Sales Training Techniques to Learn from Jiu-Jitsu

March 27, 2013

By Townsend Wardlaw

One of the things I’m certain a number of followers of this blog don’t know about me is that I train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a grappling sport more akin to wrestling than to a striking sport like Tae Kwon Do or Karate. After taking a break, I’ve recently gotten back into it, and I’ve now trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for about six years total. On top of keeping my Body Mass Index where it needs to be, it’s also been a wonderful stress relief.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu came into the forefront of U.S. consciousness when Royce Gracie (a member of the family that originated the sport) came to the United States and began competing and winning in what used to be called “cage fighting,” which were no holds barred fights that are now known as ultimate fighting. The sport was so devastating that all the other martial arts really couldn’t compete, and it literally devastated everything else that was out there. People today probably know of Brazilian jiu-jitsu more than anything through TV shows or events like the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championships, because it has become an integral part of the martial arts and competitive fighting landscape.

It may surprise you, but Brazilian jiu-jitsu training techniques and sales training techniques actually have some similarities.

When I got back into the sport around November, I made the decision for a number of reasons to engage a one-on-one personal trainer who would be my coach. One of those reasons is that I wanted to get back into the sport safely. I’m not quite the same young man I was when I did it before, and I wanted to get my technique back up to par before I started going at it with the younger people that are practicing it. See, one of the unique aspects of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is it’s one of the few martial arts that you train at full speed. It’s no sparring, it’s not shadow boxing. It literally is training at virtually 100% of your strength and effort.

The other thing about Brazilian jiu-jitsu that’s particularly interesting and that attracts me to it is that it’s been called “the thinking man’s martial art” because there really are no single moves, or even sequences of moves, that your opponent doesn’t already know how to counter if, of course, you’re sparring against somebody who also knows Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The sport and training is really comprised of learning to use the mind as well as the knowledge of sequences of moves to lull one’s opponent into responding in a certain way, and fundamentally using that opponent’s momentum, mass, strength and technique to an advantage.

My coach is fond of saying, “give your opponent everything they want…then give them a little bit more,” which is a way of saying that rather than simply using brute force to battle, understand where the other party is coming from and leverage that to your advantage. When I think about training for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, this is where the crossover to sales really becomes apparent. You can think about a match, or a sparring session, as having a couple of components. At the start, the two parties square off against each other as they are about to begin, and it follows with the opening sequence of moves that establish first position. After that there’s everything in the middle, during which one of the parties will gain a dominant position. That party then tries to finish, as we call it, or submit the other opponent, and the opponent that is in jeopardy tries to escape. As long as everybody’s playing by the same set of rules, you can actually train very hard, very effectively and very realistically without getting hurt.

There are a lot of ways to train for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, just as there are a lot of ways to train for any martial art. It’s very complex, and it literally takes years to master or even get good at. You’ve got to think about how you’re going to go about it because you can’t train to be good at every part of the game all at the same time. To give you a little context, Brazilian jiu-jitsu only has five belts: white, blue, purple, brown and black. On average, it takes folks about 10 years to get a black belt, which is quite different than something like tae kwon do or karate. It took me two years of very focused training to advance a single belt from white to blue. There is a lot to learn and integrate in terms of the game as a whole, the various sections of a sparring match, putting it all together and trying to figure out your specific style.

How to Approach Sales Process Training…from Start to Finish

In learning the sport, it’s really important to figure out how you want to approach long term mastery of it. Do you want to dabble in all of the aspects of the game – the opening, the grappling, the submissions, the escapes, the defense – or do you want to really master certain aspects of the game? When I started Brazilian jiu-jitsu many years ago, I had to develop a broad base of knowledge. It took about five months before I even felt comfortable in my own body in this sport and able to think about the various aspects of the sport. However, I made a very conscious decision that I wanted to break down and master the game front to back, so I decided to focus first on the opening and the beginning of the match and not to worry about finishing. When I’m working with my coach, I literally work on the first five minutes of the spar and the opening moves that get me to a point where I would finally start to think about submitting my opponent, and then we stop and restart. I don’t even work on my finishing moves when I’m training.

This approach is really contrary to how a lot of folks that are new to the sport approach it because they come in and immediately want to focus on how to submit somebody, how to choke him out and how to arm-bar him, which are specific moves to get your opponent to tap out. Youthful enthusiasm suggests that we want the goal, we want the end game and we want to close the deal, so to speak, whereas a more mature, thoughtful approach says, “I really need to learn how to master this game and sport, front to back.” This is how I approach sales training techniques and setting up a sales ecosystem or infrastructure, from front to back.

A More Efficient Way to Focus Your Sales Energy

For me, every organization wants to figure out how to close more deals, negotiate and do the really fancy stuff, when in fact, they typically suffer from a dearth of opportunities at the top of the funnel. So I spend a lot of time helping my clients figure out how to prospect better and how to get in front of more conversations, which is like learning how to start the game in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The assumption is that if you have more opportunities in play, you will close/win more opportunities over time. If you focus on learning how to close, which is like how to finish the game in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yet you never have enough opportunities come through, then fundamentally that’s your lowest common denominator that you need to work on first.

I really encourage you to think about this in terms of your own sales training technique and how you decide to master your sales process and knowledge. It is great fun to negotiate, present, close and do all those wonderful end-of-the-game skills, just as in Brazilian jiu-jitsu it is rewarding and validating to submit your opponent. However, you stand to benefit more long term from mastering the activities that will put you in front of more opportunities, so think about how you can incorporate that in your own game. Learn the art of selling from front to back, don’t just focus on the end. As much fun as closing skills are to work on, learn first to get into more conversations. You may not win all of those opportunities and you may have to see those that you’ve engaged walk away, just as when I’m training with my coach, but if you become skilled at opening more doors and putting more in the top of the funnel, I guarantee you’ll have plenty to work on later.

Read more at townsendwardlaw.com


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