“I learn something new everyday. But, even more importantly, I learn the same things over and over again.”
I was immediately struck when I heard these words. They were spoken by a world-renowned physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Steven Galetta, in his acceptance speech for a prestigious award recognizing his excellence in his profession.
Dr. Galetta said that he was always excited to acquire some critical piece of knowledge every day that he could apply to his research and in the treatment of his ailing patients.
But, even more critical to him was the opportunity everyday to re-learn the fundamentals of his profession; namely in how he works with his patients. How to carefully listen to patients. How to how to take enough time with patients and how to ask the right questions to elicit accurate information.
I believe this is the central learning challenge for every professional salesperson and sales manager. If you want to keep your selling efforts vital and fresh, if you want to reach the heights of career success and stay there, then it is important to always be learning. But what exactly do you need to learn? What should you learn that will enable you to be even more effective in helping your customers make good decisions quickly?
Let’s use the example of Dr Galetta to set two goals for yourself:
1. Learn Something Big Everyday
As my friend Jill Konrath teaches in her new book, Agile Selling, the most important skill a top sales professional needs to master in order to succeed is that of becoming an agile learner. In that vein, create a Personal Learning Plan. Write down what you need to learn from the perspective of your customers. What are the knowledge and insights that they need from you in order to make fast and favorable decisions?
Product knowledge: What do you need to learn about the products you are selling that will enable you to better understand the problem(s) your prospects are trying to solve? Where can you acquire that knowledge? What books should you read or what internal classes could you attend?
Industry Expertise: What industry expertise should you acquire that will help you to provide necessary insights to the prospect about their business and the solution you are providing? Read books about your industry. Follow specific LinkedIn discussion groups in your target industry and read the discussion threads to learn about key industry concerns. Pick a mentor from your sales team who is successful and shadow them on calls to absorb some of their knowledge and expertise.
Customer Knowledge: Do your research into the prospect’s organization, products, and customers. Set up Google alerts for every new prospect to facilitate this. Use tools like Nimble to track the conversations your customers are having online. This can point you in the direction of new knowledge that you need to acquire.
Become A Source Of Value: The challenge you must set for yourself is the following: How do I become a source of value to my prospects and customers? How do I acquire the knowledge, understanding and insights that will enable me to become the trusted advisor that my prospects rely on to help them make purchase decisions?
Use your Personal Learning Plan to set learning goals for yourself and to commit to the specific actions you will take to acquire that knowledge. Most importantly, share your Personal Learning Plan with a manager or a peer within your company. You want their help to hold you accountable for achieving your goals. But, whatever it is, do at least one thing every single day. Even if it just reading for 30 minutes before you turn off the lights for the day.
2. Learn the Same Things Over and Over Again
This is just as important as Lesson #1.
Never assume that you have learned everything there is to know about the fundamentals of your craft. You can always ask the question better. You can always follow up faster. You can always be more responsive. You can always listen better. You can always prepare more thoroughly for every call.
Your success is more dependent on your successful execution of sales fundamentals than in mastering specialized sales skills. Why? Because if your fundamental sales skills are lacking, then you’ll never get the opportunity to show off your advanced knowledge. This is the most persistent problem I see with sales teams, whether they are a large enterprise or a small business: salespeople are slacking on the basics. Or, they are executed so poorly that they may as well be missing.
It’s the basics that shape the prospect’s perception of you. Trip up on these and you’ll lose the opportunity to build trust with the prospect.
The first step you can take to start learning the fundamentals over and over again is to turn-off your sales autopilot and start paying attention. You’re not perfect. There’s always room for improvement. Take the time to ask the right questions of your prospects and then really listen to the answer. Promptly return emails and voicemails. Responsively follow-up to questions and completely follow-through on your commitments.
Remember: learn something new and big and exciting everyday. Look at the fundamentals of your selling with a fresh eye every single day and be conscious of what you can improve in order to better serve and deliver more value to your customers. The reward will be that you’re a better salesperson. And, a better person.