Making Practice Perfect: Changing the Way You Prepare to Meet Your Goals

By Colleen Francis

When my brother was a kid, he went to hockey camp every summer. One year, he came home and told us that the coach was the most demanding he'd ever had. All they did was go over the basics again and again - drill after drill, skill by skill - each time changing just one small thing about the way they played. When my brother shrugged his shoulders and said out loud to his teammates "well, I guess practice makes perfect," the coach immediately corrected him, saying: "No, Paul - perfect practice makes perfect."

That expression has stuck with me for 25 years, and I've found that it's just as true in sales as it was in hockey.

Perfect practice makes perfect. Just think about those four deceptively simple words for a moment. The sad truth is that 80% of sales people spend their days working on - practicing - the wrong things. Instead of working on the things that will make them more successful, they spend the majority of their time practicing the exact same things they did yesterday, and the day before that, which are the very things that are keeping success out of their grasp.

I've spent my professional life studying, copying and applying the habits of highly successful sales and business people. When I coach sales people in the field, what we're trying to do is replicate those same proven successful behaviors. Yet time and time again, the first reaction we encounter is resistance. In 80% of the cases, sales people tend to respond to new ideas with a defiant "that's not the way I do things!"

Ironically, the reason these people have hired me is to work with them to change their results. The top 10% of sale people know that, if you want to change your results, you have to change whatever you're doing each and every day that isn't getting you what you want. If you want to double your income, increase your commissions or take more time off, and whatever you're doing now isn't allowing you to accomplish these goals, then you have to find a new or better way of working that will enable you to reach your goals - period.

After all, we're not talking about rocket science here. I can say without a moment's doubt that I've never met a sales person who is incapable of repeating what the top 10% of the profession do. Most people only lack the desire to try, or the willingness to practice something new, and refine it to perfection.

In other words, most simply lack the discipline to practice perfectly.

Don't fall into that trap. Remember: if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. The following are some ideas you can use to help you change the way you do business, and begin to go from simply practicing, to practicing perfectly.

3 key areas to practice perfectly
The top 10% of sales people perfectly practice 3 key areas:

  1. Finding new prospects;
  2. Qualifying their business; and
  3. Closing the business.
    Why? Because they know that these are the only 3 activities that directly affect their bottom line, and their success.

You don't earn commissions for filling out expense reports, talking to your friends on the phone, going for coffee or planning your vacation. Top performers know that, and instinctively maximize the time they spend in front of their clients during working hours.

Unless your customers are based around the world, most sales people have a limited number of hours in which they can reach their clients - typically between around 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. So make sure you maximize the amount of time you spend working with your clients during those hours, and save the non-commission generating work for the rest of the day. If you're spending too much time during peak selling hours doing non-sales work, then you are seriously limiting your ability to earn - and your income.

One easy way to increase the amount of time you spend with customers and prospects is to keep a detailed log of your time for 2 weeks, and track everything that you do in 30-minute increments. For a sample of the one we recently completed in our office, email me or contact us.

At the end of the 2-week period, look honestly at your log, and evaluate how much time you're spending working directly with clients, whether you're prospecting, qualifying or closing. If you can do better, set yourself some goals. Make a decision to either increase your direct client time to at least 50%, or by increments of 10% a year.

Next, immediately write down 10 things you can do every day to reach your new goal, and start doing them right away, adding one new habit a day until you are consistently practicing 10 new ways to stay in front of your customers more often. Don't be surprised if, within that 10-day period, you find you've already reached or exceeded your 10% incremental goal for the year!

Get a little help from your friends
Another excellent approach is to get a mentor and a coach.

Top sales people know that they need to draw on the habits of other top performers, so they work regularly with a coach or mentor to help them identify those habits that will lead to greater success - and hold them accountable for doing them.

Start by studying what your mentor does that makes them successful. Ask them what they do every day that makes them a top sales person. Then commit yourself to trying these things for yourself, even - or especially! - if they're different from what you're doing now.

Do what they do. Read what they read, and associate with the people and groups they do. Try one new thing at a time until you have perfected it, and then move on to something else. Soon you will be as successful as they are - or more!

Plus, consider hiring a professional coach to help you refine your habits and techniques, and set your goals. They could be a sales coach, a business coach or a personal coach. Either way, spend the money it takes, and commit to being better. Successful sales people don't just talk about life-long learning; they act on it. Tapes, CD's, learning systems, videos, books - and coaching - are all core parts of their regular sales workout.

Perfect practice also involves knowing when and how often to practice new ideas. Top performers practice those things that are going to improve their business first thing in the day, every day, and they practice them until the work is done. For example, the vast majority of top sales people:

  1. Make all their prospecting calls first thing in the morning, even before answering their email.
  2. Get up early before important sales presentations to practice one last time.
  3. Spend their commute time listening to tapes and CD's in the car, learning new ideas rather than listening to the radio.
  4. Plan their vacation schedules and professional development days early in the year, so that they can plan their sales activity around the days they'll be away from the office.

Follow the leaders
Finally, how often should you practice perfectly? Every day, and every hour of your sales time. Here are some examples of what top performers are doing every day to make their careers soar:

  • Set your goals.
    Set your goals each year, and review your progress on a quarterly and monthly basis. Each week, look at your list of goals, and choose 5 things you can do that week to achieve them. In doing so, you will be working towards your sales goals every day.
  • Do it first!
    Yes, we all hate cold calling. That's why top performers do those things that are directly related to generating business first thing in the morning. Commit yourself to making your calls before you open your email, and don't stop until all your prospecting calls are finished for the day.
  • Listen to your gut.
    If there's one thing in your business life that you have been putting off - one thing that you dread more than any other - then it's highly probable that it is the single most important thing you should be doing. Stop procrastinating, stop being afraid, and (with thanks to Nike) just do it! If you're still having trouble, read "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield for a great kick in the pants.
  • Document your successes - and your failures.
    Repeat the things that are working, and discard those that aren't. Keep refining until you get the responses that will lead you to your goals.
  • Make time every day for professional development.
    I don't mean quiet time to read the newspaper or watch TV, either. Find time every day to learn something new related to perfect practice, or to achieving your goals.
  • Stay focused on the end result.
    Commit yourself to being relentless in doing what needs to get done. If a colleague approaches you for a coffee break while you're in the middle of making your prospecting calls, tell them that you'll be happy to join them later. If your parent, spouse, partner, best friend, or Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie calls while you're busy closing business, tell them that you'll call them back after 5:00 pm. Unless they're going to buy something from you, you can't maximize your revenue goals by taking time out of your day for chit chat (well, okay, maybe if it's Tom Cruise - but that's it!). Remember: top performers - the top 10% - maximize every hour of every day, by spending it all and only with their prospects and qualified buyers.

Let's face it - it's not difficult to become a top performer. In fact, it's easy! You simply have to want it.

I've never met anyone who I'd judge incapable of doing those things that top performers do. I have, however, met many people who are unwilling to make the commitment to do it.

Remember what my brother's coach said: perfect practice makes perfect. Start perfecting your practice today, and by this time next year, I promise you'll be closer than ever to hitting your goals, and achieving everything you want to accomplish.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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