Very, very few athletes will tell you how much they love practice. It’s more like a necessary evil. Of course, players recognize the value of practice but they’re not exactly enthusiastic about it.
The truth is that practice is incredibly important to performance. World-class athletes don’t become world-class without years of purpose-driven practice.
In fact, here is a question: Can you name one skill of any consequence that does NOT require practice to excel at that skill.
Of course not. You cannot, and will not, perfect any skill unless, and until, you practice.
It’s true in sports, and it’s just as true in business.
Selling skills. Customer service. Conflict management. Presentations. These and many other business skills require practice to improve.
Which means that, if your employees are not practicing to improve their skills, YOU (the manager) are guilty of the ultimate performance killer – no practice.
Yes, I know, some people seem to get to an acceptable level of proficiency quicker than others. Some folks just seem to have a knack or a gift for certain skills. Some are even good enough to skip by simply because they are naturally much better than most.
But, forget the outliers. Their native talent will take them to a certain level, but it won’t make them the best of the best. That takes practice.
Lots of practice.
The truth is that, at some point – for some it’s earlier than others – a substantial amount of purposeful practice will be a non-negotiable aspect of consistent, long-term success.
So, why is it that very, VERY few companies utilize any kind of practice to improve those skills?
Here are the reasons I hear over and over:
- Your salespeople complain. You see, they don’t like to practice. It’s too hard. They don’t like to be “embarrassed.”
- You know how – after all, you were a superstar – but you’re really not very good at teaching and coaching.
- You personally don’t enjoy practice, so you avoid it.
- You think practice is time that could be better used doing other things.
- You personally don’t have time to oversee practice.
Those are the Top 5 excuses in a landslide. And, just as an aside, No. 5 is probably the single most common excuse (see my post, “The 4 Most Dangerous Words in Your Leadership Vocabulary“).
But let’s take a minute and take a look at those really lame excuses in a different context.
The Post-Game Interview
Reporter: “So, coach, tough loss out there today. What do you take away from today’s game that you can improve in practice?”
Reporter: “Uh, yeah. Practice. You know, next week? What will you work on?
Coach: “Well, here’s the deal. We don’t really practice. My players are not big fans of practice. It’s taxing on the players, and frankly, they don’t like to have to practice their positions in front of other players. It’s kinda embarrassing. It’s tough enough to play in this league without those kind of distractions.
Reporter: “You’re kidding, right?
Coach: “Of course (nervous chuckle). Just trying to lighten the tension a bit. Actually, the truth is, we really don’t have time to practice. I mean, we’ve got a lot on our plates, you know. We’ve got to scout the next team. Break down film. Get our game plan together. Plus, we’re traveling next week – you can’t even imagine that logistics nightmare. Wow.”
Reporter: “Coach, seriously (looking around). I mean…I know the loss hurts, but I’m sure you guys are already looking to bounce back next week. I’m just looking for a few details on practice next week. What will you focus on?”
Coach: “Oh, right. Of course. Well, the thing is, practice really isn’t my thing. You know what I’m sayin’? 6 Pro Bowls. An MVP. Two trips to the Super Bowl. What I’m gettin’ at is either my players can play or they can’t. I think we just need to work harder at getting the right guys in the right positions and those wins are gonna take care of themselves. Make sense?”
Reporter: “Well…not really, no. I mean, I’m not really sure how to think about that, coach. You were 9-7 last year. 6-10 before that. And you’re off to a slow start this year. It’s hard to imagine that you don’t….uh…practice.
Coach: “Look, son. I don’t know how much football you’ve played. Not much? That’s what I figured, so let me clue you in. All that wasted time on the practice field can be used in much better ways. My players are spending time in the community. They’re participating in team-building activities. And they’ve got to prepare detailed reports on each game and their individual performances. Plus, do you know how much effort they put into reviewing their play books? OK? So, what I’m sayin’ is that “practice” (air finger quotes) sounds all fine and dandy, but we’ve got a job to do. That is how you can think about it.”
Back to the Real World
So, that’s what your excuses sound like.
Your team isn’t winning consistently, and you’ve got salespeople that consistently underperform. And you don’t practice?
Let’s go back to square one: You don’t get better at anything without practice.
Here are 3 steps to improved performance in your sales department:
Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” What that means is you need to know where to start. If you can’t determine why people succeed – and why they fail – you really don’t know what needs to be practices.
Step 1: Have a detailed sales process you can assess, teach, and replicate.
The next obvious step is to know and understand what skills a particular salesperson needs to develop in order to succeed. In football, it’s blocking and tackling. And footwork. And throwing. And catching. And dozens of other things, each depending on your position on the field.
Step 2: Figure out the mission-critical skills and activities for each step in the process.
And right about now is when the concept of practice becomes important.
When I started in sales, my first boss made it very clear: I would be able to demonstrate to him that I could adequately present our products before I went into the field to represent the company.
Sure, role play is tough. No question. It will test your mettle. But either you can or you can’t, and if you can’t, the boss told me, “we just can’t use you.”
Think about this for a moment: Are you seriously trying to convince me that your salespeople are stellar in front of prospects, but they can’t present your product in front of the boss because they’re embarrassed? Or, they don’t like criticism?
And they’re in SALES?
Step 3: Make role-play and other forms of practice a habit. A regular habit. You’ll be shocked at how fast and how much employees improve critical business skills.
This is where Rehearsal VRP becomes an invaluable business tool. Employees can practice any of the essential business conversation skills I’ve mentioned using a video platform that is convenient, easy-to-use, and ridiculously cost-effective.
Managers create typical business scenarios on Rehearsal VRP software:
- Handling common sales objections
- Dealing with difficult customers
- Product presentations
- Answering the telephone
- Performance feedback
Then, employees practice their responses (or presentations) sitting in front of a computer web cam. Following each try, employees can opt to submit that video, or take another try – which is what practice is all about!
Once a final submission is made, a manager or trainer can then view the response and offer valuable feedback via the same video platform. Plus, there is the option to create competition – and further improve performance – using the available “Leaderboard” option.
Yes, you can make practice fun!
Make no mistake, business is a competition. Just like sports.
If your team is going to win, employees need to “play” well. To play well, they must practice.
If they want to win, that is.
But, it’s easy to be mediocre. Just look around.
I have never seen an average company practice.
About the Author
A sales strategist and leadership coach, Kelly is uniquely qualified to help businesses improve performance. He is a former two-time national Salesperson of the Year, a successful entrepreneur, and a highly acclaimed teacher and business coach. He is the author of “1-on-1 Management: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”