfold. Besides eating away at our workday productivity (you know it's true), the Olympics -- and Olympians' dedication, grueling practice, can-do spirit and grit -- have additional relevance in the business world.

Take sales -- a realm replete with sports analogies and motivating competition. With nearly half of sales reps today missing quota, according to a new Brainshark-sponsored CSO Insights report, it's an opportune time to look at what makes some athletes "superhuman" and how some of those qualities might translate to sales, to boost the bottom line.

Here's a fun perspective, with five ways your sales organization can cultivate sales Olympians:

1. Practice perfection.

Olympians don't just show up and win medals. And while your sales team might not -- figuratively, of course -- subscribe to the Michael Phelps six-hour practice and 12,000 calorie/day regimen (often reported during his Beijing Olympics days), self-discipline and solid training are still the foundation for success.

Related: 5 Strategies for Entrepreneurs to Improve Sales

To foster stars and develop a breeding ground for champions, it's important to stop cramming every bit of information reps will need into a brief onboarding program. Instead, set three to five performance milestones, and prioritize what reps need to know by each milestone. This will make it easier for reps to master critical information while building upon previous knowledge. After all, for Olympians and sales reps both, practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

2. Prepare for all circumstances.

You can't win them all, and upsets happen -- take Novak Djokovic and the Williams sisters' jaw-dropping tennis losses in the Rio games. But to minimize defeat (and to learn from it), reps need to be agile -- prepared to pivot, change their game and adjust to different selling situations based on the needs of the customer, just as sports stars adapt to adverse weather conditions.

This requires a deep understanding of the different pain points and needs of various buyer personas, some of which can be unique to particular roles and industries. Put more simply, the more sales reps know about the people they're selling to, the more prepared they'll be to react seamlessly to the expectations of those customers. To this end, sales training should place an emphasis on buyer personas, and the appropriate value propositions and messages to engage them.

3. Coaching is critical.

It would be ridiculous for an Olympic athlete not to have a coach, right? Coaches have a wealth of knowledge, study the competition's strengths and weaknesses, and play a critical role in the win.

Related: Winning Sales Strategies from National Champion Alabama Roll Tide Football Coach Nick Saban

Yet in sales, many organizations treat coaching as an afterthought -- and it's to their detriment. The aforementioned CSO Insights study shows that a formal sales coaching framework can increase win-rates by 28 percent.

Critical components of an effective coaching program include setting clear expectations and goals, studying top-producing managers and prioritizing rep coaching activities. It's also important for managers to make time to study top performers, review their team and individual results, and effectively coach toward closing the gaps. And just as sports teams pore over game films, video-based sales coaching (where reps record themselves practicing for manager feedback) and the recording of live sales calls are immensely valuable for play-by-play deconstruction.

Finally, Olympians want a coach that can produce winners. Sales reps do too -- but their organizations may be failing them. Research shows nearly one in five organizations don't offer any training for sales managers -- something that needs to change so more reps can be groomed for success.

4. Make game day count.

If there were really a sales Olympics (think of the possibilities!), we'd want reps to medal in events such as training retention, prospecting, consultative selling and much more (including winning deals, of course). But in the business world, our "game day" is typically the buyer-seller conversation -- when reps really have an opportunity to apply their practice and, hopefully, wow their audience.

Related: 10 Things I Learned While Training for the Olympics That Absolutely Apply to Business

Take your typical sales meeting. To maximize success, reps should personalize their presentation for the buyer. The messaging should support the company they are selling to, as well as the buyers they are speaking with and their specific challenges and opportunities.

But just as with sports (and even at the Olympic level), it's important to be forward-looking. For your reps, the game doesn't stop after a successful meeting. Spot-on follow-up content, additional conversations, customized proposals and more are critical steps in a successful deal (and then it's onto the next one!).

5. Apply analytics effectively.

Technology enables Olympians and coaches to take practice and game video to incredible levels, creating analysis that can be used to unearth strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.

In sales, it's likewise worth the effort to understand what makes your team succeed and fail. Content analytics can help, illuminating whether materials shared -- at each stage of the sales cycle -- were relevant to and resonating with prospects. For example, did the buyer consume the content? When and how much? Was it shared with and viewed by other decision-makers? Where did interest trail (if at all)? Most importantly, did the content help close deals? These answers can help create repeatable success.

Go for the gold.

Just like with athletes, sales teams invariably have those natural stars, seemingly born with prowess and propelled by training to further success. With a multi-pronged approach to sales enablement -- that addresses sales training, coaching and buyer engagement, and takes people, processes and technology into account -- you can help other reps emulate best practices, close sales productivity gaps and go for the gold (bottom-line growth, that is).

Wavy Line
Joe Gustafson

Founder and Chairman of Brainshark

Joe Gustafson is the founder and CEO of Brainshark, Inc., a leading provider of sales-enablement solutions. Brainshark’s products and services help thousands of companies, including half of the Fortune 100, drive greater revenue through faster training, increased demand and more successful sales conversations.

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