What is the top sales challenge in 2015? According to a recent report by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP), “training and development” once again gets the nod as the biggest challenge. “Competencies around solution selling, communications, virtual presentations, negotiating, closing and the like … training to these skills remains the number one priority,” states the report. This is why I and several hundred other sales leaders recently took a couple of days out of our business to work on our business.

We all know that there is no shortage of sales information, training programs, systems, sages and gurus. And most of us recognize that while content and material isn’t lacking, very little is offered in terms of an overall plan designed to develop professional revenue generators. There is tons of motivational material, loads of, “how to do this or that,” and more than a few cries of “One Easy Step to Sales Success!” Yet the research suggests that what is really needed is a commitment to, and tools for, ongoing training and development.

I ran across an article in Science Daily featuring research from Saint Louis University Medical Center. The article states that there are six things we can learn from Olympic athletes.

  1. Set a goal and break it down.
  2. Cross train.
  3. Work out with others.
  4. Create a team.
  5. Find your motivation.
  6. Put on your Olympic attitude.

The field of sales is a competitive battlefield. On any given day, in any given opportunity, there are winners and there are losers. Let’s begin by adjusting our mindset to see ourselves as competitive athletes; athletes who compete every day against other top athletes. Ask any serious athlete and they will tell you that genetics absolutely play a part in their success, but what separates the world-class from the rest of the super-talented and gifted is their drive to improve AND their willingness to do the work to grow.

Let’s look briefly at how we might apply each.

Set a goal and break it down. The most effective goals are always “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Bound. What is the specific goal you are seeking? Is it exceeding quota? Is it adding 10 new customers this quarter? No one eats an elephant in one bite. Break down the steps necessary to achieve the goal and simply keep advancing.

Cross train. In today’s ultra-competitive world, we need more skills than knowing the Ben Franklin close. We can’t rely on being great in person but not over the phone, or vice versa. We can’t rely on a gift of gab versus a well-crafted presentation or written correspondence. We have to train across the gamut. Speaking, writing, listening, effective use of technology, social media, live and digital presentations … the list goes on. We don’t have to be great at every one of those areas, but much like the body builder who only works his arms, we won’t win many competitions unless we intentionally cross train across the full range.

Work out with others. Yeah, I know. There are so many great online programs, books, tapes, videos, and you are so busy that you really don’t have time to practice and rehearse. But the fact is that you will learn from others. You simply cannot gain the necessary skills and elevate them to world-class levels without some kind of team — people who will challenge you and give you honest feedback and constructive criticism. You will deepen your skills as you do the same for others. Nothing helps us learn something faster than teaching others. The old saying, “If you really want to learn something, teach it” has never been more true. According to the National Training Laboratories, we retain about 5 percent of what we hear in a lecture but 90 percent of the information we teach. Besides, there are some days when you just need a spotter to keep the weight from crashing down on your chest.

Create a team. We just looked at some strong reasons to work out with others. Now let’s look at who you need on your team. At a minimum you need some people around you who can train specific skillsets, people who can motivate you, who can help keep you accountable, who can talk straight to you and who can inspire you even beyond your vision of the goal. Great athletes have great coaches; coaches who simply won’t allow them to quit and that have the technical skills to be more than just rah-rah. Last week I met Greg Louganis and he talked about getting ready to practice one day when the weather was horrible — cold and worse, windy. His coach reminded him of the importance of performing those dives perfectly, even in terrible and potentially dangerous conditions. By the end of his training time that day, he hit his scoring goal. When he asked how others did that day, his coach said, “You were the only one who practiced.” His coach knew that he needed to focus on the goal, not on the conditions or even what others were or weren’t doing. Great coaches keep their athletes at the top of their mental and physical game.

Find your motivation. This is the “Y” question. A moment of honesty here: if the goal isn’t something you want really, really badly for your own reasons, you and I both know it won’t happen. I remember wanting to be a great hurdler in track. The only problem was I didn’t have any real desire (or the ability to run, for that matter). I THOUGHT I wanted to be a great hurdler. What I really wanted was to be on the track team and not have to work very hard. To find your motivation, ask the “Y” question: “Y do I want this?” Ask it about five layers deep and you will get to the real desire. I want to earn $1 million by January 1, 2017. Y? Because this gives me the money I need. Y? Because it allows me to donate $X to the children’s cancer research fund. Y? Because I don’t want anyone to have to go through what a friend had to. If your fifth Y isn’t from the heart, change your goal to something worth fighting for.

Put on your Olympic attitude. Making it to the Olympics was the goal for Reuben Gonzalez (aka The Luge Man). Nothing else mattered. He would do whatever it took. He would work. He would sacrifice. He would do whatever his coach told him to. He would not give up. And once he got there, he continued to train so that he could be there four years later.

Muhammad Ali was known to say how he hated every minute of practice, but he loved to compete and win. For him, his deep desire drove him through the countless hours of doing things he hated so that he could eventually do what he loved.

There is no reason you have to suffer from the biggest sales challenge in 2015. Start training hard today. And if you don’t have a training regimen, get one! Don’t wait for your company to launch a new training and development program. You simply can’t win without putting in not just effort, but the right effort. Know your goal, assemble your team, work out together and train across the skillsets.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel.

is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at broderick@inkcycle.com.