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The Importance Of “Cross Training” For Sales

by David Brock on June 30th, 2012

The next 6-8 weeks represent one of those “died and gone to heaven” periods for sports enthusiasts.  The Euro 2012 Finals in Soccer, Wimbledon, the Tour de France, and the summer Olympics–just to mention a few.  It’s exciting to see the competition–the very best in the world competing at the highest levels.

One of the things I like the best in watching these events is the “back story,”  the story of how people got to the event.  Their discipline, their focus, their training and constant practice (10,000 hours to mastery is a drop in the bucket for many), the coaching–and the respect they have for coaching.  All have set goals and metrics.

They measure their progress against those metrics, they obsess on data.  They set interim goals and milestones.  They measure progress against those goals, knowing that if they achieve them, they increase the likelihood of reaching their target performance in the final event–whatever it is.

They focus on continuous improvement.  A little adjustment here, changing something else, dozens of little things.  These may bring 100th of a second of performance improvement–the difference between winning and second place, the difference between a world record and a good performance.

But we know all those things.  We know those are critical to being the best in a sport–or in anything for that matter.   Why we as sales professionals don’t continuously do the same thing to reach the top of our profession is beyond me–but that’s another post.

One of the things I’ve noticed–and it’s been a big change in the past 10-15 years, is the importance of cross training in reaching the highest levels of performance.  I used to be a distance runner–pretty good at the time.  I took my training seriously, which meant I ran–and ran–and ran.  I didn’t do much else and my coaches didn’t want me to do much else.  To perform at the highest levels, in practice we ran.

Today, athletes spend a lot of time practicing and improving in their discipline.  If you are a tour rider, you ride 100’s of miles a week, you do intervals, hills and so forth.  If you are a swimmer, you spend countless hours every week in the pool.  But these top performers don’t stop there, they spend a great amount of time doing other things.  Maybe it’s weights, maybe it’s running, or yoga, or something else.

Cross training has become a core concept for world-class competitors to get the best performances.  Coaches make sure athletes don’t just practice in their discipline, but the build strength and capability in other areas.  These provide greater balance and higher levels of performance for every athlete.  Cross training has become one of the most important principles in world-class athletic performance.

Cross training is critical to world-class sales performance.  Top sales professionals don’t just focus on improving their capabilities to sell.  They don’t just take sales training, read sales books or blogs, listening to sales guru’s.  They understand their performance is better by looking to develop skills in other areas.

Top sales professionals cross train.  They train in business concepts.  They train in other functional areas.   For example if they sell  within the financial services industry, they train and learn about banking, brokerage, securities, insurance.  If they sell manufacturing systems, they understand manufacturing.  They seek to build a broad set of skills, improving their mastery of their core skills of selling.

Recently, I had lunch with my friend Jill Konrath, undoubtedly one of the top sales professionals in the world.  I asked her, “What are you reading?”  I wasn’t surprised when she replied, “Most of my reading is outside of sales.  I’m reading a lot about how people think and how we improve the way we think.”  She turned the question around on me.  I replied, “Right now, I’m reading ‘The Toyota Production System.’  I’m immersing myself in Lean, I’m also reading a lot about entrepreneurship, leadership, and economic histories.”

As we continued in our conversation, we found we shared the same view.  Some of the best ideas about selling come from outside selling.  In our own quests to learn and improve, cross training was critical.

If you are reading this blog, I know you are already committed to learning and continuous improvement.  You want to be a top performer in selling and you are aggressively building your sales skills.  But to go even further, look outside sales, look outside sales training, sales literature and the sales blogs.  Whether it’s science, business, literature, economics, creativity, innovation, whatever.  Start a rigorous cross training program–it will allow you to reach even higher levels of sales performance.

Postscript:  This post was inspired in part by a question from my friend Don Perkins.  He’s asking a number of folks what sales people can do to perfect their craft (I view it as a profession).  There are some interesting views from others, so visit Don’s blog to see some of those responses.

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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