During an interview with the authors of The Challenger Sale, as well as during a LinkedIn exchange with Dick Ruff, we flirted with the ideas around what salespeople can and cannot be easily taught and trained.
One of the questions was “what exactly is business acumen?” Is it simply being able to read a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet? How do you get it? How can you tell who has it and how much? How can you tell what they still need? These are tough questions. For my money, I believe business acumen is broad and general understanding of how business works that allows one to generate good ideas and to make sound business judgments.
The second comment that got my attention was whether it is possible to teach salespeople to make great language choices (this was in reference to my post about diplomatic language choices). It’s difficult, and everyone knows it.
There is more that you need to know that can easily be taught. And there isn’t enough time anyway.
If you would be excellent, you have to develop yourself.
Training Isn’t Enough
You can go run down all of the facts on your own if you wish to, but we know that much of what you are taught in sales training isn’t retained. Event training is efficient for passing on information to a large group of people, but it isn’t all that effective.
We also know that there is much more that we would like to teach and train salespeople, and that they would like very much to learn more. In a perfect world, you could be taught and trained. But there isn’t enough time to do all of the teaching, training, and coaching that both the salesperson and the sales organizations would want were it a perfect world.
We also know that your company isn’t even aware of much of what you need to learn or much of what you need to develop as a salesperson. How could they? You know better than anyone else what you need to do to develop yourself and grow in your abilities and skills.
That’s why you have to do it yourself. Your personal and professional development is your responsibility. The sooner you take ownership for your own development, the sooner you will be producing better sales results.
Step One: Write a Development Plan
The first step you need to take is to make a plan for your personal and professional development. You need to identify the areas in which you need to improve. You need to determine how you can go about gaining that development. And then you have to schedule and commit the time to work on those areas.
Your model sales week should contain personal and professional development time, and it doesn’t have to eat into the time you sell. Listen to audio books on the way to work and on the way home from work. Listen to them on the way to and from appointments. Take a class one night a week. Take an online class. Do something!
I keep a massive list of all things I would like to know more about. I have a list of books on Kindle. I have a long list of links to read and study. I have a list of classes I want to take (in addition to the classes I am taking now). I also have an iPod with audio books and training programs that I keep in my car.
Figure out what you need to learn, and make a plan to learn it.
Step Two: Treat Everything As a Learning Opportunity
The second way to improve is to treat everything as an opportunity to learn and develop. Everyone you encounter has something that they can teach you (even if they teach you what not to do), and every interaction offers some lesson for those that are willing to notice them. I have learned more from riding a bicycle and taking aikido as I have from almost any other endeavor.
Your life is full of learning opportunities, including your work life.
You can learn from your clients on sales calls; they would love to teach you their business. You can learn from the team members within your own company; you have subject matter experts who are happy to share with you all they know (some want to share even more than you will have time for). You can learn from every sales call you make, if you plan your calls and your desired outcomes and then ask yourself what you learned, what you did well, and what you might be able to improve. If something needs improving, write it down and add it to your development plan—then seek to learn and try again.
Treat everything as a learning opportunity. It is if you are open to learning and pay attention.
Step Three: Journal Your Leaning
Codify your learning by writing down what you have learned. It ingrains it into your nervous system, your working knowledge, and how you act in the future. And it’s easy.
Write down what you learned, the lessons or knowledge gained. Then write down how you learned it. Finally, write down how you will apply that learning in future situations.
Personally, I have found that good questions are better than great answers. If you learned something about, say, making a good sale call, write down the questions that will prompt you to consider what you have learned when you are planning your next sales call. A journal of written lessons learned and the questions you should ask yourself will help you to develop.
But this just covers some lessons. How about things you learn about business? You can write that down and codify that learning to. After a sales meeting, write down what you learned about your client’s business. Write down how it might apply to other similar client’s businesses. After an internal sales meeting, write down new observations that you have made. Did someone use particularly effective language? Write it down. Did someone share an important insight that might help you be more effective in the future? Capture it.
I keep all of this in Evernote. It’s easy and always with me.
Make a personal and professional development plan. Treat everything as a learning opportunity. Codify your learning.
What do you need to learn that isn’t going to be part of your sales training?
Who is responsible for your sales effectiveness? Your personal effectiveness?
What do you need to learn right now to be more effective?
Do you treat everything as an opportunity to learn something? Are you curious enough?
How do you codify you learning in way that allows you to apply it to your future?
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