Archives for November 2012

The Ultimate Success Skill

This past year only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  Let me repeat it to make sure you read it correctly: In the last 12 months, only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  That’s based on lots of anecdotal evidence collected over the past 25 years of working with sales people.

Only five percent of my colleagues are sufficiently dedicated to their own personal growth and professional success that they will invest their own money in their careers.  That means that ninety-five percent are not sufficiently motivated to take their own personal development seriously.

I am convinced that the process of continuously improving — not only professionally in the core competencies of a professional sales person, but also personally — is the ultimate success skill for our time.

The ability to learn and grow in a proactive and disciplined way is several things:

A method to do better at your job.  Good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people make more money, enjoy more success and greater status than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people work at becoming better.

A way to distinguish yourself from the masses.  Remember, ninety-five percent of your competitors and colleagues don’t care enough to invest in themselves.  When you do that, you separate yourself from the pack.

A minimal requirement from your employer.  I often tell my clients that every sales person — and every employee, for that matter — has two jobs: a).his job, and b) continually improving himself.  If someone is not interested in improving his skills, I don’t want him working for me, or for my clients.

An ethical imperative.  It is, I believe, immoral to not improve yourself.  Your employer has hired you not just for what you know and what you can do, but for your potential to know more and do more.  When you refuse to improve yourself, you rob your employer of some of the reasons he pays you.

That’s a lot of value wrapped up in a single, fundamental process.  You can see why I believe that the ability to learn in a focused, systematic way is the ultimate competency — the foundational skill that, if mastered, will eventually lead you to success.

I call this ultimate self-improvement skill for turbulent times and beyond “self-directed learning.”

Self-directed learning is the ability to absorb new information and to change one’s behavior in positive ways in response.  The key is behavior change.  Learning without action is impotent.  Knowledge that doesn’t result in changed action is of little value.  Constantly changing your behavior in positive ways is the only reasonable response to a constantly changing world.

For example, let’s say that you’ve read a book on advanced sales techniques.  That’s a good first step.  But, it’s one thing to read and understand the material in the book, and it’s another to actually use it.  It’s nice that you understand it, and it’s good that you think it may help you.  But that particular piece of information is worthless until you actually start using it.  When you change your behavior and incorporate those ideas into what you do, then you will have learned.  It is not until you actually do that new thing — ask questions more effectively, for example, that you will have learned.

Self-directed learning differs from the traditional approaches to training because it requires you to assume complete responsibility for your own behavior change.  The stimulus for the learning must come from within you.  You must develop your own learning program to expose yourself to new information and to change your behavior appropriately.

I firmly believe that the ability to take charge of your own learning, to consistently expose yourself to new information and then to systematically change your behavior in positive ways based on that new information, is the ultimate success skill for the Information Age.

If you can master self-directed learning, you’ll eventually master everything else that you need to be successful.

Prerequisites to Mastering Self-Directed Learning

Proficiency at the ultimate self-improvement skill demands some fundamental attitudes on your part.  I like to characterize those attitudes as being a “seeker.”

A seeker attitude is composed of several parts.  First, you must have an attitude of proactive responsibility for your situation.  In other words, you must believe that your actions have consequences and that, to change the consequences, you must change your actions.

This sounds so fundamental as to be ludicrous, yet it seems to be a concept that is foreign to much of the world’s population.  Most people tend to blame their problems on forces outside themselves.  Your parents didn’t raise you correctly, your spouse doesn’t understand you, your boss doesn’t like you, your customers don’t respect you, the stars are aligned against you, etc.  As long as you remain, in your mind, the victim of someone else or some outside force, you have no responsibility to change your own behavior.  After all, your situation isn’t your fault.

That’s the wrong attitude.  If you are going to be successful, you’ll need to begin with the conviction that your actions have consequences, and that you can change your future.  Once you get that, then you are ready to discover what actions will have the greatest impact on your success.

So, you must accept the responsibility for your own behavior as well as for the consequence of that behavior.

Next, sales people with a seeker attitude need to be open to new information.  One of the sure harbingers of pending failure is the attitude that you know it all.  Sales people who continue to improve themselves understand that they will never have all the answers.  There is always something new to learn. They become like magnets, constantly attracting new ideas, new perspectives, and new information to themselves.

Finally, a seeker has the ability to follow through on his plans.  You must have the ability to act on decisions you make and to become a creature whose actions arise out of conscious thought rather than unconscious habit.  In other words, you must have the strength to decide to do something and then to follow through with that decision and actually do it.

The sales people who attend my seminars are open minded, interested in outside perspectives, willing to learn, and committed to the growth of their businesses.  They’re seekers.

It’s interesting that this description only applies to a small percentage of the population.  It probably describes you, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Take heart in that.  In a rapidly-changing world, the competent, self-directed learners will end up on top.  The fact that you’re probably one of them means that you’re already separating yourself from the mass of sales people who are more interested in maintaining the status quo.

Richard Gaylord Briley, in his book Everything I Needed to Know about Success I Learned in the Bible, talks about the five percent principle.  It holds that five percent of the individuals in the world provide success and opportunity for 50 percent of the rest of the population.  Applied to sales, the Briley rule would hold that five percent of the sales people in the world contribute 50 percent of the volume.

I believe that these five percenters are active, self-directed learners who maintain the seeker attitude I’ve described.  And I believe that you have the potential to be a five-percenter for the rest of your life.  The starting point is the cultivation of the seeker attitude.

Given this set of attitudes, you can begin to master the procedures and disciplines that will characterize you as a self-directed learner and equip you to be successful in our turbulent times.

Core Strategies for Self-Directed Learning

If you have the right attitude, you’ll find the following two strategies to be powerful ways to practice self-directed learning:

1. Inject yourself into learning opportunities.

There are two parts to the learning equation.  The first is to constantly expose yourself to new information, and the second is to change your behavior in positive ways based on that information.

For example, reading this article is a way to expose yourself to new information.  So is reading a book, listening to a podcast or CD, attending a seminar, etc.  That’s the first half of the process.  If you now make changes in what you do as a result of it, you’ve accomplished the second half.

The second part rarely happens unless the first part precedes it.  So, to put the whole process into motion, you must regularly expose yourself to new information.  To do that, you must inject yourself into learning opportunities.

Remember that it’s not enough to go to a seminar once a year, or read a book every now and then.  Learning should be a regular part of your work week.  I’d like to see you do something to exposure yourself to new ideas every week.

Reflect on your failures.  You’re probably thinking, “Where did that come from?”  I have learned that my failures, both as a sales person and in my life in general, have provided me with my most intensive learning experiences.  In fact, I remember all my failures far more vividly than I remember any of my successes.  As I thought about each one of them, I discovered what I had done to produce that failure, and I made specific decisions to change to prevent them from happening again.

Personally, I think that this practice has been one of the key reasons for the success that I have enjoyed as a sales person.  You can do the same thing.  You are going to fail from time to time.  Everyone does.  The most important part of failing is taking the time to reflect on the failure and to learn from it.

2. Question everything.

There are two big obstacles to learning that are especially typical of sales people.  The first is “stuck in a rut” behavior.  The second is the tendency to over-rely on assumptions.  The cure for both is the same: to question everything.

Stuck in a rut behavior evolves out of an attitude that you already know enough.  If you’re content and smug about your current situation, you’re not going to be open to new information.  This satisfaction hinders learning because it hampers the motivation to learn.  Without the motivation to expose yourself to new information and seriously consider changing your behavior, the necessary changes won’t happen.  You’re stuck in the status quo — oblivious to the need to move out of it.

One of the best ways to pry yourself out of a rut is to begin to ask yourself questions.  Question everything you do.  Is this the best way to present this product?  Should you be calling on this customer once a week?  Are you presenting the right solutions?  Do you really know your customers as well as you should?

The other major obstacle to learning is the tendency to do your job based on unchallenged assumptions.  This occurs when you operate on the basis of an assumption that you’ve never really thought about.  For example, you assume that two or three competitors are quoting the same piece of business you are, so you discount deeply.  Or, you assume that your customers always know exactly what they want, so you don’t take the time to question them.

Because you work on an assumption instead of taking the time to verify it, you make decisions that are inappropriate.

The solution is the same as getting out of a rut.  Question everything.  From time to time, stop and ask yourself what assumptions you’re working on, and then question those assumptions.  You’ll often find that your assumptions are in error, and the decisions you made that relied on them were also in error.


By: Dave Kahle,