underwater hunter in full  equipmentIt’s no secret that I love free diving (and no, that’s not my glamour shot to the right).  But what many people can’t figure out is what is so fascinating about not breathing.  And unlike most people’s vision of free diving – you know, the one where you rocket to the surface with your brain about to explode and your face a deep blue as you gasp for air right before you pass out – it’s actually the opposite.

You have to find calm.  You have to learn to control your brain’s response to panic.  You have to…just relax.  And when you do that, free diving becomes the biggest inward journey you’ll ever take in your life.

Just like sales.

Beginner free diving

When you first start free diving, you sort of brute force your way through the two minute barrier.  You don’t understand how to relax or clear your mind, you’re just on the timer praying for that baby to hit 120 seconds so you can breathe.  The feelings are all new, your brain is out of control, and you’re holding on to the swim ladder with all your might trying to hold yourself down.  It’s the last 20 seconds or so that are just miserable.

Beginner sales

For salespeople, it’s a lot like that too.  They brute force their way through deals, talking a mile a minute.  They don’t know how to relax or clear their minds, so there’s absolutely no listening going on.  They’re just praying for that deal to close quickly so they can breath again.  It’s painful to watch – much more painful than practicing to hold your breath for a few extra seconds.

Intermediate free diving

Eventually in free diving you get stuck.  It’s usually around the two-minute barrier.  You’ll have moments where you rocket up to two and a half minutes, maybe a three-minute record now and then, but it’s tough to repeat.  You can’t figure out how you nailed that random extended hold – and you’re curious how to repeat it.  You just don’t know how.  Then you get some help, read some books, learn a thing or two and hey – it’s a whole new world.

Intermediate sales

For intermediate salespeople, they get stuck – usually around the $600K/yr. mark.  They might have a record month or two and taste breaking the $1M/yr. sales barrier – but it’s fleeting and elusive.  If only they could sustain that kind of performance, life would be so different.  They try to repeat their behavior from those killer months, but they don’t know how.  Then they learn a sales process, read some Dealer’s Voice articles, and hey – it’s game on.

Advanced free diving

When I broke the four-minute barrier, I remember reflecting on what I was thinking about.  Then I realized I wasn’t thinking about anything.  I was just relaxing and in the zone.  Completely at peace.  My good friend Jason Koon (a killer world series of poker player) was counting off the thirty- second marks.  As I made it past three minutes, I remember smiling subtly under the water.  Then came three and a half and then three minutes forty-five – then, it started to get uncomfortable.  Four minutes came, four minutes eight seconds and then I came up.  Lisa tells me my lips were a little blue.  So hey, I pushed it.  But damn it felt good to break that four-minute barrier!  I needed to know that I could do it.

Advanced sales

Advanced salespeople are grounded in process and trained in what we call situational fluency.  This gives them confidence and peace during the sales process.  That means they’ve seen enough situations in sales to recognize what they’re about to get hit with and they’ve practiced how to respond – now it just rolls off the tongue without thinking about it.

They subtly move around the conversation with prospects, placing little gems here and there that will come to their aid later to help them avoid prospect’s objections.  They tell stories that are engaging and they make it fun.  They’re calm, which is easy for them, because they spend most of their time listening and gauging their prospect’s reactions instead of talking like their more inexperienced coworkers.

How do you get there from here?

Well, the good news is you don’t have to start holding your breath until you pass out.  But you do have to start practicing.  And that means role-playing (and I don’t mean the dress-up kind), reading and learning.  It’s all par for the course if you want to achieve advanced levels of sales production.

But first, just start using a sales process.  It’s the single biggest differentiator between smooth, successful selling and brute-force, low-production selling.

Of course you can stick with the same old way you’ve been doing things for years and hope that somehow, mystically you’ll start selling more.

Just don’t hold your breath.

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