Get Reps to Perform at the Highest Levels

By Kim Wright Wiley

In sports, the job of a coach is to help a player develop strengths and mitigate weaknesses. The job of a sales manager is the same. Properly prepared sales reps don’t freeze up on calls – they feel confident in any situation and are able to think on their feet because the coach has prepared them well for the game.

“Our job as coaches is to keep people focused and motivated,” says Rick Peterson, peak-performance expert and former pitching coach for the New York Mets and Oakland A’s. “Coaches don’t just hope for the best, they proactively identify the skills it takes for athletes to perform at their highest levels and then train them, mentally as well as physically.”

In the process of analyzing what separates a good pitcher from a great pitcher, Peterson developed the Peak Performance Triangle. The first two sides of the triangle, which represent skills and competencies and physical conditioning, are self-explanatory, but the third side, representing performance-based behaviors, is the often-overlooked psychological part of the game – the mental and emotional skills that allow an athlete to climb from mere competence to peak performance.

Much of Peterson’s work has gone into defining and delineating the third part of the triangle – the performance-based behaviors. “We know that successful people have certain personality traits,” he says. “They don’t lose focus, they don’t become demotivated. When something slows them down, they take a deep breath and get back on task.”

And in tough economic times, when a salesperson might feel like a pitcher losing his control, an objective read from an involved manager is of utmost importance.

“When it comes to sales calls, you’re not going to succeed every time,” says Peterson. “In economies in which people are nervous, there’s even less room for error. By identifying the behaviors that allow people to perform and giving your sales reps solid feedback throughout the process, you can coach people through hard times and help them overcome fear and doubt.”

Peterson believes that the single most valuable performance-based behavior is a willingness to follow a process. Once while he was running a sports psychology seminar in Chicago, he realized that Michael Jordan, who at the time was playing baseball, was in the group. Jordan approached Peterson afterward and said that he was fascinated by the idea of performance-based behaviors and that for years he had done all these things instinctively.

“I asked him at what moment he knew he could be Michael Jordan,” says Peterson. “In other words, when did he know he could be not just good, but great? He told me a story much like the Tiger Woods story, about a time in college when his basketball coach Dean Smith showed him game footage and helped him see that he’d had a good year but not a great year. He said his coach explained that for him to be great, he was going to have to prepare at an incredibly high level.

“Talent alone is never going to be the difference. What separates the peak performer is preparation. People at the absolute top of their game – the MVPs, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods – they don’t focus on outcome, and neither do great salespeople. They focus on process.”