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Muscle Memory Management

How to Get it Right Every Time For Each Customer


As a young man growing up in Boston, my father used to take me to see the great Boston Celtics play basketball.  He loved the game and, like most Bostonians, he was a devoted Celtics fan.  Back then, one of the stars on the team was 6’ 9” Larry Bird who had everything going for him and eventually, his talent made him a 12-time NBA All-Star and the Leagues’ MVP three years in a row from 1984-86.

Lessons from Larry Bird

It was so exciting being at the games with my father and seeing Larry Bird so often save the game with a jump shot when there were only three or four seconds left to play.  After the game, when everyone else was filing out of the stadium, we would wait there in our seats for what my father used as a tremendous teaching opportunity for me.  After about thirty minutes, Larry Bird would come back on the court alone and find a spot to start shooting jump shots one after the other from the same spot on the court, over and over again, making almost every shot.   When everyone else was back in the locker room or headed out to celebrate the victory, Larry Bird would come back to the court and shoot at least fifty baskets to perfect the shot that so often won the game at the last moment. 

Why did he do this?  So he could create what is known in the sports world as ‘Muscle Memory.’  This allowed him to make this shot every time without ever having to think.  His body and mind were so trained on how to make that shot that he did it with ease.

The Value of Muscle Memory in Sales Training

The value of Muscle Memory Management is not limited to perfecting athletic skills only.  Foreign language learning is another field where this process has proven to be of great advantage.  Ian Lewis, a Google Developer Advocate, living and working in Japan, had this to say about Muscle Memory and language learning: 

“I’ve come to believe that learning a language is as much about muscle memory as about learning. Speaking a language is a real time activity. You need to be able to respond to a query, ideally, in about a second, and absolutely within a few seconds. Getting that kind of speed requires practice. You need to be able to understand commonly used phrases quickly, and react properly when you don’t know how to respond. The only way to really get better at conversation is to talk to people.  And the more you talk to the better.”

So what has this to do with the retail automotive industry?  Everything when it comes to certain aspects of sales training.  Sales Managers or trainers must teach their salespeople through the use of repetitive role playing where they repeat over and over again the obstacle or objection and the salesperson repeats the same response every time.  Using Muscle Memory Management in this way can be very effective and create powerful and lasting results.  Benjamin Franklin understood this clearly and is attributed with the saying:  “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Muscle memory is the ability of our mind to record and store a particular activity or movement.  Like learning to ride a bike when you are a child:  Once you’ve got it, you do not have to learn it again, even if it is years before you ride a bicycle again. This is because our muscle memory registers the required muscle movements so that they can be performed flawlessly, even after many years without practice.  It works the same way for things like learning to drive a stick shift, swimming and a lot of other activities that at first require focused attention.  Once you have them mastered, they are with you forever.

Anyone who has attended our DLA Training sales courses knows how much emphasis we place on role-playing as the best way to absorb processes and information and make it your own. Using Muscle Memory Management training takes things to an even higher level where the person learns not only how to respond correctly, but takes ownership of the information to the point that it becomes nearly impossible to say it wrong. 

Role Playing Over and Over Again

Taking these same methods back to the dealership and consistently developing the right responses to customers by repeating them over and over and over until they take root in the subconscious is how the process works.  You must do this for 10 minutes every day to make sure it sticks.  If each response takes a month, it is well worth the time and effort.  By focusing on only one obstacle or objection response and repeating it over and over again, it becomes so natural that the salesperson will not have to think about it when a customer presents their obstacle or objection.  The Muscle Memory of the correct answer will give an immediate response to draw from that perfectly matches the obstacle from the customer.

Take for instance the following dialogue between a customer and a salesperson with a very common Meet and Greet obstacle: 

Customer: “I only have a limited amount of time.” 

Salesperson:  “I appreciate that and I will do my best to help you within the timeframe that you have available. So does that mean you do not have to buy a car today?”

Customer:  “No. Not today.”

Salesperson:  “Great! That takes a lot of pressure off of me.  I would be glad to spend some time with you and show you everything we have to offer.  If you see something you like, just let me know and I will get the keys and show you inside the vehicle and you can even take a test drive if you would like.  What I am going to do is let you control the clock.  Just give me a few minutes notice before you need to leave and I can get you some brochures and pricing on the cars that caught your eye for you to take home to consider.  So, are you looking for a new or a used car?”

This is a perfect example of an excellent non-threatening response to that obstacle which, when repeated over and over again during role-playing can become a powerful way to move the customer forward in the sales presentation.  The more a salesperson uses this in role-playing or during actual customer interaction, the more natural it becomes, ultimately requiring little or no effort on their part.

If you are a Sales Manager divide your salespeople into groups of four or five.  Meet with them each day at a specific time.  Pick one topic and have everyone role play it one time.  You will notice that the one who does it last will do a better job because they heard the others one state the response.  Have each person do it one time at each session.  Continue with the same topic every day until you are convinced they all have it down perfectly, then move on to the next topic.

Invest the time now and it will pay tremendous dividends.  Practice every day to develop Muscle Memory Management and both you and your staff will become the best, just like Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics of the 80’s. 

David Lewis
David Lewis
David’s firm is a national training and consulting business that specializes in the retail automotive industry. He also is the author of four industry-related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The Leadership Factor,” “Understanding Your Customer” and “The Common Mistakes Automotive Salespeople Make.” Visit his website at

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