Are you building a sales SEALS organization?

Denver-Based Sales Leadership Development Available Nationwide

Posted: May 20, 2011

Colleen Stanley

The recent elimination of the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Osama bin Laden, has focused attention on the United States’ elite maritime special operations force, the Navy SEALS. You might be wondering why this topic is appearing in a sales column.

One of the best ways to build elite sales organizations is to study and duplicate best practices of other high-performance teams and units.

The SEALS training and philosophy are grounded in principles that can be and should be applied to the sales profession.

Here are three lessons that sales managers and CEOs should apply while building their SEALS sales team:

Only 10 to 20 percent of the potential SEAL candidates make it through their rigorous selection process.

Many sales organizations lower the bar because they lack the discipline to consistently prospect for top talent. The recruiting — and panic — start when they have an open territory. Pressured to find a candidate, sloppy hiring practices ensue.

The second mistake is sales organizations buying into the myth that no one wants to work anymore.

Instead of improving their recruiting practices, they settle for mediocrity and hope the competitor will do the same.

This sales culture attracts salespeople with a 4:30 p.m. work ethic. At that time, the salesperson hits the door, even if she’s not hitting quota.

Becoming a SEAL is work, and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of candidates.

What if the SEALS operation bought into the no-work ethic myth? It might sound like, “Well, you know, young people want a work/life balance. I think we need to get rid of Hell Week.”

Not going to happen, because high-performance teams know that winners like to be part of an organization where the bar for success is high.

Lt. Commander Greitens, author of “The Hearth and the Fist: The Education of a Humantarian, The Making of a Navy SEAL,” is also a SEAL with the U.S. Navy Reserve.

He writes that the men who make it through the training aren’t necessarily the obvious types, such as muscle-bound jocks or former athletes.

Rather, it’s the person who’s willing to set aside his pain during training and help one of his peers.

This type of person is a team player — and it’s a team that goes into combat, not an individual.

A successful vice president of sales was asked about his formula for hiring great salespeople. He paused and replied, “Well, I always look for the salesperson that is willing to put the company ahead of her own agenda. It seems to be a pattern that works for growing a business.” He understands the power of team and beating the competition.

Sales managers often miss this key ingredient when interviewing and hiring. They vet the candidate for awards and sales results and forget to interview for the salesperson’s ability to play well with others.

Sometimes they end up hiring a top gun that refuses to participate in sales meetings or share best practices, and looks for a way to scam the compensation plan.

Just like the SEALS, one man can’t accomplish a mission; one exceptional salesperson won’t create sustainable sales growth.

The recent mission of the SEALS took months of planning. There’s no room for instant gratification with this group. Contingency plans, practice and multiple details were studied, reviewed and applied.

High-performing sales teams take the same approach. They invest time in pre-call planning, analyze the what-ifs that could occur during the sales meeting. and practice influence and selling skills.

They’re prepared to handle the toughest selling situation because of preparation.

The non-SEAL salesperson is fairly easy to spot. He shows up to the office with no goals or plans set for the week. When asked about the company’s value proposition, he stumbles through it. During pipeline reviews, the answers are vague, “I think we have a pretty good chance.” This isn’t the salesperson who will get you to sales mission accomplished.

Take a page out of the SEALS playbook and apply it to your sales organization. Raise the bar, recruit the best and perfect your planning.

The SEALS are looking for quality, not quantity, and don’t lower their standards in order to hit a quota or deadline.

  • Raise the bar on entry to your organization.
  • Hire for purpose and team
  • Perfect planning results in a perfect plan.

About the Author

Colleen Stanley is founder and president of SalesLeadership Inc., a sales development firm specializing in sales and sales management training. The company provides programs in prospecting, consultative sales training, emotional intelligence training. and leadership training for sales managers. She is the author of Growing Great Sales Teams and Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success. Reach Colleen at 303-708-1128 or visit

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