What Martial Arts Taught Me About Sales

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” -  Bruce Lee

Why and how can this martial arts quote be applicable to sales?

In a word, process.

The process of training a single kick a thousand times requires that the trainee focus on every aspect of the kick and perfect each and every aspect of it. In the process, their brain is trained to know and feel what the correct movement is, in doing so creates a primed neuromuscular pathways thats can execute a flawless kick effortlessly and consistently.

A fight, even in competition, is inherently messy and difficult to control.

The martial artist trains to control the fight through drilling techniques and practicing them in while sparing with a coaches watchful eye helping tune their fighter athlete.

Sales reps need to do the same; train specific processes and have a manager coach tune them.

Everything about sales is also inherently messy.

From a straight quantitative side, even the most curated databases have errors in them. Prospects roles and titles are not coequal across different organizations. On the qualitative side side, sales requires the communication between people which is rarely linear or clean. By placing a process into your sales program, organizations will smooth out inconsistencies, train reps faster, make reps more efficient, create greater visibility to management, and identify market sweet spots quicker.

Indeed a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review has shown that companies with a formal sales process generate more revenue.

Now that you are convinced that you need to implement a process, or tune your existing one, how do you do it?

To me, the best way to disentangle the sales process is by pulling at each string that is tangling it. What are those strings?

  • Company demographic data
  • Prospect demographic data
  • Prospect behavioral data
  • Requirements that move

To me, the sales process starts well before a sales rep writes an email or picks up the phone,the sales process starts when a suspect enters the top of the marketing funnel. Typically this is the point when demographic data and some behavioral data is acquired.

Demographic data processes: systematic vs random errors

While I mentioned above that even the best databases are error prone, it is important that demographic data collection be done in a process oriented manner.

Systematic error vs. random error

With a process, the errors will tend to be systematic errors, meaning errors that are usually in the same direction or of the same type. If eventually you find the source of a systematic error, it is easy to correct through a mass database adjustment. If you don’t find the error, it is still ok, since all your analysis is based on flat the exact same error.

Without a process, the errors in your database will be random errors, and random is difficult, if not impossible to repair without reviewing each and every point of data, even the ones that might be correct. Any analysis based off random error will lead to random results.

Behavioral data processes

Behavioral data is collected as leads engage with your material, be they through your PPC ads, emails, even the way a lead moves through your website. It is important to understand the processes that potentially revenue generating leads follow vs those processes that leads follow that don’t lead to revenue. There are a lot of great lead scoring softwares out there that implement a high level of behavioral analysis into their scoring algorithms. Feel free to append them in the comments!

Behavioral data is dynamic and requires consideration even after a sales rep begins engaging with a lead. Some of those actions could be re-scheduling demos, lack of motivation to introduce other decision makers, or dodging key questions that require answers to move the prospect to the next sales stage.

Sale stage process

More often than not when people talk about sales process, this is the part they mean; the specific tactics that are required moving a lead from qualified marketing lead (MQL), to a qualified sales lead (SQL) , and finally a revenue generating customer with referral potential. Not belaboring this point too much I will focus on how to make this sales stage process more functional through the sales playbook.

The sales playbook

The sales playbook is the codex  of all information your sales reps need to do their job. In reality it keeps everyone on the same page allowing sales reps to have standard operating procedure (SOPs) for every aspect of their job. As mentioned above, when following the playbook guidelines, like following the steps a grandmaster would outline to make a kick, sales reps are training their brains to follow the outlined proper procedures.

Update: I've written another article on the Sales Playbook Essentials

The greater granularity the processes possess, the easier they are to follow. Just like training a new kick or punch, early attempts to follow the process are usually labored and slow, however the more a sales rep trains and focus on following the processes outlined in the sales playbook, the faster and cleaner their data collections becomes.

At minimum a sales playbook needs to articulate what data needs to be collected at every stage to move a lead through the funnel, how to collect that data, and from whom or where. Complementary to data collection, is how to use a CRM effectively as well as either best practices or following strict guidelines. As described above, I like strict guidelines, the stricter the guidelines, the easier reporting.

For more information on some of my guidelines, see my previous article. 


Sales teams that follow a defined processes gain two key strategic benefits. First, for larger sales organizations everyone knows the expectations and requirements of their colleagues creating accountability and transparency within the organization. Second, after on boarding and training, sales reps equipped with the tools allowing them to follow the defined processes, managers can spend less time managing sales teams, more time training, coaching, and helping those sales reps close more deals.

This article has been reposted in it's entirety with permission from it's author.

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