A Trout, a Salmon and a Case for Practice

Tim Riesterer

Baseball pundits have long hailed Angels outfielder Mike Trout as a “natural.” He entered the league at 19 and by 23, Trout had appeared in four All-Star games and won an MVP award. This happens to be the same age that another Angel outfielder with another fishy name — Tim Salmon — made his major league debut.

A lot of salespeople will liken themselves to Trout, the rare, natural phenom, than Salmon, who had to hone his craft in the minors before being ready for “the Show.”

But, regardless of how they might self-identify, I’m willing to bet there are more Salmons than Trouts on your sales team. Which is why the results of a recent study conducted by Corporate Visions are pretty alarming regarding the effort salespeople put into practicing their craft.

Sales conversations matter
The survey of more than 500 marketing and salespeople around the world found that — surprise! — field sales conversations still matter:

•   85 percent agree that their sales teams’ ability to articulate value messages is the most important factor in winning deals.

•   Nearly 57 percent rate sales conversations as the most important driver of differentiation — and it wasn’t even close. (Sales conversations finished nearly 20 percentage points higher than categories like product quality, price and brand.)

But the most troubling finding of the research is the majority of companies have no expectation that salespeople will actually practice their message delivery. The survey found that:

•   Only 41 percent of companies ask salespeople to practice their messaging using stand-and-deliver scenarios. The rest — nearly 60 percent — have no expectation that salespeople will actually demonstrate message proficiency.

•   34 percent of respondents say no one is responsible for coaching and certifying companies’ value message. The rest of companies leave these responsibilities to their sales managers or sales trainers, regardless of qualifications and in addition to their other activities.

•   Only 9 percent of companies regularly expect salespeople to record their value message on video so they can be coached and certified by experts.

Develop a practice regimen
Few professions have such high stakes scenarios with money on the line. Even fewer allow practitioners to enter such engagements without first demonstrating high-level proficiency.

The findings highlight a lack of discipline around practicing value messages — the most crucial component of customer conversations. Companies should view improvement in this area as an opportunity for major competitive advantage. This starts by leading your team through a practice regimen with environments that resemble the settings where their most pivotal conversations happen. Here’s how you can do that:

•   Make your message distinct. By telling your prospects something they already know, you could actually validate their current situation, since they’ve probably already accounted for this challenge. A truly differentiated message will include a “why change” story that tells prospects something they don’t know about a threat they haven’t yet perceived (I call these “unconsidered needs”).

•   Deliver value visually. With the right visual storytelling tools, your reps can be more remarkable, persuasive and memorable. They need to practice using such tools, so once they get in front of prospects, they’re adept at visually leading them from the perils of the status quo to the “new safe” of your solution.

•   Practice, coach and certify. Emphasize hands-on practice and thorough coaching from subject matter experts who can enhance the effectiveness of your reps’ pitches. Use recorded video to help time-pressed sales managers achieve team-wide proficiency for all reps, regardless of location.

You probably have some “naturals” on your team who believe they’re ready to ace your message in the field — and maybe they are. But in truth, all reps, regardless of aptitude, can benefit from a delivery practice program. If executed properly, it can provide a major competitive advantage.

Tim Riesterer is Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions Inc.