John Elway’s Lesson for Sales Professionals

This guest post was written by AXIOM Sr. Instructor Dave Plummer

Sales Practice I lived in Denver when the Broncos won back to back Superbowls. After one playoff game a local sportscaster interviewed John Elway (one of the greatest quarterbacks ever) and the question to John was, “when things looked bad you successfully connected time and time again with Rod Smith (wide receiver) over the middle for the yardage needed, how were you able to do that with such ease?” I will never forget John’s response, ‘we would have never been able to make that happen unless we had practiced that play over and over.”

It hit me at that point, here is a guy who has played football for over 30 years, he’s at the top of his game, and he still practices his craft. In fact you would be hard pressed to find any professional athlete who only shows up for the game and doesn’t practice. Although there are a few who have that reputation, it also negatively impacts their career and team’s effectiveness. In many ways, sales professionals are like athletes. We are in a performance profession where our ability to “outplay” the competition has a direct bearing on our success. As such, there is much we can learn and leverage from their actions. So given the fact that you are a professional in a performance based craft, no different than a professional sports figure, how do you ensure practice is part of your regiment.

There are several things that you can incorporate in your schedule. First thing is if you haven’t set aside time at this point for practice, then you have to find time. So what you may have to do is take a work-week and log what you do hour by hour to see if you have any time wasters, then make adjustments. I believe all of us can find some time. To start, you may have to adjust your start and end time of your workday. Second, what tools do you have from the class? Such as, CDs/podcast, workbooks, electronic/paper tools to utilize the new methodology, or maybe it’s access to your trainer. Use these to put a plan together to create a new habit.

Here are 6 things you can do to make your practice time more effective:

  1. Review your course materials immediately after class. It’s likely that you jotted down notes about how and where you wanted to apply the skills you were learning. Don’t let this get lost by putting it aside after class. Review the entire notebook to capture key ideas.
  2. Download podcasts or take the CDs and make them what you listen to during your drive time or when you are doing administrative tasks, etc. Listen all the way through them one time start to finish as this will help you get a full picture of the entirety of the methodology you are learning and help you put each skill in proper context. This along with step one above will help you to become more familiar with your “playbook”.
  3. Practice your newfound methods with a low risk partner. Or use drive time to practice what questions will you ask and what will you do with the answers/information? Professional athletes learn quickly that game-time isn’t the right time to try new things. Golfers don’t try a new swing during a tournament and football teams don’t try new plays, least of all trick plays, during the game. Professionals practice new skills in preparation for the right time to use them.
  4. Break it down. One reason people fail to adopt new skills is that they try to do too much too fast. Unless you are among the fortunate few with total recall, it isn’t possible to learn and apply everything you saw in class all at once. Trying to do this will likely cause your performance to decline since you won’t be proficient with anything you are doing for the first time and whatever holes there may be in your current approach, at least you are practiced at it. So instead of trying to incorporate all the skills simultaneously, break them down into smaller “bite-sized” pieces. We suggest clients start with something easy, like meeting objectives and agendas. Practice that with your partner until you are comfortable that you can execute and THEN begin using in meetings with your prospects. Once you have added that first skill/tactic, move to the next.
  5. Utilize the tools that you got in the workshop. Use an existing customer and fill out the tools to see if you have gaps in the information. The sales process is like painting by numbers, do you see a clear picture of the buying process? If not, get the information and continue filling in the information that you are missing using the tools from the workshop. There is a reason why quarterbacks often have plays on their wristbands – it let’s them focus on the game by making it easier for them to remember what they need to do. Why should we be any different? Job aides can dramatically speed our ability to become proficient with new skills and help us realize results more quickly.
  6. Get an accountability partner! Find someone who will practice with you, a low risk partner. A person who will tell you like it is to ensure your growth. Someone who will hold you to completing your plan/tasks. A person that has your best interest at heart and won’t allow you to have excuses.

Repetition in practice is what will win the game. You can’t do the above one or two times, this is a commitment to your craft. Think about Phil Mickelson, top golfer, played all of his life, top of his game; he hits 600-700 golf balls a day! Why? So he can increase his winnings while playing the game. How about you, do you want to increase your winnings? Practice, practice, practice!

  • How do you think your performance would change if you dedicated time to practicing your selling skills?
  • How much do you currently practice your selling skills?
  • Do you set aside time either weekly or daily to practice with your peers?

Axiom Sales Kinetics LLC Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250