Okay, that probably wasn’t very nice, tricking you with the title just to get you to read my post. Most of us are looking for the easy answer to sales success and while this post will help you take a significant step towards success, it will also point out very honestly that it’s difficult.

But, because I’m a nice guy, I will deliver on the implied promise of the title. Just between you and me, the guaranteed easy way to get referrals is to go ask your best clients. It really is that easy, and I really will guarantee the results. Now, on to my real message, the one that is much more difficult.

Recently, I have been reading “Talent is Overrated – What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else,” by Geoff Colvin. The book explores just what it is that creates exceptional performers. While it may just be a way of rationalizing our own average performance, we tend to explain exceptional performance as the result of years of experience, a gift with which someone was born, or superior intellect. However, that just isn’t the case. Exceptional performance is largely the result of something attainable by all of us: “deliberate practice.”

Quick definition of “deliberate practice”: Difficult, repetitive, and focused preparation of the core skills and knowledge required to perform at the highest level.

Starting with the proverbial “good news / bad news,” here are a few ideas I have taken from the book and how I see them applying to your role as a producer.

The good news is that exceptional performance isn’t about experience, some “God-given talent,” or even intelligence. The difference-maker for exceptional performance is the quantity and quality of time spent in deliberate practice.

The bad news is this means none of us have an excuse for not achieving exceptional performance. We just have to make the commitment and do the right kind of hard work.

For us, as I see it, deliberate practice will include (and you may add to the list):

  • Prospecting - cold calling and asking for referrals
  • Research – learning everything you can about your prospects (their industry, company issues, roles/goals of the decision-makers, etc.)
  • Skills Practice – role-playing your sales process, practicing handling objections, 30-second commercial, etc.
  • Personal Development - being a student of business in general, the employee issues of your clients specifically, and the solutions you have to offer those clients

If it’s important, it has to be on your calendar. Your two primary responsibilities as a producer are sales and retention. While you’re probably pretty good at scheduling yourself for the retention part of your job, if you are like most other producers, you likely fall short on scheduling the sales part (at least the deliberate practice piece).

If you work a 40-hour week and want to spend 50% of your time on your sales responsibility, then make sure there are 20 hours blocked out every week. Once you subtract the number of hours in actual sales presentations, there is no reason that the remaining hours shouldn’t be spent in deliberate practice – assuming mediocre isn’t acceptable for you.

The more specific you are with scheduling the deliberate practice, the more effective it will be. Don’t stop at committing to “10 hours”—break it down to the number of hours given for each area of deliberate practice. Example: three hours of prospecting, two hours of research, two hours of skills practice and three hours of personal development, and schedule each of those hours into your calendar with the same commitment and importance as if it were the renewal of your largest client.

There will always be something about the retention part of your job to keep you busy, and we tend to allow those service issues to overtake the hours on our calendar. Therefore, you have to put up “barriers” on your calendar and not allow the interference with the sales part of your job. In other words, put it on your calendar – every week! (Yes, this is worth repeating!)

If you are doing it correctly, deliberate practice will be hard, and it won’t be much fun, but the results you see from the effort will make it all worthwhile. And remind yourself that every hour you spend in deliberate practice is another hour of separation from your competition.

I’ll finish with a little more good news.

  • You don’t have to be the smartest; you just have to know more about the issues that impact your prospects/clients.
  • You don’t have to be the most experienced; you just have to be the most practiced.
  • You don’t have to have been born with a special talent; you can develop the talent.
  • You don’t have to have all the answers; you just need to be able to identify the prospect’s critical few issues.
  • You don’t have to have all the solutions; you just have to know how to effectively use what you have.

Identify what needs to be included in your deliberate practice and block out the time on your calendar to make it happen. You can be an exceptional performer, but it starts by asking yourself, “How badly do I really want it?”


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