Pay-off: learn to improve sales efficiently by tackling learning in the right order
Investment: 10 minutes
This post is for individuals wishing to improve their sales performance but also sales directors, team leaders, and those in L&D who contribute to sales learning and development decisions. Note that part 2, next week is written specifically for L&D and sales leaders to help them consider a unique approach to efficiently improving sales performance. (You can sign up to be notified at the top if interested).
I have written this post to help technical sales, professional service and ‘non-sales’ people first and foremost. Please share it with these people as hopefully they’ll find it useful.
One of the main reasons yours (or your team’s) sales results don’t improve is that your sales habits and behaviours don’t consistently improve.
One of the main reasons why your sales habits and behaviours don’t consistently improve is that your sales learning and implementation are either non-existent, inconsistent, unorganised or ineffective.
This post will help you begin to fix that.
Four reasons (sales) learning fails
There are four main reasons why sales learning often fails (and let’s use planting and growing a seed as a useful metaphor to think about these):
1.It’s not being done at all. If decision makers prefer their teams to continue to do their jobs the way they always have, my guess is they are yet to taste and experience learning that actually works and notably improves results and rewards beyond the investment.
That’s like taking the seed that could grow and throwing it out the window. It won’t grow where you want it to, that’s for sure (but it might still grow elsewhere…)
Reminds me of this old one:
CFO: what if we train our people and they leave?
CEO: what if we don’t train our people and they stay?
2.It’s done as a tick box exercise – a one-off training session to convince people that you value people development.
That’s like planting a seed but not watering it.
3.The learning approach is being forced upon you. You’re being ‘trained’ by a course, e-course or presentation from an ‘expert’ (or worse, someone who had a go at pulling a course together because ‘surely it can’t be that hard?’)
That’s like watching one person demonstrate how they planted their chosen seed, their way, at the time they did in a different season to you.
Learning in this way doesn’t usually let you attend to your own seed, and is rather passive. Value can still be obtained of course, but it’s often hit and miss.
4.Learners haven’t learned how to find their unique most efficient path to learning new revenue-generating skills, knowledge and behaviours that stick and transfer into measurable results.
That’s like trying to plant and care for your seed with good intentions, but not really knowing where to start and not knowing how to best pot, water, feed, position and care for your plant to keep it growing strong and healthy.
We’ll begin to fix this shortly.
The shorter learning path that works
Notice how points 1-3 are mostly out of your control. Someone else pulls those strings.
Point 4 however, is controlled by the learner, you. No one can hold you down when you take charge and self-direct your learning.
And obviously, in sales, you, your manager, your team, your customer, your family, and your business all tend to benefit from your improved performance. Because you become a better more efficient conduit for connecting and exchanging value. It’s no surprise then why top sales people are high earners.
In an ideal organisation, you’ll get the support you need to self-direct your learning effectively. That doesn’t mean that your organisation will just let you get on with it (although many do for the wrong reasons – see point 1 above). It means they’ll work out how to best inspire and support you to maximise your learning efficiency.
They will help you understand how to best learn, find options to learn from in a way that works for you, and provide the opportunities to grow your seed, rather than just tying you to one course.
And if they don’t support you, you can still do it yourself and reap the rewards, leaving everyone else to eat your dust.
So, if you’re interested in accelerating your sales learning, performance and results (or if you’re interested in supporting your team to do the same), let’s take a look at what you’re up against and where you could start.
An important truth
Let’s start with an important truth:
Significantly improving your sales performance requires learning to think, believe and feel differently, possibly throwing out what you previously thought was ‘right’. And that’s hard.
Heavy lifting is required!
And the lifting is necessary and can only be done by you. (Learning sales involves application. In sales, learning theory and ideas isn’t learning!) It can’t be an isolated hands-off event. It’s not useful to talk about the ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ parts as two separate stages.)
E-courses, books, and most training courses don’t get you to do anywhere near enough lifting to build the muscle. They are generally passive. They still are necessary to steer your thinking, but my point is that the learning is incomplete without application and feedback. Muscle is built outside the training room.
Effort, commitment and repetition
So even highly efficient learning requires effort, commitment, and repetition, just as much as building muscle down the gym still requires effort, commitment and repetition.
You’re going to have to want to do this! When you do, you’re in. If you don’t, you’re out.
Once you’ve accepted that, you can find the most efficient technique to do it.
Eliminate the bottle necks
The common approach to learning (by the average learner) is often rather clunky. They hit almost every learning obstacle in their path:
They learn the wrong things
in the wrong order
in the wrong ways
they learn theory they won’t use
think negatively of learning
fail to push back on learning
fail to think critically
fail to apply in the right ways at the right times
and they often fail to ‘water the plant’ consistently…
And after all of that they complain that they don’t have enough time.
We want to eliminate these where possible, and reduce or make irrelevant those we can’t eliminate. Ideally, we want to make each learning moment count.
And one way to do that is to consider the order in which you learn sales capabilities. It seems to me that most sales training courses and books don’t give this attention from a learning perspective (they just go for an apparent logical sequence, but logical sequences of things we already know or simply don’t need are a waste!)
Short cut your learning by ordering it to avoid bottle-necks
To put an order to our learning, we’re going to need to first put our learning into useful blocks.
Benjamin Bloom’s (an educational psychologist) taxonomy is a useful start. If you like the theory, you can get it here.
But for our practical use, and to tailor this to the learning of sales, I propose five important learning categories to consider:
1. Skills – rapport, learning itself (it’s a skill), negotiation, intelligent questioning, listening, presenting, switching between big picture thinking and detailed thinking, self-management and personal productivity, problem-solving, lateral thinking etc
2. Knowledge – product, customers, competition, success stories, facts, figures, features, examples, industry intelligence
3. Processes – the sequential steps that almost anyone could follow that turn a defined input into a defined desirable output (e.g. using a checklist to qualify leads using online research) You could learn your processes, but you don’t have to. Usually you can access and refer to them at the point of need.
4. Mindset – beliefs, values, thinking, cognitive biases, opinions, attitudes, reactions, what you think under pressure. This requires heavy lifting!
5. Behaviours – what you do that’s observable (not what you think you should do or convince yourself that you’re doing, but what you’re actually doing as a result of all the above, especially when under pressure when your know-how can fly out the window!)
Obviously, your consistent behaviours link directly to your results.
With these categories in mind, you can now consider which ones take more time and effort to learn, vs which ones can get you immediate outputs or results fast, by-passing the clunky learning process.
So here is part 1 of my suggested process for learning to improve at sales in the fastest way possible (and there are a whole bunch of tools and techniques to make each part more efficient too!) In next week’s post I’ll share the broader process that this part fits into. You’ll need that too, so either schedule to come back here or sign up to my posts (top of page).
1. Choose highest impact focal point
When learning to improve sales performance, it pays (literally) to eliminate learning which opens up bottle-necks (e.g. spending time learning something you won’t need until 3 months from now) and instead start by deciding exactly what you need to learn in order to competently achieve your next or immediate goals. You pick the one thing to learn, right now, that will make the most impact on your immediate goals.
That’s an important pivotal decision.
(See my article on ‘The 100m sprint towards winning your next sale‘)
2. Learn at the point of need (JIT – just in time!)
Next, you should access (or arrange for easy access) whatever KNOWLEDGE and PROCESSES you’ll need to get you there asap without you having to learn, retain, recall and so on.
If you’re about to cook a new dinner, you don’t go on a training course to nail that one dinner. You go online, get the recipe, and perhaps check out a YouTube video to confirm how to best chop an onion. You learn at the point of need. If, however, that dinner is cooking the Japanese Fugu blowfish, you tactically go on a long training course first.
The point here is not to waste time learning things in advance that you can achieve through reference material and processes to follow at the point of need. Your team should have access to such a resource. (If you don’t, I’m currently building one, contact me if you’re interested).
3. Boost your learning power
If you have achieved your objective already using step 2, you’re done! No course required for now.
If not, you may need to begin pumping some muscle to become stronger at a specific skill or way of thinking (we’re beginning to talk essential knowledge, skills and mindset).
And if you’re about to go on a learning journey, why crawl on your hands and knees when you can comfortably sprint down the short cut and still achieve your desired result?
It’s sensible at this stage to begin investing in your ability to learn. You don’t need to spend long on it, and some of this can be accessed at the point of need if you know where the resources are.
But taking a crash course on learning how to learn is a smart investment to improve the King of all skills.
4. Relax into informal, social learning and self-directed learning
What you learn from step 3 will help here. You’ll get a sense of how to tackle and direct your own learning effectively. At this stage it pays to help other people learn, collaborating and sharing with each other to help solve your challenges.
Being given ideas and options (resources) that are suitable for you in your role is something your L&D department may be able to help you with. Or, you can get in touch with me and use the self-directed sales learning resource I’m currently building. It doesn’t force you down any path, it helps you pick the right options to learn from in the fastest way for you.
5. Learn the knowledge
Now you know how to sprint, you can use your new learning techniques to learn the ‘must knows’ for your job (or goal). There’s a structured way to learn and retain knowledge efficiently.
Keep it relevant too – in the context of your desired goal from step 1. You can build other knowledge later (especially because a lot of knowledge will expire soon!)
Note, at this point, it doesn’t matter how ‘anti-sales’ you may feel – you can make it through all of these steps without resistance, enjoying your progress, and warming up to the idea that the more you learn, the easier it becomes to do what you previously felt you couldn’t. Learning erodes fear.
Next comes the more challenging but more rewarding stuff…
6. Shift and grow your sales mindset and skills
The level of sales or BD mindset and skills you’ll require will depend on who you are, where you’re at and the nature of your job or specific goal.
But without a doubt, the skills rarely improve without a mindset that powers the development of those skills, and developing a sales mindset itself requires frequent trips down the mind gym to pump the muscle!
I created the chart below.
It indicates the time and effort required to learn each of these. You’ll notice that if you’re making more complex sales that require stronger relationships and trust, it’ll take more time and effort to build your mindset and skills (assuming they need improvement in order to hit your goals).
In more transactional sales roles you can usually get by more often with learning at the point of need and a basic set of sales skills. Note, my clients are in professional services and technical B2B sales, so nearly all require a longer term learning journey (my main site is here).
The advice here then, is once people understand how to learn and change themselves (you have to be willing to purposefully replace your old thinking and carve out a new efficient way of thinking) it pays to start building your sales mindset asap. It’s pivotal to everything else.
And again, you only need to tackle the relevant parts of your mindset that are holding you back from achieving your goals from step 1. This requires a scalpel approach. And highly skilled sales coaching can help you do this.
In parallel with this, it pays to develop the right skills on and off the job, using coaching to observe, challenge and encourage shifts. The coaching can come from external or internal ‘high-performance sales coaches’. Or building sufficient internal coaching capabilities amongst your team can still add value for a more informal approach.
Of course, skills and mindset are refined (and slip!) over your career or life time. Start early, and be consistent if you want to see results.
7. Desired behaviours, performance, results and rewards
And finally, the behaviours and results will come.
Don’t forget to celebrate, feedback, improve, and share (adjusting steps 2, 3 and 4 where beneficial and ensuring you share to strengthen the team).
Ordering your learning in this way enables your performance to incrementally build, increasing your strength efficiently to become better at selling.
How aligned are you or your sales team to this approach?
What are you noticing?
I hope that this resource has given the right people something to think about. If you need help with any or all of this, it’s exactly what I do to help organisations tackle sales performance improvement.
I’d be glad to talk around any of this if you think it will help.
And I’m currently working on an online resource that provides my clients with all the ‘JIT Just in time’ learning resources and processes they need (at the point of need) so they can save investing in learning these things in advance. It’s designed for non-sales people, technical sales and professional services to help them build capabilities fast.
If you know someone who wants help with that (I’m UK based), get in touch.
In next week’s post (part 2) I’ll share the broader process that L&D and sales leaders can introduce to their teams in order to help them own and drive their learning, performance and results.