Why World Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn

It rarely happens that I’m impressed by motivational speakers. Too often, they cannot build a bridge that enables people to tap into their wisdom right after the conference. Steve Backley, English javelin athlete and three-time Olympic medalist, offered a very different experience at our Miller Heiman Sales Performance Summit, based on his book, The Champion in All of Us.
“Clever people, like you, value relationships and develop a team of people around you whom you trust. You will understand the power of perspective and, therefore, will be keen to understand the ideas of others.”

Relationships do matter – in sports, and across the sales team and the customer organization. The team you prepare yourself for the Olympics with and the sales team you work with – it’s a similar situation. Even if you are opponents during a competition or when it comes to promotions, you work together to get better every day, led by a coach. This is how we all can learn from each other’s viewpoints, approaches, thoughts and most important – from each other’s mental attitude and professionalism. Relationships are based on being valuable for each other. That’s the same principle in sports and sales. No buyer makes time for a coffee meeting anymore, if there is nothing valuable added to the coffee. Developing existing relationships and building new relationships with prospects and new buyer roles is a key competency of any top sales performer.

Why is that so important? Look at our engagement principle “Providing Perspective.” To understand the customer’s specific context, every different viewpoint and any relevant information a salesperson can gather adds value to the big picture and enables the salesperson to provide an even better perspective. Furthermore, understanding each buyer role’s different approaches and ideas, especially if they come from different functions and have different organizational roles, is essential to co-create a shared vision of future success together with these groups of buyers. Understanding and learning from others’ ideas and taking that to the next level is a key differentiator. Therefore, analyzing, understanding, interpreting and synthesizing across the network – that’s what top sales performers do before they provide a tailored solution to help the customers to achieve their desired outcomes.

“Champions do this by seeking to consult and understand others and by networking well. You will not only learn from the relevant people around you, but will be able to reapply their skills in an even better way. The point here is not the ability to store or regurgitate facts that you have learned from others, it is the application of the understanding of the key principles that matters. Sustained performance is not about learning something parrot fashion, it is about understanding others, interpreting and then applying knowledge.”

Learning new techniques in sports or new methodologies in sales, the process is very similar. Learning and practicing to become a top performer has to be guided by regular coaching. Coaching, done well, improves the athlete’s technique and performance step by step, leveraging his/her potential. That’s always an individual journey with common milestones. The first milestone is that the athlete/salesperson can repeat and perform the new method or technique pretty well in familiar situations. The second milestone, though, is to coach the athlete/salesperson in a way that he/she can adapt the newly learned techniques in any new, changed or complex situation. That’s much more than practicing new stuff in a repeatable way. To achieve this level, athletes and sales professionals have to develop their adaptive competencies. That’s their ability to quickly adjust their behavior and their activities to different situations. Developing adaptive competencies – in sports and sales – can be done in different ways, in simulations within the same professional area or completely different areas. That means working with people, often out of the business context, so that they learn how to better connect the dots between their left and their right brains. Adaptive learning experiences in other fields may be beneficially transferred back to a business context.

A prerequisite to applying adaptive competencies successfully is situational awareness. Situational awareness means understanding a given situation and quickly noticing what’s happening in this situation. Then, adaptive competencies enable us not only to know but to understand the situation with all the involved people and elements. Even more, adaptive competencies enable us to synthesize all findings into a bigger picture and to draw the right conclusions. In sales, that means providing a tailored, differentiating and highly valuable perspective for a customer to help them to achieve their desired results.

Adaptive competencies are based on identifying the underlying principles and adopting these principles to different situations. Champions learn, practice and adopt what they learned and take it to the next level, based on those embedded core principles. That’s the main difference between the top performers and the ordinary performers on the team, in sports and sales.

“Champions also consult opinion across industries. It is never about who is right or wrong; it is about what is best.”

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, January 5th 2015.


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