Transforming Classroom Knowledge into Sales Skills
Turning Millennials into Sales People
Knowledge. Skills. Confidence.
Those are the keys to developing successful sales people, according to the sales trainers at Major League Soccer’s National Sales Center (NSC). The NSC trains new sales professionals for Major League Soccer’s 20 teams at its Twin Cities training facility.
Sales requires more than knowledge of product features and sales techniques; it also requires the skills and self confidence to apply that knowledge in the fast-paced, often unpredictable world of sales calls, says Bryant Pfeiffer, vice president of club services for Major League Soccer (MLS) and founder of MLS’s National Sales Center in Blaine, MN.
The NSC is a highly selective training program designed to recruit and train new sales people for MLS’s professional soccer clubs. Specifically targeted at college graduates with bachelor’s degrees, the program is designed to recruit young talent into the highly competitive world of sports ticket sales, and then find creative ways to engage these Millennial trainees and teach them how to be successful.
During the first month of the program, new trainees receive traditional classroom training while dedicating a small portion of their time to making real sales calls. In the second month, the focus shifts, and the majority of their days are spent on the phones, selling on behalf of MLS Clubs. After two to four months, successful graduates are allowed to interview with clubs for fulltime sales positions.
As in most sales organizations, trainees’ calls and results are closely monitored by their managers and trainees receive regular feedback and coaching.
Bryant says the NSC wanted to find a way to extend that type of feedback to other sales skills and help transfer the classroom knowledge trainees receive into the real world of day-to-day sales and the pressure for results. For that he turned to SkillFitness.
“We have more than 200 hours of content on sales and best practices,” Bryant says. “This tool gives us a platform to really reinforce that content as trainees are learning the nuances of ticket sales. SkillFitness doesn’t replace our current sales training process but compliments and enhances it.”
“Any training that is best in class has to have an ongoing element to it,” Bryant adds. “Learning can’t be based on a single event. It has to have that ongoing element and a way to reinforce the core principles that are being taught. SkillFitness allows any trainer to accomplish this and to reinforce behaviors.”
Building Confident Professionals
SkillFitness not only allows managers to evaluate the student’s mastery of skills and content, says Melanie Seiser, manager of the National Sales Center, it also helps NSC managers assess and coach students on professionalism and self-confidence.
“Delivery is as important as content,” Melanie says. “A lot of times we are looking for things like body language and eye contact. When trainees work here, they are on the phone. But when they get to a club, they are expected to do events and face-to-face meetings and visit with clients and advertisers. They need to be able to look people in the eye and know with confidence what they need to say. We can select talented people to come through the program, but if they don’t have confidence in themselves and their abilities, it won’t matter. They will hold themselves back.”
Bryant agrees and adds that a big part of the appeal of the program to trainees is that while the NSC is teaching them the profession of sales; students are also learning larger lessons that will make them successful in life.
“In developing the confidence of young people, nothing is more important than the power of feedback,” Bryant says. “Sure, we are training top notch sales executives to sell tickets for MLS, but we are also developing confident young people.”
CUSTOM CONTENT BOOSTS ENGAGEMENT
The NSC implemented SkillFitness in January 2014. Melanie said she was impressed with the ease of deployment.
“The implementation was about as user friendly as you can get,” Melanie says. “It’s been really well received and easy to use. As far as our experience with technology, this has been the best rollout we’ve had. It’s also been very easy to do our own content.”
The NSC has customized their training program by having each team’s head of sales – called the Chief Ticketing Officer (CTO) – deliver content. Melanie and her team provide a brief outline or talking points to the CTO who film themselves in a short video – often just using their iPad. The video is then sent to the NSC, where the skill module is created in-house for Melanie and Bryant’s approval.
Sharing the wisdom of experienced CTO's and senior sales people brought the NSC’s training to a new level, Bryant says. “It was a sea change in the program,” he says. “These are the people our graduates will eventually work for. Now the content is coming from people who are out there doing this at the highest level. With the use of our top MLS sales people as content experts, we saw a much higher level of engagement with the training and feedback overall has been much higher.”
ANYTIME, ANYWHERE LEARNING AND COACHING
Unlike many video-role-playing platforms which only run on desktops or tablets, SkillFitness is built on apps specifically designed for tablets and smart phones running the Apple iOS or Android platform. Use of smartphones has been an important part of the programs’ success, the NSC training team says.
Melanie says trainees appreciate the fact they can use SkillFitness on their mobile phones to complete the modules anytime, anywhere. Students are typically assigned two modules a week during their first month or two of making sales calls. Trainees are given a 24-hour deadline to complete their assignment.
“Putting SkillFitness on the iPhone was a game changer for us,” Melanie says. “And now it is available on Android so almost anyone can do it. The ability to access it as opposed to having to log into a computer – that’s what our trainees want. They are just so used to being able to do whatever they want on their phones. If this were a web-based thing, I don’t think they would do it.”
Bryant agrees and says SkillFitness mobile-centric approach is also important to the training managers who provide coaching – often from their smart phones.
“Mobile flexibility is also huge from a managerial standpoint,” he adds. “Members of the leadership team who’ve been assigned to provide coaching and offer feedback have been able to do it while waiting for a plane at an airport, during a break at a kid’s event or while relaxing at home.”
RESULTS AND FUTURE PLANS
Bryant and Melanie say they are confident that SkillFitness has had a major impact on their trainees’ success.
“Over the last year we’ve seen call evaluation scores go up, higher revenue, and trainees hitting performance thresholds earlier in the program than in the past,” Melanie says. “I think anything that helps with practicing skills helps improve those results. With SkillFitness, that’s one thing we’ve really been pushing this year: the more you practice on your own, the better you will be.”
What’s next for Major League Soccer’s NSC and SkillFitness? Within the league, Bryant and Melanie say they plan to expand the platform to NSC alumni and also to sales people who did not come through the NSC program. These experts will provide real-world experience, create content and encourage community, share best practices, coach each other, and mentor the NSC’s trainees.
EXPANDING SKILLFITNESS TO OTHER LEAGUES
Success also breeds success. The NSC has been gaining a lot of recognition among other professional sports leagues for their innovative and forward-thinking approach to sales training and development. As a result, they have been asked to provide training and coaching to professionals in the United Soccer League and National Women’s Soccer League, and in the process have brought them on board with SkillFitness.
“As a league, we love fostering idea sharing and feedback,” Melanie says. “This is a really easy and immediate way of doing that as opposed getting everyone together twice a year. And it doesn’t just have to be for sales people. It gets back to what people are used to now: immediate access, immediate feedback, and being able to use it whenever they want. That’s something that’s valuable in a lot of different realms and it’s something that if companies aren’t implementing, they are going to fall behind because that’s what their people want.”
Want to learn more about Major League Soccer's National Sales Center and their unique approach to training Millennials? Read Teaching Millennials to Sell: 6 Tips from Major League Soccer in the SkillFitness blog.