One of the questions I am often asked is, "What's the number one skill a sales person needs to possess?".
I used to give all the generic answers, such as "driven, self starter, history of success, resilient, team player, coachable, etc. These are certainly important skills to vet out during an interview process and to coach to, and they definitely should be.
However, the word I've been gravitating to lately is:
In his famous book The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote, "it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself."
Often times, one of the key reasons why people don't develop to reach their full potential is they are not adaptable. Simply put, they do not have the ability to improve their areas that need improvement.
I recently listened to Lewis Howes interview Brendon Burchard on the School of Greatness Podcast. During the interview, Brendon stated that people spend a lot of time trying to "build on their strengths" and, in that effort, they neglect to improve their weak areas.
Continuing to build on your strengths is important. However, if there's a gap that's preventing you from reaching your full potential, you must attack the gap head on, fix it, and turn it into a strength.
Weak spots can surface in many different areas. As a salesperson, some of the most common you may need to work through are: the need to develop a specific skill, break a bad habit, emphasize a certain product or brand in your portfolio, target a specific customer segment, follow up and follow through more effectively, or manage your time more efficiently.
Regardless of what gap area you need to improve upon, these four tips will help you turn that deficiency into a strength.
1. Clarify and quantify the gap
First, you must accept you have a deficiency. Often times, people are so resistant to constructive feedback they won't even acknowledge they have a problem.
So how do you know where you need to improve?
In my experience, it consists of a combination of both self awareness, active listening skills, and a heightened sense of how people respond to you. In sales or businesses where metrics are measured and consistently reported, it's easy to see when there's a problem.
Diagnosing the cause of the gap can be a challenge.
The best way to identify why something is occurring is by paying attention. Pay attention to the way people respond to you, the things they say, and also the things they don't say. If people are avoiding you, or customers are always "in meetings" when you reach out, that can be a glaring indicator.
Consult with your manager. Instead of shying away from the conversation, engage him or her proactively. Let him know you know there's a gap, explain your ideas for turning things around, and also ask for honest, constructive feedback. If he's a strong leader, and has your best interest in mind, he should be ecstatic that you've approached him and will be happy to assist.
This may be uncomfortable to some, but your top customer can be a tremendous resource. They know what it's like to sit on the other side of the table, and what's it's like doing business with you. If you let them know you're looking to provide even better service, and genuinely want their honest feedback, you'd be surprised how many of your customers would be happy to open up.
Also, it will strengthen your relationship with them even more.
Co-workers on your team, or even those in another department but know you well, can be great resources to provide feedback and offer input and helpful solutions. Provided they have a solid understanding of the business you're in, they'll most likely have valuable insight.
Finally, don't forget your spouse. No one knows you as well as your significant other. Even if he or she doesn't know your business as intimately as your co-workers or customers, they know you, your habits and tendencies, and how you respond in most situations. Your best resource may be right in your home.
2. Seek out needed resources
In this day in age, there is no excuse to not improve. Once you've identified a growth area, there is an abundance of resources available to help you improve.
My go-to I always start with is reading a few books on the subject. You can buy books on Amazon, either paperback or Kindle version, for an extremely reasonable price, in most cases. There is no greater return on investment, in my opinion, than the information you can gain from a good book.
The next step in the process is identifying someone you feel possesses the habit or skill you are looking to improve, and see if he or she will serve as a mentor for a short period of time. A few phone calls where you can pick their brain, gain some insight, and share some thoughts will usually give you some valuable pearls to start with.
If your mentor is willing to meet up with you for a live discussion, help you role-play or practice the scenario (if applicable), or even let you tag along with them for a few appointments to watch them live, that is invaluable. Some of the most enlightening experiences I've had in sales have been when I've been field-trained by an experienced rep and had the opportunity to watch them.
Seminars are also a fantastic way to learn a new skill. Although they can be extremely expensive, the true value in attending a seminar is you get the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the material for a few days, avoid normal day-to-day distractions, and create a greater likelihood that the habit will stick.
Don't neglect podcasts. There are so many great podcasts out there today, on virtually every topic you can imagine. They can be accessed anytime from your smart phone, and they are free.
You can't beat that.
3. Re-prioritize and schedule it - FIRST!
The true key to making a new habit or skill stick is ensuring it gets implemented and used.
This is where a lot of people get derailed.
When Trumaker CEO Mark Lovas was our Regional Sales Director at CUTCO, he used to say, "To know and not do is to not know at all." If you acquire the information you need to make a change, and you don't change the habit immediately, human nature will take over, and you'll continue doing the same thing you've always done.
And you'll continue getting the same results you've always gotten.
The key to making a habit stick is by practicing that habit immediately and often. The way to ensure it gets practiced is by scheduling it into your weekly schedule. Before anything else.
In Chapter 3 of my book The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in Any Sales Industry, I share Tony Robbins' Hour of Power, and the specific planning steps I go through to map out my sales plan on a weekly basis.
If you have a particular product in your portfolio, or a specific customer segment where you need to increase your activity, find out what that activity needs to look like on a weekly basis. Next, when you map out your schedule, insert those necessary activities first.
If you don't, the habits you've built will continue to be executed, and nothing will change.
4. Measure results for accountability
Stay disciplined to your plan for a minimum of 30 days, and then reassess your progress. Look back at the additional activity you've taken, how well you've done at executing your plan, and also look at the results.
In sales, results can usually be easily quantified. In other businesses, and in personal endeavors, it may be harder to quantify a specific measurable. Regardless of how you choose to measure how well you're closing the gap, the key is to measure your results every 30 days. Any sooner than that, and your emotions, expectations, and feelings may force you to adjust your activity before you've invested enough effort to make a true impact.
Several fitness trainers I've followed over the years have recommended to their clients to not jump on a scale more often than every 30 days. Sales is the same way.
Day-to-day, and often times week-to-week, you will encounter ups and downs. It's easy to have a bad day, and even a bad week. But if you're committed to taking the right steps for an entire month, it's really hard to not achieve measurable progress.
The great Tom Hopkins says, "Sales is the highest-paid hard work and the lowest-paid easy work."
When us salespeople do well and show high levels of revenue growth, we earn great income. However, the people who do that are usually the ones who have overcome the largest challenges, been met with the harshest criticism, and shown the greatest amount of adaptability.
How have you adapted to your sales environment?
Bret Barrie was a Hall-of-Fame and Presidents’ Club-winning sales rep and is a top-producing sales leader in the medical device industry. He is also the author of The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry and Promoted: The Proven Path to Career Advancement. A baseball enthusiast and fitness junkie, he is happily married with three children and lives in the greater Sacramento area. For more information, visit bretbarrie.com.