Being “Pitch Perfect” is Not Just for the Birds

We can learn a lot from the way songbirds learn perfect pitch. A bird’s ability to sing is a core, fundamental skill, but it doesn’t happen right away. Scientists from UCSF tell us that birds must train their voices from an early age. “When zebra finches are born, they don’t make a peep for 30 days. Instead, they listen to adults around them and develop  a mental model of what a song should sound like.”

Postdoctoral researcher at UCSF, Hamish Mehaffey, goes on to say that this mental note acts like a template of what they should be practicing. Then, the young finches spend the next few months experimenting trial-and-error to perfect their own songs.

(If you’d like to know more, there’s also the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s amazing project, Practice, Perfect, where you can listen to young songbirds practice—to perfect their unique songs.)

This way of learning by doing and experimenting by trial-and-error is among the most effective ways to see improvement in skills and performance. As the leader of several tech companies over the years, I’ve been accountable for top line revenue and the people that get us there. Without exception, the secret to their sales success is in “learning how to sing.”

False Starts

Like you, I’ve endured my share of celebrity/guru-led motivational sales events; secret sales strategies, the latest sales methodologies, online courses; and “anything/everything sales”—delivered online, by video, and on CD or cassette tape. (OK, so I’m not a Millennial.) From all of these motivational, stimulating, and informative sales training/learning experiences. I always walked away frustrated, especially within a few weeks of the event.

For all we we received in these sessions, I discovered that most of our reps lacked the core ability to communicate with confidence. They could not express our differentiating factors and value proposition in a powerful compelling way—especially while under pressure. The good ones did all right, but most never improved, despite the motivational investment.

The Art of Attaining Perfect Pitch

The key to performing under pressure is practice—and being prepared when it comes to core, fundamental skills. A focus on basic skills, committed to habit, enables a foundational confidence. With it, every sales person can communicate in a more powerful way, even under pressure.

It doesn’t happen automatically, or by being inspired. If you want to have that “perfect pitch,” it means practicing, repeating, and communicating with confidence based on more practice. This kind of practice culture is best enabled by effective, affordable sales coaching and a sales team motivated to learn-by-doing.

It’s great to have a unique sales process, a knowledge of the latest sales strategies, and a full arsenal of tools and data, but that’s not enough. If you and your team are unable to consistently communicate the basic stuff, under pressure, then you’re missing the point.

I encourage managers to lead organizations to value practice as a big part of their culture and I urge sales teams to get back to basics, to observe, practice, practice again, and perfect their sales until they are pitch perfect—just like songbirds.