How to Make Your Sales Team Smarter

April 17, 2014
How to Make Your Sales Team Smarter

10 Steps Borrowed From Parenting

A few days ago, I stumbled across this article by blogger Eric Barker: “How To Make Your Kids Smarter: 10 Steps Backed By Science.”

As I was reading through the article, a thought occurred to me – maybe some of these tips could be applied by sales management to develop smarter, more successful salespeople. Here’s my take.

1. Music Lessons

Barker points out that “musical training helps everyone, young and old,” citing a Science Daily article that reports “New research shows that musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful.”

While it may not make sense to make singalongs a feature of weekly sales meetings, these findings could help guide your hiring decisions for future salespeople. Don’t overlook the almost-a-footnote “Interests and Activities” line in a candidate’s resume – it could be an indicator of your next top hire.

2. The Dumb Jock Is A Myth

Here’s where we really get going. Maintaining healthy exercise habits is definitely something you – or your company – can promote among your salespeople. Barker points out, “Being in good shape increases your ability to learn. After exercise people pick up new vocabulary words 20% faster,” citing a 2007 study. The study also found that a 3-month exercise regimen “increased bloodflow to the part of the brain focused on memory and learning by 30%.” Sounds like regular exercise could really benefit your sales team – especially new hires that need more learning-and-memory brain power. You could even incorporate exercise into your ramp plans!

3. Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them

Barker’s advice for reading with children is to pay “explicit attention to the development of children’s reading skills and strategies,” rather than reading the words alone while your child follows along. How does this apply to sales management? Just replace “children’s reading” with “salespersons’ selling” in the above sentence and it should become clear. Rather than setting a salesperson up with a phone and a user manual, employ a ramp plan that seeks to actively develop the salesperson’s abilities and gives them an opportunity to push back and ask questions.

This approach is not limited to new hires, either – the best sales teams help each other learn and grow throughout their careers, constantly developing and improving their skills over time.

4. Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid

Almost everyone wishes we could get more sleep. But for kids, missing sleep can have serious consequences: “Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader,” says Barker. And the effects of poor sleep habits aren’t limited to children – the National Sleep Foundation suggests prolonged lack of sleep can be linked to “a greater likelihood of obesity, increased risk of heart problems and diabetes, and decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals, or remember new information.”

For your sales team, try to keep an eye on who seems to be getting enough sleep. People who come in day after day looking ragged and worn out might need support getting back on the right track sleep-wise. Emphasize the importance of sleep quality and don’t push your team to work to the point of exhaustion. They just won’t be as effective.

5. IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline

Barker quotes Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business in saying, “Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.” Even the smartest salesperson won’t get far without self-discipline and productive habits. Successful salespeople rely on routines, systems and processes to deliver predictable, repeatable results. You can hire for self-discipline rather than smarts, or encourage good habits among your sales team by offering best practice strategies and templates.

6. Learning Is an Active Process

Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code, notes, “Our brains evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them.” Coyle recommends spending two-thirds of the time dedicated to learning a task to testing yourself, rather than absorbing material. This point is particularly applicable to onboarding new hires on your sales team. When making your ramp plan, devote two-thirds of your new hire’s time to role-practice and real practice – or incorporate written tests to make sure new hires really learn your products and services.

The power of learning-by-doing has also driven the development of our sales training curriculum – our trainers specialize in getting participants up, active, and participatory in their own education.

7. Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time

Based on research citing the positive impact of glucose and caffeine on cognitive importance, Barker recommends giving kids candy and soda while they’re studying, rather than while they’re relaxing. I’m going to stretch this analogy by focusing on the motivator Barker mentions: candy and soda are “potent rewards kids love.” Find what your salespeople love and find the right time to feed it to them. Let one go home early to take care of his kids; let another take a longer lunch to fit in a few holes of golf. Little recharges like these can have a big impact on focus and happiness when your salesperson is back in the office. Which leads me to…

8. Happy Kids = Successful Kids

Keep your salespeople happy. Barker notes the first step to having happy kids is being a happy parent; in your sales team, be a happy manager, and you’ll likely have happier, more successful and productive team members.

9. Peer Group Matters – hire the best

Barker lists a few examples of studies and anecdotes arguing for the impact of peer group on child development. This theory carries over into the sales world, too – if everyone on your team is bright and motivated, they’ll support each other to succeed and new hires will learn from their good habits.

10. Believe In Them

Positive thinking can have a real impact on your sales team’s performance. Barker cites a study that “when teachers were told certain kids were sharper, those kids did better — even though the kids were selected at random.” If you truly believe your sales team is made up of top performers, your attitudes and behaviors toward them may change – and encourage better performance.

Image credit: Hubspot

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