Why most sales people survive and few, thrive


If practice makes perfect, choose carefully what you practice.

Iterate. To perform, or utter repeatedly. This term was used by a Head of Sales learner in my class after we’d just completed a sales course recently. It was in reference to repeating the lessons learnt to habit status. Her “iterate” hit the nail much more squarely on the head than my “practice often” did.

Today, technology is iterating many basic roles, like checking balances on phone or via email. There is no need for human intervention. What was once boring because it was repetitive and banal, can now be flawlessly and instantly performed by a machine. Unfortunately, qualifying prospects (potential buyers), presenting products, validating them as the best solution to the client problem, negotiating, handling objections and closing the sale are yet to be automated. (In any case, when they will be, then you’ll be out of a job).

Create new behaviour

And so to succeed in selling, we must succeed in creating new behaviour. And this calls for iterating the various steps towards closing a sale. It feels basic, boring and banal. And so the average seller doesn’t. Instead, he defaults to his tired (not tried), tested and tangent-filled ways. Worse, following a dismal performance he looks outside the window instead of into the mirror for a solution. “Selling is difficult”, he laments. “Customers are always objecting with reasons why they don’t want my services.”

Stammer if you must

Further, iteration means trying a new skill, which means change. And change is uncomfortable. Change dislodges us from our comfort zone. For instance, to try this new way of closing the sale that you recently learnt means that you will start by making errors. Possibly, you will stammer when saying, “Would you like to sign with the blue pen or the black one?” And this is OK.

But something about our being adults denies us the opportunity to grow through changing. As a child we eagerly learnt a new skill. Using the toilet, eating with our hands, a spoon, and then, fork and knife to the point of fluency. Today, we take these skills for granted. Come the skill, say of prospecting, and it is seen as a laborious exercise and taken on in languid fashion. Now, if it was taken with a clear mind that success will come through failure (change) it’d be eagerly lapped up. But it’s not. Any why? The fear of being ridiculed because we assume it will be seen as failure.

Distorted thinking

And this brings us to the third reason why many sales people don’t grow. Distorted thinking. What will people say if I stumble on this new skill of listening? I’ll look silly. (read: my pride will be dented). And yet, you admire rags to riches and lightweight to legend, stories. Be  the hero in these sagas. Iterating your tired and tested failing methods will only get you stuck in a rut. Personal drive sells more than years of experience. It’s true what they say: if practice makes perfect, choose carefully what you practice.


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