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What Personal Trainers Can Teach You About Sales


I have three kids — all boys. About five years ago I decided to place physical fitness at the top of my priority list. I want to do everything I could with my boys for as long as I could. As a dad, it seemed like the one of the smartest things I could do.

Flying back from one of my East Coast sales calls, I read in a fitness magazine about “one of the top personal trainers in the country,” Billy Polson. He owned his own fitness performance facility in San Francisco called DIAKADI (which I later learned stands for “Do It All and Kick Ass Doin’ It”). I called him when I landed:  

“Billy, I don’t need motivation, I just want to outsource the whole planning part. There’s so much conflicting info out there. I will tell you what I want: strength, flexibility, the deepest of sleep, and a program that’s doable given the other demands on my time. Then I’ll just do whatever you tell me to do to get there, cool?” 

Billy was all in.

So I gave a chunk of my money — but more importantly, my trust — to Billy. (I’ve since learned that becoming experienced and comfortable with the cliff-jump moment of handing over your trust and your money to a professional is a skill that’s unavoidable for real success). Customers may experience this discomfort when working with a new sales rep.

Billy’s process involved an intake methodology that I can only describe as exhaustive — and inspiring. Of course he gathered my basic stats like age, height, weight, body fat percentage, and so on. But he also asked questions like: How well do you sleep? What do you usually eat? Which foods work for you and which don’t? When do you feel stress? On what days and at what times of those days do you feel stress? How do you relieve that stress? Tell me about the demands on your schedule right now. What do you do for fun?

He actually filmed me walking and performing basic movements to analyze how I carry weight. He tested my endurance and dug deep to understand how I mentally view my physical well-being. I can’t summarize here how detailed the experience was here, but it was very thorough, and it focused on my entire health and fitness regimen. Is the process for discovering your customer's needs as thorough as this?

Even as a lifelong athlete, I had never had anyone take such a hard look at my approach to physical well-being, and how this approach worked in relation to everything else, even doctors. Suffice it to say, it was clear to me that by hiring Billy, I was flipping the model from being reactive to being proactive — from passively reacting to problems to actively addressing my body’s potential, and if I did what the expert advised, success was inevitable. This approach seems simple but I hadn’t done it before. Now I was convinced that this was critical to do, not just with my health but also with my money, career, and significant relationships.  

Billy created a program for me, which I began to follow. I was confident in what I was doing and seeing amazing results — with no real worry of “Am I doing the right things?” I thought, put your head down, go to the gym, do what the professional says. It was freeing.

As I was executing this plan to take my fitness to the next level, I kept seeing many parallels to my selling career and the challenge of delivering value to customers while exceeding sales goals. The personal trainer metaphor just works — not as a tactic, but as a model of how to manifest the elusive “win-win” that makes sales a noble profession.

Personal trainers are experts in fitness. And I am an expert in what I sell. So are you in what you sell. We shouldn’t be shy about that — we should use it to inspire trust. But we also shouldn’t assume that this expertise aligns with a customer’s goals. Data is what bridges the gap and allows us to confirm or disconfirm the unique “value hypothesis” we have about prospects.

My prime directive became the following: “We must know our customers first, as deeply as possible. Any sales effort we attempt beforehand is, at best, well-intentioned guesswork; at worst, it’s self-serving, disrespectful of our customers’ time, and irresponsible.” I was on a mission to cut discovery time — the most time-consuming if not the most painful part of the process for buyers — in half. And believe me, once you start looking, there is plenty of data available out there to help.

At Salesforce, we’re lucky. We are a web-based platform with the ability to know how our customers are using — or not using — any given Salesforce solution  at any given time. If sellers wanted to, they could use that data the way Billy used data about my physical well-being to create a “program” for their customers that will deliver the value they desire: “I am an expert at this. Follow this program to the letter, and it’s statistically inevitable that you will succeed. When you hit snags, call me.”

To me, Billy illustrated what being a trusted advisor is all about. In sales we must become those trusted advisors too, popping that “stress balloon” of the typical buyer-seller relationship where the worry is that the salesperson’s goals (get the deal, crush the number) aren’t in line with a buyers’ goals (getting the business value they need). The “program” is the detailed agreement between both parties to make the results real over time. If we stay focused on that, closing the deal can be framed as a necessary commitment milestone.

This has since become the foundation of how I approach customer relationships, and, in fact, the entire challenge of driving quality pipeline at scale. I now run a team that pays very close attention to the usage metrics of our customers in real time (as well as a host of other external data) and prescribes ways that groups of customers can grow and get more value from our platform, delivering pipeline and revenue to the sales teams in the process.

All the members of my team take the same approach, and by doing this we hope to usher in a more efficient and elevated way of selling and buying. These are, in fact, the same core principles found in the “account-based sales development” movement, or the “Why you, why you now” prospecting methodology. It’s not new. It’s about knowing your customers deeply, having a “value hypothesis” you can confirm with them, and inspiring them to follow a well-designed program to achieve it.

As it turns out, great personal trainers have been doing this for a long time.

Put your customer on a program.”

Frank Perkins | RVP, Enterprise Sales Programs, Salesforce

Learn More

How to Craft the Perfect Sales Pitch By Annie Simms,
Account Executive, Salesforce
The Simple Client Meeting Rules Every Salesperson Should Follow By Laura Stack,
President and CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author, The Productivity Pro, Inc.



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