Maintaining momentum in a sales career requires a proactive, disciplined approach. There are many things to consider and put together to achieve an effective selling week and sales year. The onus is on us, the salesperson, to make the most of what we have.
However, many salespeople unfortunately adopt the approach that it is their company’s responsibility to train and educate them, to provide everything they need before they can truly be effective as salespeople.
By contrast, enlightened, highly effective salespeople recognise that they need to invest in themselves, invest in their own learning and continuous development, make the most of what they have and create opportunities whatever their resources.
A five year longitudinal *study of more than 1000 B2B salespeople from 40 industries looked at what separates top performing sales people from average ones and revealed, amongst other things, that these top performers took a proactive approach to their ongoing development; they took responsibility for their part in helping their company and customers be successful; and they continuously looked at ways they could attain mastery in their sales careers – despite management and resources, and always without prompting.
So what can we learn from these top sales performers? What do we have to do now to keep our sales wheels turning? How do we create our own perpetual learning environment (PLE) to help us be successful?
1. Adopt a learning mindset
The first thing is that you need to be open to learning. We don’t mean this in the formal classroom sense though; it is about a mindset of being open to seeing every opportunity – good and bad – as a learning opportunity. Thus it is about self-reflection, recognising your part in the processes you are involved in. The top sales performers from the study engage in self-appraisal and continuous learning.
- Ask for feedback on their performance and the degree to which they met clients’ expectations;
- Collaborate with colleagues and do not allow competitiveness to get in the way;
- Recognise and act on the need for continuous learning and development; and
- Evaluate their performance and competencies and initiate development activities without prompting.
2. Collaborate with others to get the job done
Selling is often portrayed as a solitary role – salespeople out on the road running their own territories, the lone wolf, and so on. Top sales performers are not the lone wolf type. They know the importance and power of collaboration both within their own organisation and out with their clients and networks.
- Invest time building collaborative, customer-focused relationships inside their organization;
- Keep current on developments that affect customers’ business strategies including emerging trends and customers’ competitors;
- Look for ways to contribute to customers’ profitability and that of their own companies,
- Creatively draw on the full resources of their organization;
- Excel at aligning customer/supplier strategic objectives;
- Use internal resources in ways that are appropriate to the potential profitability of serving individual customers; and
- Introduce customers to other suppliers and potentially valuable support resources.
3. Develop a mastery mindset
Now some of you are already doing these things and this is merely an acknowledgement and validation of your life skill practices. However, if we expect our organisations to provide us with all the support we need to be effective sales professionals, we might remain waiting. What we all need to do is step up to the plate, take the initiative and invest in ourselves.
Top sales performers see their relationship with their organisation as a partnership – one where they work together in concert to make the most of the opportunities available to them. Developing effective sales capabilities is more than a one or two day training event on sales theory and skills. If you want to emulate top performing salespeople and become one yourself then you need to take a holistic approach by integrating both formal and informal elements into your daily practices.
The most effective way to learn and develop a skill, behaviour or mindset is to apply it and practice it on the job and in real life situations. Paying conscious attention to the core elements of your sales role you will begin to internalise, own and apply what you learn. In that way what you learn becomes habit and part of your way of being.
We cannot expect to become masters in our chosen field overnight. Expecting quick fixes is delusional. Attaining mastery in anything is always a challenge. In his bestselling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink says three “peculiar” rules guide mastery:
- “Mastery is mindset: it requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable.
- Mastery is pain: It demands effort, grit, and deliberate practice.
- Mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realise, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.”
4. Create your own Perpetual Learning Environment
There is a lot to think about to keep the sales wheels turning. That is why top sales performers create a schedule which incorporates a range of activities to keep them on track to the rhythm of their continuous development.
To create your own perpetual learning environment it is most useful to map out how you are going to be continuously learning, what to reflect upon, which insights will keep you fresh and on your toes.
Create a schedule that includes weekly, monthly and quarterly activities
Underlying principles of a Perpetual Learning Environment (PLE):
The core idea of perpetual learning is that learning becomes part of your daily routines. Thus ‘routine’ is not a state where you are driven by what you know and are skilled to do without much reflection or effort.
Routine in a Perpetual Learning Environment is engaging yourself, your brain, in learning on a daily basis. If after a long working day you can’t answer the question “what have I learned today?” then learning is not yet part of your routine. To get to this state you have to make yourself aware – continuously – of what is happening with you, around you, and reflect upon it – if only for a few minutes – to see if there is anything, even the smallest thing, that you would want to do differently the next time.
It is the acknowledgment that, in an ever-changing environment, learning never ends. It is key to keeping our sales wheels turning.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.
*Business Horizons, Jan 2001/Feb 2001, Vol 44, Issue 1. ‘Seven Emerging Sales Competencies’ Rosenbaum, B.
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au