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Navy SEALs, Sales Trainers and Sales Management Coaching


I was driving up to Madison with my wife and daughter yesterday to have an Easter lunch on the campus of University of Wisconsin with our son who is finishing up his sophomore year.  As we passed Janesville, we heard on the radio about the magnificent work of the U.S. Navy and the Navy SEALs who rescued Captain Richard Phillips who was held hostage for five days by Somali pirates.

The rescue sounds like it was right out of a 24 episode with Jack Bauer taking down the rogue gunmen and rescuing the good guy against all possible odds.  But as we know, this was not fiction but real life professionalism and heroism on the high seas of the Indian Ocean.  As I heard the news I pumped my fist as a wave of happiness washed over me.  Damn, I was proud of Captain Phillips, proud of our military and proud of these Navy SEALs.

As we drove home, my mind was co-mingling the story of the day that unfolded on the high seas and this post.  What can we learn from the Navy SEALs, I thought.  How do their actions relate to the ability of sales organizations that drive sales beyond what the market is prepared to give?  As an American who does not own a gun, I know there is more to their success then the headline of three simultaneous headshots in rolling seas.  Here are two of many:

The Navy SEALs have standards.  They have lines below which they will not go.  Slip below the line relative to being a man of character, maintaining mental and physical fitness, or technical skills and your days as a Navy SEAL come to a swift conclusion.

What are your standards?  As a sales manager, sales executive, or sales professional what are your standards for performance, productivity, and results?  What are your standards for customer focus, prospecting, customer retention, and even sales management coaching?  I guarantee you; the Navy SEALs have standards and do not allow those who wear the Trident to slip below the minimum requirements. 

Here are a few of my thoughts on the need for standards in business I shared as a professional keynote speaker to a group of sales professionals.  To view the video click the picture below.

The top producing sales organizations I have worked with are committed to sales management coaching that insures standards are not only set but are maintained to drive superior performance, like we witnessed yesterday off the coast of Africa.

Prospective SEALs go through what is considered by many military experts to be the toughest training in the world.  The training our Navy SEALs receive is legendary.  The 25-week curriculum is divided into three phases that test the sailors’ spirit and stamina.  And for those that get through this initial indoctrination, the training does not end. In fact the training SEALs receive is continuous, cumulative, and customized to the mission. In part the Seal Creed reads, “My training is never complete.”

Did you hear what they did to get into position to rescue Captain Phillips?  In the dark of night these professionals parachuted into the Indian Ocean with all their gear and their Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) - a 15-foot, heavily reinforced, inflatable rubber boat.  Just Amazing!  I can also guarantee you that this is not the first time they jumped at night, with their gear into rough seas.  You can bet they trained for hours and days for this particular mission, never knowing when or if it would come.

But how about your sales organization?  What type of sales trainers have you brought in?  Have they provided training that is continuous?  Cumulative?  Customized to the mission?  Is the training these sales trainers provided considered tough by those who go through it?  I work with sales organizations every day of my life and I can guarantee you that most who will read this post will have to answer that the training they get and have received is at best sporadic  (I call it injection type training) and it certainly isn’t tough. 

In fact most training that sales teams receive has very little expectations of the “trainees” and most often no planned follow-up.  Seriously, look at the mindset and body language next time you conduct a training program for the sales team.  Most are thinking, “I can’t wait till this is over so that I can go back to how I have always done things.”  Want to frighten the hell out of yourself…go back to your sales team and ask them “What did you do different as a result of the last training we provided.”  Most will tell you “nothing” or at best “not much.” 

Do you think the Navy SEALs who rescued Captain Phillips used the training they received?  I guarantee you they did.  You know why… because their organization- the Navy SEALS are committed to their training and development.  Training is not a “If I have time for it” or “If the budget allows for it” kind of thing.  Training and continued preparedness is built into the SEALs DNA.  How about your sales organization’s DNA?

Share Your Thoughts
What good things have you seen in training?  What has not worked so well?  Are you as proud of our SEALs as I am?

PS:  Remind me sometime to tell you about the week in April 2008 that I was indoctrinated into the U.S. Military as part of the DoD’s Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.


Were the baby seals involved? I love those seals! I have always been against their clubbing.
Posted @ Monday, April 13, 2009 8:44 AM by Andrew Berlin
Sales Training needs to be a "continuous improvement process" not an event. Most companies view sales training as unnecessary for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that if we take time to provide training we will lose their productivity during the time we are training and believe that top sales people don't need training because they are stars. 
Dirk is correct when he mentions the Seals Creed~ "my training is never complete". Sales is a performance art and talented performers never quit rehearsing. Few sales orgs today role-play (rehearse), sales managers who actually demonstrate how to sell in actual selling situations are a rarity today, having been relegated to statisticians for senior managers, and most sales representatives have the honor of having their yearly "check ride" by their manager (who doesn't have a clue about what to do during that yearly event. 
An absence of hands-on training, role playing, and an absence of coaching during actual sales calls contributes to the mediocrity of most sales organizations.  
Where are the "Seals" in sales today? All of the letters are the same but the arrangement is completely different.  
Posted @ Monday, April 13, 2009 9:27 AM by Harrison Greene
You can have the best training in the world, you can actually execute the best training in the world and demonstrate competence. The feat here was that, at the right time, for the right reasons, all the appropriate training was brought to bear to its best result by the Navy. So learn it, know it, make it part of you, and then use it judiciously when circumstances dictate. Otherwise, you're good at something for absolutely nothing. This is as true in sales as in war - don't underreact, don't overreact, and know when to bring all your skills, knowledge and resources to bear on the situation. Judgment and initiative won the day.
Posted @ Monday, April 13, 2009 5:09 PM by Peggy Salvatore
You are exactly right! You need to start out with a job description that describes the high caliber person you are looking for first. World Class training is critical. 
The piece I would like to add and it is something we practice all the time. I call it being Navy Seal serious. From Pre call planning, pitch book collaterals, to wearing the uniform and exceeding the clients expectations can only increase the probability of a successful sales call. I tell my reps, plan out your day like somesones life is on the line, and that will show that you are Navy Seal serious. 
Posted @ Tuesday, April 14, 2009 5:27 PM by Brett Butler
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