I’m not a boxer. I realize this now after I was handily beaten in the ring by a senior citizen. Over the past year, I’ve been attending public boxing classes. The experience is straightforward. You wrap your hands, put on your gloves, stand in front of a heavy bag and follow the trainer as he or she calls out combos. You can amp it up as much as you like while you pound away on the bag with all your energy and intensity. Meanwhile, the trainer comes around and spot-checks your technique. Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. If you work to follow the correct technique of elbows in, hands up, rotating your core and moving your feet, the pounding away on the bag becomes a lot harder than merely throwing punches on an imaginary face on a bag.

There’s nothing wrong with 60 minutes of freelance lefts, rights, uppercuts, and hooks. You’re still going to walk away exhausted and drenched in sweat, the mark of any good workout. Sometimes the trainer puts on the punch mitts and walks around inviting individuals to tee-off on the mitts as he moves them from left to right and up and down. This creates another level of intensity. As each punch connects with the mitt, a loud crack rings out from the impact, providing the participant a false sense of actually knowing what he or she is doing.

A few months ago, I was in the gym and the owner asked me if I wanted to get into the right for the first time. I figured – absolutely! I had left plenty of indents on the heavy bag, and the music from the mitt punches I’d created gave me just enough confidence to think I could do it. The moment I stepped into the ring, the old guy (and, yes, he looked like Mick from Rocky) nonchalantly threw something to me. While climbing through the ropes onto the mat, I reached up to catch the object. It was headgear. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was going to be throwing punches.

It didn’t take Mick (never caught his real name) more than 30 seconds to snap my head back with a solid cross. I ended up going just over two rounds with him, and yes, the older guy took it to me.

Technique on Its Own Means Nothing

In addition to all the jokes at my expense, there are also some not so obvious sales lessons to pull out of this experience. The biggest lesson for me is simple. Technique on its own means nothing. Yes, I can hit the stationary heavy bag and moving punch mitts with decent technique, maybe even to the point where I could teach a heavy bag class, but a boxer, I am not – not yet. Good technique doesn’t make you good at something. Real experiences, failures, mistakes, and consistency together make you good.

If you are in any kind of sales role, why should this matter? No doubt you’ve been to many sales seminars and workshops, and your office cabinets and shelves display an impressive collection of binders and books representing your knowledge and prowess in the art of sales.

But after collecting hundreds and maybe thousands of pages on the subject, how often have you actually stepped into the right to apply that wealth of theory and technique?

Sometimes, people work hard to give off an impression or vibe that they are really good at that they do. They know the language, the buzzwords, and they are up on trends so that they can easily convince themselves and others that they can perform. Of course, most of them are also some of the loudest critics and judges of others. It’s easy to perform in the safety of a classroom or hitting a stationary object.

Swinging away on a heavy bag with all you have will wear you out and will probably feel rewarding, but the heavy bag doesn’t hit back. Entering a conversation with a prospect and throwing all your ideas at him may also feel rewarding, but the prospect will hit back. They hit back by spending their energy disqualifying your ideas, so they can often rationalize and justify doing nothing. But what would happen if instead of working hard to understand the superficial and intellectual component of sales technique, you worked hard at getting into the ring and applying what you know – even after a few headshots? You’ve probably taken your share of punches from prospects, how do you feel about landing a few of your own?