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How Important is it for Your Salespeople to Practice?


Dave Kurlan is the bestselling author of Baseline Selling, a top-rated speaker, and a sales thought leader. His blog, Understanding the Sales Force, was a Gold Medal winner for Top Sales & Marketing Blog of 2011. He is the CEO of Objective Management Group, the global leader in sales assessments, and Kurlan Associates, a global sales development firm. 



When I was much younger, I was a pretty good trumpet player, playing professionally for nearly 10 years. I took weekly lessons from the age of 9, played in multiple bands and orchestras, and when I wasn’t taking lessons or performing, I practiced. And I felt I should have practiced more; a lot more. I could have been so much better...

Although baseball was my favorite, I spent most summers on the tennis courts, playing with anyone and everyone, until I entered college as the #2 on the school’s tennis team. It wasn't good enough though, and I felt like I should have practiced more; a lot more.

I was not going to be a star in music or tennis.  But what if I was?  Would I have been finished with all of that practicing? No way. The greatest athletes and musicians still hire the best coaches in the world and practice harder and even more frequently! I would have done the same because that’s exactly what I did when I started my sales development business 27 years ago.

By contrast, I am a terrible golfer. Why? I never practice. It’s not very different from the sales profession. Salespeople are very much like me, the golfer. The typical salesperson receives, on average, 3 days of sales training -- in their entire career. I've interviewed thousands of salespeople and most have never had a single day of professional sales training. And practice? There has not been a single client whose salespeople had been practicing the art and science of selling before I required them to begin practicing.

Why aren't salespeople getting enough professional training? In most companies, ego, fear and money are the three biggest reasons. Sales leadership, although completely lacking in the skills required, believe it’s their job to train their salespeople. Upper management is frequently afraid of change, even when it will bring about a change in results. And many companies simply won’t invest money to develop their salespeople.

Why aren't they coached the way they need to be? Although coaching is the number 1 job of sales managers today, most have never learned the proper way to coach, instead using a home grown approach and applying it on an as needed basis.

Why aren't they practicing? Believe it or not, most sales managers are afraid of upsetting the apple cart. They believe that if they required their veteran salespeople to practice they will have a rebellion on their hands.

Are your salespeople practicing each day? 

Objective Management Group has assessed more than 550,000 salespeople and according to their data 74% of all salespeople are completely ineffective and many of them shouldn't even be in sales. They get by for a variety of reasons, among them:

  • Low Expectations from management
  • They are no worse than the other ineffective salespeople at their company
  • Some are order takers and they take enough orders
  • Some are major account managers and the accounts were previously established
  • Some possess intangibles and have simply developed strong relationships over decades of work
  • Many work for industry leading companies - lowest price, best reputation, highest quality product, lowest risk - and they don't have to sell, as much as show up and quote
  • Some bounce from company to company never staying long enough to actually fail

Are your underperforming salespeople getting by? Can any of them become performers?  You can find out with a sales force evaluation. Even better, why not join me for my annual Sales Leadership Summit?



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Brian MacIver

Are 74% of Salespeople ineffective?

Who validated the OMG figures?
If 74% of Salespeople are ineffective,
then they have learned ineffective Sales Skills.

They have been taught ineffective Sales Skills, if you practice ineffective Sales skills,
then you become even more ineffective.

Look to Sales Training Leaders for the cause of Sales inefficiency not compliant Salespeople.


Set your own life more easy get the loan and everything you require.

Jos Bosch

I believe this is interesting for all blog readers: next generation sales force metrics: we invite all sales / commercial directors / managers / EVPs sales and Chief Sales Officers, who lead a sales team with more than 8 sales / account managers up to and including divisions / sales channels with hundreds of salesreps / account managers, to participate in the International Sales Benchmark 2012 study. Without charge, your sales force will be benchmarked on 64 Critical Sales force Performance Indicators with peer-sales forces within and outside your industry. Sales force output indicators, like sales effectiveness and sales productivity indicators, but also 28 sales force driver indicators, the input which determine your sales performance. Depending on the profile of the sales channel and type off selling, the sales force will be benchmarked with 1 of the 4 different sales force profiles and databases we differentiate ("transactional selling', 'consultative selling', 'value-based selling', 'strategic selling'). More information (including list of KPIs): Start benchmark:

Caitlin - Sales Jobs Abroad

I couldn't agree more. Practicing would definitely help improve sales. Actually, if conversation to the customer is done over the phone, it would help a whole lot if they are in front of the mirror.


Thanks for sharing, Dave.

I have been involved in Sales Management for 20 years and have to agree with you, sadly the level of general selling skills can be quite poor; often with little or no proper training, other than the 3 or 4 days that you mention in your blog post!

There is a definite resistance for many sales people to train, especially if it is off-site; the main reason given is that they are afraid of missing out on opportunities to sell when away.

The brighter ones of course see it as a benefit, when they get some additional knowledge that they can use to sell more effectively.

I hope that this mentality can change, sooner rather than later too!

Thanks again for sharing & all the very best.

Dave Kurlan

Thanks Kevin. There is upside on the upside but the stubborness is real, it's usually a result of ego (I can do this myself), fear (I'm expected to do this myself) and sometimes money (it will cost too much). It's difficult to justify the money problem since those same stubborn companies regularly throw many times the required amount out the window providing welfare to non-performers and under achievers.

David DiStefano

Objective Management Group’s statistic that 74% of salespeople are completely ineffective in sales is staggering. It is evident that training is essential to improve sales performance. One way to approach this training is getting your reps to start to self-coach by following these 6 steps when you coach them:

1. Use high impact questions;

2. Use a scoreboard;

3. Do one thing at a time;

4. Teach the art of effective self-assessment;

5. Compare to best practices; and

6. Assess your progress.

For more tips see:

Kevin Graham

Excellent article Dave! Isn't it amazing that there is so much upside in improving sales effectiveness, yet companies can be stubborn about moving forward with implementing programs.

You offer good information on the challenges companies face and why unproductive sales people survive, in the short term.

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