Last week, my husband asked me to teach him how to play piano. The extent of his piano skills was playing with one finger the Miami Vice theme song. Showing him how to play reminded me how I first started and also how many sales people and managers end up starting in their roles as well.
I first learned to play piano by teaching myself one summer while staying with my grandmother. She ran a real estate business, and so when she wasn’t shuffling us off to networking events or open houses that summer, she was in her home office on the phones. A piano sat in her living room and one day when I was bored, I found an old instruction book on how to play and read music.
This is how most people get into sales- by accident. As a way to do something to make money until they figured out what they want to do. And this is the driving force behind your company’s growth. You are expecting them to be driven and ‘kill it or crush it’, but they are just looking for something to do.
Of course, I thought that by the end of the summer I would be playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, which of course I didn’t. But I did manage to learn all the chords and scales, how to read music, and could pull off a pretty decent ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’
By the time high school came around, I could fumble my way around a piano and took up some music classes that the school offered for my art credits. My teacher helped read music better and work on some more difficult pieces. One day when she asked me to accompany the chorus, I was intimidated. If I messed up, the whole choir would be thrown off. So I used my own money from waiting tables at a diner to work with a well known instructor. I couldn’t wait to get some real instruction and play Beethoven like I always wanted to- but more importantly not embarrass myself at the concert.
And this is what happens to most sales managers. They get to be pretty good at sales and maybe even fall in love with it and someone says “Hey, you are pretty good at this, have you thought about being a manager?”
I remember the first lesson and how excited I was- I had the sheet music I wanted to learn and as I sat at the piano in the hot, stuffy, and cramped living room of my instructor I put my sheet music on the piano, which he promptly took away. “You won’t be needing that. Play for me an E flat major scale,” he said. And for the next several weeks- he made me do scales. All of them in order. He critiqued my hand positioning. If I made even the slightest mistake, I had to start over. It was boring and monotonous and I hated it. But he wouldn’t let me work on my piece until I flawlessly executed my scales. When I complained that these were all the basics that I thought I had learned he told me I had to unlearn them because I had learned some bad habits and shortcuts. When I tried to rush through the scales, he put on the metronome that made me go slow. “You can’t learn to go fast until you can be patient and get going slow right.”
It was frustrating. And hard! It was harder to unlearn what I thought I knew then it was to learn something new. I felt like I already knew all this stuff and I wasn’t getting any closer to being ready for the concert. When I told my instructor that he said; “To master the art and discipline of music, you have to master the fundamentals. When you have mastered the fundamentals, you can play anything. Watch my hands (as he started to play part of my piece) how are you going to do that complicated fingering in time (meaning the beat of the music) if you can’t even do the scales in the piece?” As I watched his hands fly up and down and over each other, I realized how right he was.
And so when my hubby asked me to show him, I did the same thing my instructor did to me and started with the fundamentals- this is middle C. This is the C major scale. This is how you need to hold your hands above the piano. This is the way your fingers need to hit the keys. If you don’t do it this way, you won’t be able to hit the flat and sharp keys later. Don’t look at the keys, feel them. When he asked why he needed to do it that way, I explained as my instructor did on why and how it is important for future playing. And for a half hour, I listened to him play the C major scale. Then he got bored. So I sat down with him and together we played a simple song. I knew that small win, some fun, would help him build the confidence to keep practicing the fundamentals.
As we were talking to some sales managers this week, my (and my husband’s) piano lessons reminded me of what happens to newly hired, or inexperienced sales people or sales managers when they go into a new company or role. Like me when I first started playing piano, many of them are self taught. They come with their own ideas and some bad habits that need to be unlearned. Hardly any have been taught what the fundamentals are and why they important for future mastery.
And then there are those sales people who do get training, but it’s about the CRM, the product, the sales process (if they’re lucky). They sit through days and weeks of presentations, watching and listening to others, maybe even role playing certain scenarios to practice their scripts (again- if they’re lucky). But none of it is the fundamentals of having conversations, asking sensitive questions, bringing up objections, controlling their own emotions, etc. and it is not taught the way we learn (and that is why 90% of training knowledge is lost within a month).
And for sales managers who are called on to lead the choir (their team) there is even less training, coaching and support. They have no choice but to rely on how they were managed and not only do their own shortcomings become the collateral damage to their team, all the shortcomings of managers before them get passed along. Everyone is playing their own tune, to their own beat, and none of it is music. It’s not even improv jazz.
Have you asked yourself, are you expecting too much from your front line sales teams? Are you skipping over the fundamentals in your rush to get to Beethoven like results? Are you creating your own sales problems by doing so?How have you learned to master the fundamentals of sales and sales management?