Mastering sales is just like learning to ride a bike

I remember I had just started a new sales job when it was time to teach my oldest son, Chaz, how to ride a bike. It wasn’t easy at first because he didn’t want to ride it without the training wheels. Until one day some neighborhood kids laughed at him.

“Dad, I want to take the training wheels off,” he said, holding back tears. 

I had encouraged him to take them off weeks earlier, but I didn’t press him. I knew there would come a time when he would want it bad enough to pursue it without carrot and stick motivation. We took the training wheels off and he got on the bike. The extra little wheels that made the bike safe were gone, and for the first time he couldn’t place both his feet on the pedals unless he moved forward. He had to build momentum.

Our long driveway was mostly straight and had a slight grade. I started him in the middle and held on for several attempts as he pedaled, learning balance and steering. At about the tenth time, I took him a little higher up the driveway and we began going down the hill. As you have probably guessed by now, I let go.

I still continued to let him know I was there, but at this point he was doing it all on his own. He was still telling me to hold him, not knowing I had already let go. He looked over his shoulder and saw I wasn’t there. He panicked and fell. After he checked for broken bones and realized he was OK, I started to laugh.

He did too. Through that experience, I learned that riding a bike and getting better at the sales process have a lot in common. You may already have drawn from this life metaphor things that relate to your own experiences, but there are a few specific things I want you to focus on the most.

  • Know your fears. What really scares you?  For most sales professionals, it’s rejection. The antidote? Don’t take it personally. Get over it! Rejection is going to happen because it’s part of the process. For others, fear of failure is at the top of their minds. It’s overcome by making goals, visualizing success and taking action in spite of conditions and circumstances. Movement is the best cure for this fear. Be persistent in spite of rejection or temporary failure. One lost opportunity or setback does not make a winner quit. They keep going. Resolve to be persistent until experience brings you competence, which will in turn give rise to confidence.
  • Know your product. Many sales people have not taken the training wheels off. They constantly need someone to help them with the products for which they should be the experts. Memorize your products’ features. Convert them into benefits your clients need.  Know what your product will do and what it won’t do. If possible, experience the product at work in your life and through your clients’ experiences. You must understand how your product will meet your clients’ needs.
  • Know your limitations and stay on the straight path. Most sales people don’t start with finesse and skill. They start out as order takers. Order taking may help you close 15 percent of your opportunities, but is not the way to build momentum for a sustainable career. How do you get to a 60 percent closing rate? Through the experience of objections, rejections, falling and failing. The school of hard knocks will teach you the little things along the way that help you evolve — to help you get better.

When I think of how I got started in sales, I am amazed and humbled by my success. Then I remember Chaz on that bike. Less than six months later he was building ramps and jumping over boxes. He had converted fear into skill. That skill brought confidence in trying new and daring things. For sales professionals, that translates to new opportunities for growth and development, facing a new set of fears and challenges with faith in your abilities.

Having seen thousands of sales people make the same progression, I’m qualified to say that mastering sales is just like riding a bike!