5 Tips Sales Leaders Can Learn From The US Air Force

Written by: Glen Barnes
5 tips US Air Force
Sales people may not know it, but they have a lot in common with recruiters working for the United States Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard.

If your industry has gotten more competitive, you have less leads, or you’re talking with prospects who don’t fully understand the benefits of what you do — you’re not alone. Those are common challenges facing many salespeople today, and they’re the same ones the Air Force (and all Departments of Defense) are overcoming.

Given the similarities between recruiters and salespeople, and the strong history of the Air Force hitting recruitment numbers, there are some great tips sales leaders can learn to make things a bit easier on their salespeople. 

Tip #1: Do the hard work to improve your positioning in the market

If your customers had to describe you in just one word, what would it be? Once you have that answered, ask them what their actual answer is to see if your perception lines up with theirs.

If customers don’t understand who you are, what you do, and why you do it, they’re not going to talk to you. The military’s Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies (JAMRS) conducted a quarterly survey and found that less than 1% of people in the target age demographic for Air Force recruitment knew anything about Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

They don’t know about the increase to certain sign-on bonuses, or that they can earn college credit while in training, or the wide array of career paths they could start through the Air Force, besides flying and working on jets.

This is a key example of why it’s important for your sales and marketing teams to be on the same page. The Air Force marketing team is doing their part by playing a commercial in theaters before Top Gun Maverick. The commercial can be viewed on www.airforce.com.

Individual recruiters have to do their part to improve their positioning in the market as well. As a salesperson, how often do you share valuable insights on social media? Are you adopting new technology to communicate and work with customers? Do you ask deep, insightful questions that show you’re thinking about your customers’ overall strategy? Do you go above and beyond to ensure customers have an excellent customer experience?

Making sure you are seen as a strategic resource will increase customers’ confidence in doing business with you.

Tip #2: Create a competitive advantage by focusing on how you’re different

If you were to name the Air Force’s competitors, who would it be? Chances are good you’re thinking about other branches of the military — like the Army, Navy, or Marines. Would it surprise you to learn that companies like Starbucks, Apple, Walmart, McDonalds, and Amazon are also competitors?

Whether you’re up against a direct competitor who offers a similar product/service, or an indirect competitor who attempts to sway your customers away by leading them in a completely different direction — you have to focus on your differences to stand out.

To do this, it’s vital that you ask prospects good questions so you can position your differences as positives. The recruiter for the Air National Guard, for example, might ask questions to gauge a candidate’s sense of community knowing they respond to local emergencies while the Air Force Reserve (a federal component of the Air Force) does not. 

Other branches of the military offer a similar (but not the same) experience. Each branch offers specific job opportunities, and has a different culture. Recruiters are leaning into the skills they’ve learned through the IMPACT Selling System to really understand what potential recruits want. 

The skill of asking good questions, listening to answers, and connecting what a person wants to your solution is also how recruiters handle competition from retail companies. Many of these companies offer tuition assistance or free education. A recruiter has to determine if tuition assistance is the only thing a potential recruit wants. If it is, then a fast food company might do. If, however, they want to get paid while learning a transferable skill, serve their country, and get tuition assistance, then service in the Air Force may be a better option.

Tip #3: Don’t let disruption change your selling fundamentals

While it’s understandable that disruption causes changes, it’s important to ensure salespeople stick with their sales fundamentals.

Each component of the Air Force has an authorized number of personnel they are allowed to have. In the mid to late 90’s, the authorized number for the active Air Force started to drop. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve recruiters had a slew of Air Force veterans coming to them with 8-12 years of service under their belts, looking for a place to serve for another 8-12 years to get to retirement. It’s fairly similar to when business is good, and customers are calling you to buy your products.

Once the authorized number leveled off sometime in the early 2000’s, recruiters had to shift. Their world had been disrupted, and they had to find other strategies to keep recruitment numbers up. They looked to other branches of the military, and got into their local communities and schools. The mindset change was difficult for some, but because recruiters used principles from the IMPACT Selling System, they didn’t deviate from their recruitment process. 

“What” they had to do changed, but “how” they did it — their process — remained the same.

As a result, the Air Force Reserve hasn’t missed their recruiting goal since implementing The Brooks Group’s IMPACT Selling System in 2001. The Air National Guard followed suit, and hasn’t missed their recruitment goal since adopting IMPACT in 2007.

Tip #4: Get all your salespeople on the same page

While it’s important to have a selling framework and methodology in place, it’s also important to make sure it’s implemented by everyone on the team.

Seasoned sales professionals who may be new to the team likely have “their way” of doing things. This is all well and good, but can present significant problems if there’s any trouble. Sales managers aren’t able to coach their team with strategies they don’t use. It also limits accountability, and makes it difficult for leaders to identify areas of improvement, if for example, you ask to see their pre-call plan and they tell you they’ve been in sales long enough that they no longer need one.

The Air Force will sometimes pair seasoned recruiters with newer ones so they can teach each other what they know. Seasoned recruiters understand how to recruit. They understand the process, what to do, and when to do it. Younger recruiters have an advantage when it comes to using technology. They know how to reach the younger audience, and by working in tandem each recruiter, new and experienced, is able to improve.

Effective salespeople have a process they follow. Make sure everyone on your team understands that everyone has to use the same playbook if they expect to win.

Tip #5: Use tools to enhance coaching effectiveness

The Brooks Group is best known for our IMPACT Selling System, but we also have various hiring assessments, and tools to track progress that the Air Force uses.

There can be a multitude of reasons a salesperson struggles to hit their sales goal. The Air Force uses a tracking system to see how many leads each recruiter has, and how many they called, qualified, interviewed, processed, and enlisted. This makes it easier to spot areas that need coaching.

All recruiters learn the IMPACT Selling System. They are then given 54 scenario-based questions about the selling process they learned, which is called the Military Recruiting Sales Index (MRSI). This index tells commanding officers how well each recruit understands the process. The commercial version of this tool is called the Sales Strategy Index.

Another tool used is the Joint Call Audit. A recruiter is observed in real time during an interview with an applicant, and the observer follows a checklist to make sure the system is followed. Without this type of tool, calls are either labeled “good” or “bad” based on their outcome, instead of on how well the recruiter understood the applicant in front of them, asked questions, and used the answers to connect the dots to how enlisting not only got the recruit what they wanted, but also aligned with their values.

Selling fundamentals help when times are tough

The US Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve’s use of the IMPACT Selling System gives recruiters the solid fundamentals they need for the best chance of reaching their recruitment goals. Your salespeople can learn the same system, and by the end of their training they’ll know how to provide value by asking the right questions, confidently enter difficult conversations, and understand the art of negotiation to close more deals. Give us a call and tell us about your specific situation, and see how we can help you achieve your sales goals this year, and beyond.

The Brooks Group would also like to send a big thank you to the US Air Force for sharing their experiences, stories, and lessons they’ve learned from the IMPACT Selling System in contribution to this article.

Written By

Glen Barnes

Glen Barnes is the Group Vice President, Government Services for the Brooks Group. Glen is a 30+ year Air Force Veteran with 20+ years of experience in military recruiting management. He combines these experiences to create custom recommendations for clients looking to improve the overall performance of their recruiting and sales organizations.
Written By

Glen Barnes

Glen Barnes is the Group Vice President, Government Services for the Brooks Group. Glen is a 30+ year Air Force Veteran with 20+ years of experience in military recruiting management. He combines these experiences to create custom recommendations for clients looking to improve the overall performance of their recruiting and sales organizations.

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