Credit: Photo: Olaru Radian-Alexandru

When well-known industry sales trainer Phil Rea makes his first sales call of the day, he still gets “a little jittery” even after 36 years and some 15,000 in-home presentations. To minimize jitters, he prepares by listening to training CDs in the car. “On the way to the appointment, you need to be working,” Rea says. “It's part of the job.”

LISTEN, AND LISTEN AGAIN Rea and other consultants compare getting ready for a sales call to the practice that takes place before playing a sport.

Actually, all professionals — from teachers to lawyers to salespeople — need to prepare before work, says Joe Talmon, vice president of Larmco Windows in Columbus, Ohio. “It's odd that, historically, salespeople go to the office, turn in their paperwork in the morning, go play golf, jump in the car, play some tunes as they drive to the lead, and presto, expect to make the sale.” His advice: Repeatedly listen to motivational and training tapes so that you absorb the message.

“The first time you hear a [training] CD, mostly it's entertainment,” Talmon says. “You have to listen to it over and over. How do you know you've listened enough? When you own it.” He is currently recording his own sales CDs.

Kelly Mans, a salesman for Southwestern Remodeling, says he can listen to a CD many times and still catch one pointer or be reminded of something useful he'd forgotten. Mans, who has worked for the Wichita, Kan., contractor since 2001, says that since he started listening to material by Rea, Zig Ziglar, and others, his income has tripled and his sales volume has increased 77%. “I'm feeling more comfortable in the house and in front of people,” he says.

A SMILE AND CONFIDENCE In theory, Michael Sullivan agrees with listening to training CDs on the way to appointments. His two salespeople do so about a third of the time, estimates the general manager of Lifetime Window and Door in East Hanover, N.J. More would be better, he says. “Most reps get complacent. They've done this 5,000 times.”

The problem is that the longest drive in the contractor's area is 12 minutes — not a lot of time to get pumped up listening to motivational material. One salesman says he makes a point of listening to classic rock on his MP3 player. And classic rock isn't always such a bad idea: “At the minimum, listening to music puts a smile on your face so you knock on that door smiling and confident,” Talmon says.

—Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.