Go Slow to Go Fast: The Best Sales Advice Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard
I want to share the best sales advice I ever received.
During my time in the U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Officer School (more than 23 years ago), we would spend countless hours boarding a simulator vessel. The instructors would scream at us to “Go slow to go fast!” which is stuck in my head to this day. They would indiscriminately and loudly point out how we screwed up by going too fast (being sloppy) and how we just endangered our boarding team—as well as our own lives.
They reinforced that speed was the reason for 99 percent of all accidents. By not putting the time in during the pre-boarding planning phase (the slow or boring part), we were not maximizing the resources and intelligence at our fingertips. All cadets will admit, the pre-boarding phase was never as fun as the actual boardings (the fast part). During the boarding, we would storm the training vessel, discharge our weapons and literally get into physical altercations with instructors (who were posing as the bad guys)—including being pepper-sprayed. It was no joke.
What’s funny about life is, when you get your ass kicked enough times, it encourages you to start using your critical thinking skills—this is the Go Slow phase. It was not by chance that the better we got at the pre-boarding phase the more we were delivering the ass-kicking. After a few weeks, the instructors’ yelling subsided and we cadets were sweeping the vessels at an extremely fast pace without jeopardizing safety.
I am completely confident this strategy correlates to my sales and recruiting career. That’s why when my first medical sales manager forced me to read Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard, I TOTALLY GOT IT! This book is all about pre-sales (going slow). By visualizing what a perfect sales call looks like and by using critical thinking skills you can accomplish it.
Later, I became a very successful sales leader responsible for hiring new medical device and pharmaceutical sales candidates. Regardless of the company a new hire came from, nearly all flew by the seat of their pants when it came to territory planning.
This is where my Go Slow to Go Fast background allowed me to dissect and diagnose the nuances that separated superstar reps from average reps. I looked at how they scored in personality tests, the colleges they attended, where they finished in new hire training, how many years of sales experience they had, how fast they mastered clinical data, and compared all that to their territory planning. Correlation showed reps who took ownership and held themselves accountable for their territory planning were the strongest sales performers. The Superstar reps had quality customer engagements and moved through the hospitals fast because they slowed down and mapped out their day and were extremely stingy with their time. If they got in front of 10 surgeons, they would capture eight or nine new cases. They were their own biggest critics and graded themselves on how efficient they were each day.
On the other hand, average sales reps would struggle to fill the day and would bounce from one hospital to another (going fast but sloppy), struggling to see five surgeons and only getting one or two new cases.
Exercises like one where I asked my team to write out their perfect sales day allowed me to help gauge my reps’ territory planning abilities and identify those who needed development—and those who knew what to do but refused to plan and execute in the field.
Oftentimes, sales leaders struggle to convince reps of best practices to increase their success. If used correctly, a third-party consultant can provide extremely helpful sales advice to get a sales team on the same page. Sales leaders are like sports coaches. Sometimes, no matter how great a coach you are, you cannot reach certain players. That’s why they bring on specialized coaches and resources to help players reach their true potential.
As a recruiter, I work with many sales and HR leaders. They all eventually ask me the same two questions: How fast can you get the territory filled and What makes Relentless Recruiting different than the other 1,000+ search firms?
For the first question: I can fill an open position in a few days, but 99 percent of all hiring mistakes are due to speed. If they give my team at least 2-3 weeks (sometimes longer) we will find you top talent. We all know how much time a poor performer will suck from a company; hence the need to go slow to go fast!
The second question I usually answer with a question. Does your current recruiter have the ability to host a five-day sales workshop for your company’s salesforce? If so, keep them and do not hire us. If not, why are you depending on them to find top sales talent? If they cannot teach medical sales, how exactly do they know how to vet sales candidates? There is a reason a majority of Hall of Fame coaches played the sport at a high level prior to becoming coaches. It’s no different in sales recruiting.
A past VP and great leader taught me one of the best interview questions I have ever heard: “Tell me how you started and finished your day?” That open-ended question has helped me separate countless superstars from average candidates as a manager and as a recruiter. Unfortunately, there are many recruiters and some managers who do not know how to evaluate a candidate’s response. Bad hires often have the best resume. That’s why great recruiters push hiring managers to hire candidates based on sales talent vs. good resumes.
If your company needs hiring tips or a third party to help, please feel free to contact us.
Lastly, I want to thank all the military folks I served with who taught me so many life lessons and shared the sales advice that has led me this far. Especially those salty boarding officer instructors who literally beat some sense into me and changed my life for the better—THANK YOU!