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How to Train Cats and Salespeople

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By John Boe

Which do you think would be harder to train, a cat or a salesperson? Seriously, which one would you pick? While it’s true that cats have a well-deserved reputation for being independent, demanding and virtually impossible to train, the same can be said for many salespeople. I recently came across an unexpected example of the same training and reward techniques required to get Fluffy to jump through a hoop can also be utilized to motivate you and your sales team to achieve peak performance!

One evening while channel surfing I came across a fascinating animal act that grabbed my attention. The act featured a cat trainer with a half dozen cats of varying size, shape and color. Unlike a circus lion tamer who attempts to intimidate with a chair and whip, this man simply used a combination of treats and verbal praise to motivate his cats to perform difficult tricks. Using only soothing voice tones and a pocket full of cat treats, he would calmly command each cat to do its own specific trick. Amazingly, he got one cat to walk on his front paws, one balanced on a ball, while yet another pushed a toy baby stroller across the stage.

After the performance, the cat trainer was interviewed and asked how he was able to get his cats to willingly obey his commands. His response surprised me with its simple wisdom. He said that he didn’t train the cats at all, he simply figured out what each cat liked to do best and then encouraged that behavior! “People need to realize that a cat’s indifference doesn’t mean they can’t learn cool tricks,” says celebrity animal trainer Joel Silverman. “It simply means you haven’t convinced them yet that doing so is in their best interest. A dog naturally wants to please you and will work for you, but a cat needs a paycheck to be motivated.”

Five Training Tips

1. Temperament testing is a must! Before you invest your time and energy into training make sure you check for temperament suitability. Temperament testing allows you to identify those who by nature lack the discipline, desire or self-motivation to consistently achieve peak performance. Sales managers who lack the benefit of temperament understanding are inclined to place too much emphasize on their gut-level feeling during the hiring process. If you hire someone that is not suited for the position, you will experience low morale, high turnover and find yourself constantly in the training mode. On the other hand, when you recruit the right person you will find that they are self-motivated and eager to train.

2. Look for “hot buttons.” Traditionally, sales managers have relied primarily on commission to motivate their sales force. Unfortunately, a compensation structure based solely on commission does not address individual motivational factors and therefore, money alone will not motivate your sales force. A successful incentive program is a mixture of awards, recognition and peer pressure. There is tremendous power behind a timely word of praise or a handwritten note acknowledging achievement. While money is certainly an important ingredient in any incentive program, it should by no means be the only tool in a manager’s motivational toolbox. If money by itself were a sufficient motivation, commission-based salespeople would simply sell more without additional enticement.

3. Make the training fun and positive. People have pretty short attention spans and low boredom thresholds. Keep lessons short, interesting and always try to end on a positive note.

4. Be patient. It’s important to respect individual abilities and preferences. Make allowances for personality, and don’t get frustrated if the training schedule doesn’t go exactly as expected. Remember that people have off days and on days. “When I’m really pushing and the going gets tough,” says Silverman, “sometimes the cat just sits down and says, ‘I give up.’ Even the brightest cats, if they feel you’re pushing them too hard, will, in effect, say, ‘That’s it, buddy, I’m going to go over there, sit down, and stare into space.”

5. Make sure to take time for rest and relaxation. All work and no play will make the cat, the salesperson and the trainer grumpy. Whether it is playing with a ball of yarn or enjoying a round of golf, taking time out to play is critically important. By successfully balancing play and work, you will return recharged, refreshed and ready to accomplish more.

By incorporating these five powerful tips into your training program, you will develop an award-winning sales team and achieve unbelievable results!

John Boe presents a wide variety of motivational and sales-oriented keynotes and seminar programs for sales meetings and conventions. For more information, visit www.johnboe.com.

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