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One of the challenges of sales enablement teams is to communicate a consistent message to the whole company’s sales representatives and help them internalize it so that they can sell your products to potential customers.
There are no shortcuts; the only way to succeed is to encourage your sales reps to practice their sales pitches. Intensive practice is the key to mastering any skill or capability. In his column in the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that true expertise only comes once someone has invested at least 10,000 hours into practicing that skill, whether it’s music, sports, or computer science.
The same holds true for salespeople. A sales call is a kind of performance, but it demands that reps also listen to the person on the other end of the call, and to have a full understanding of the company’s products so that they can match the right product to the prospect.
Your sales reps probably know that they need to practice in order to perfect these skills, but like with exercise, eating a healthy diet, or quitting smoking, there are always “reasons” (ahem, excuses) not to do it right now. For example, time truly is money for sales reps, so every minute spent practicing is another minute not selling. But if they don’t gain the skills to make a sale, the time they spend on calls or emails is wasted.
Sales enablement and sales managers need to find smart ways to get reps to practice despite their reasons for putting it off. Pitch practices are one popular solution, whether you encourage reps to practice in front of the mirror, record themselves for later review, carrying out individual sales role play scenarios, or recording and reviewing live customer calls.However, if sales reps feel coerced into sales training or coaching, they won’t be as engaged as if you find ways to motivate them to want to practice and improve of their own accord.
We’ve studied thousands of hours of Second Nature recorded sales practices by B2B salespeople at all levels, and we’ve noticed certain key tactics that are crucial for motivating sales people to practice their sales pitches on a regular basis.
Knowing that what you’re doing is making a difference isn’t enough on its own to guarantee that reps will practice, but it does add a level of motivation for them to follow through on coaching and certification courses. Find ways to demonstrate that increased practice time correlates with reaching their quota, emphasizing that the more you practice, the more you’ll earn.
Build incentives around increased practice, and constantly beat the drum that practice is important not just for the company to reach its sales targets, but for their individual careers. As we know from marketing, it takes a number of repetitions before people begin to internalize the messages they hear.
Having your reps practice on their own in front of a mirror or record themselves on their smartphones is beneficial, but only to a certain extent. When practicing alone, there’s no way for salespeople to receive feedback on their skills, which means that they could continue to reinforce unhelpful pitches and approaches.
Sales reps can record themselves and send the recordings to their manager or even peers for review, but this often means that feedback is delayed, sometimes by weeks. If the manager is overwhelmed by recordings and sales processes, feedback might never arrive.
It’s far more important to deliver good feedback immediately than excellent feedback two weeks late. As soon as your sales reps receive it, they can begin to incorporate and internalize it. Feedback might be in the form of scoring after they’ve completed their pitch, or open-ended recommendations. Reps receive faster feedback by practicing one-on-one with a colleague or coach, or using Second Nature’s sales training software, which automatically scores and provides feedback on every practice session.
No sales conversation should include 10 minutes straight of one-sided information. Selling is a conversation, so reps need to practice it in that format. Mirrors can’t talk back, nor do recorded pitches, so you’ll need a second person to enable true sales rehearsals.
The trouble is that it’s very resource-intensive to offer one-on-one role play for all your reps, and most companies can’t support it. The more resource-friendly alternative is to use a conversational AI platform like Second Nature which can be “smart” enough to roleplay human responses, asking questions that challenge reps to improve.
Salespeople are naturally competitive, so leverage that when encouraging them to practice. Gamifying pitch practice by building an accessible leaderboard is a great way to motivate all your teams to improve. You can create a system for reps to compete individually and/or by team. Letting them know that their team’s average score is 80 and asking them if they think they can beat that score is a great way to get their blood pumping.
Of course if you are relying on scoring and using it to motivate reps, It is important to make sure that scoring is fair and consistent, a point I’ll discuss in more detail in a future blog post.
As the saying goes, “success breeds success.” If your reps can see that all the practice they’re doing is actually having an impact on their performance, they’ll feel encouraged to continue. Nobody likes to feel that they’re just banging their head against the wall, so if they don’t see an improvement they’re likely to give up.
The question is, how to measure improvement? Tracking actual sales is a lagging indicator, because it takes awhile to see the effect of improved sales tactics on sales volume. In the tech sector, sales cycles are often long and complex, so it can be difficult to identify the isolated impact of each step in the funnel. It’s more helpful to track reps’ improved proficiency and confidence by scoring practice pitches, and then measuring and correlating that with the increase in sales results. Bear in mind that increased confidence and fluency can themselves make reps more effective in a sales call.
At Second Nature, we gather feedback from every sales rep about how they found our solution. An overwhelming 90% say they enjoy it and prefer Second Nature to training using webcam recordings that they send to their managers. More importantly, our scoring system finds that reps who use Second Nature improve by 30% after 4 sessions.
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