There’s an exercise creativity experts do sometimes at conferences that’s well worth trying at your next sales team meeting:

  1. Ask everyone to find a paper and pen.
  2. Ask them to turn to the person to their right and take a close look.
  3. Ask them to do their best to draw a sketch portrait of that person in 30 seconds.
  4. After the time is up, ask them to show the portrait to their subject.

This exercise usually provokes a lot of laughter and loosens up the room, but what happens next is remarkably consistent. The first thing many people say when they show their portrait to the subject is, “Sorry!”

If you have children —or even know children — you’ll realize that’s a far different reaction than when they try to draw something. Kids tend to run up proudly to show off their work, no matter how jagged the lines or inscrutable the results.

While sales professionals don’t need to be good artists, they frequently have to creatively solve problems for their customers as part of closing a deal. That’s why taking a closer look at the habits of those who are still a long way from the working world may be in order. These are just a few of the traits that sales coaches and their teams could cultivate — or rediscover — in themselves in order to optimize their performance.

No Question Is A Bad Question

Parents frequently cringe when children ask for awkward details about a particular person or ask something about an inappropriate topic. Sometimes you have to put them off with a promise to deal with it later, or to steer them onto another subject entirely.

Sales professionals, on the other hand, may feel under pressure to act as though they have all the answers — including all the answers about a particular customer or prospect’s business. Instead, take a child’s-eye-view to your customers, asking for details about how they work, their needs, their goals and so on. While children’s questions can be occasionally exhausting, customers will often be eager to discuss what matters to them with someone willing to listen.

The Unknown Is Not Worth Fearing

A generation ago, kids made fun of their parents for not being able to program the clock in the VCR that sat with a television set. That seems like nothing compared to the complexity of today’s technology. Parents have marveled at how quickly even small children have been able to get comfortable with tablets, smartphones and sophisticated software that was designed for grown adults.

Solutions like CRM, marketing automation and analytics might seem daunting at first, but take a child’s bold approach to getting hands-on with them and becoming more comfortable. There is always a learning curve with new technology, but having a child-like joy in discovering what’s possible will make that curve a lot less steep.

Immediate Gratification Takes Too Long

Kids can be impatient — to the point that it wears out what little stamina the average parent has at their disposal. On the flip side, children can bound out of bed at the crack of dawn and keep busy all day long before they finally, and often reluctantly, go to bed for the day.

Sales managers are often concerned about maintaining or even boosting productivity, and a lot of that comes with having the right attitude. Be like that kid who can’t wait to get to the playground and connect with friends when it comes time to follow-up with a customer or act upon a potential lead.

Play Comes Before Perfection

Kids will make crafts, try riding a bike or almost any other activity and not be overly concerned about results. They accept that not everything turns out right the first time and simply stay focused on trying over and over again.

How many times, in contrast, did your team attempt to get to a win with a difficult customer? When a pitch falls flat, how quickly can they recover? Are proposals late because they don’t have enough information, or because they need to feel like it’s somehow bulletproof? These are things to look for and coach through in order to help get them closing more deals.

Sales is a grown-up job, of course. But the best sales coaches and reps — the ones who listen well, take chances, continue to learn despite failures and don’t leave things until the last minute — make it all look like child’s play.

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