Sales Skills versus Sales Attitude
What defines, or at the very least influences, the success of any Sales Person is their Sales Attitude not their Sales Skills. Sales people with the right attitude will do whatever is necessary to up skill themselves. Employers can also train Sales People if they need a particular skill developed, however you will find it much more difficult to train a good Attitude. Measuring Attitude therefore is more important than measuring Sales Skills. Most companies measure neither Attitude or Skills but focus on results, which does not always give a true picture and is only really relevant if the company has an accurate Benchmark in the first place to measure them against. Poor sales results are not always the sign of a poor sales person and conversely positive sales results can be the sign of a bullish market rather than great sales performance. Sales people representing a great Brand can often be “carried” by the Brand, as customers overlook their shortcomings, and a lack of effective competition that leaves buyers with little real choice will always nurture substandard sales performance.
Sales Attitude therefore dictates Sales Competency and there is a very simple method that every CEO can use that will give them the best indication possible of the level of sales competency in any organization.
Sales Competency Stages
The theory of Conscious Competency has been around for many years although no one is quite sure of the origin. It is however a great litmus test that we can use to gauge the level of Sales Competencies in any organization. One of the main advantages of this model is it’s simplicity and although it’s not 100% accurate, it gives any CEO a foundation on which to base further, more detailed investigation.
By simply asking the question at the end of any sales meeting “We are thinking of doing some sales training is that of any interest to you?” in a very gentle and non threatening manner the response you get, will tell you everything you need to know. The definition of the Sales Competency stages, shown below, often helps CEO’s understand where their sales people are before asking the question.
1) Sales Leader – Operates at Unconscious Competence whereby their Sales Activities and Sales Craft are 2nd nature – this is who they have become. In addition to company training, sales leaders will regularly educate themselves in their own time and at their own expense. They do it because they have a natural will to be the best, they have a thirst for knowledge, learning and are thought leaders in their field. They not only embrace change, they seek it, always looking to make improvements. They do not feel threatened by changes in sales strategy, activities, process or tactics. They train themselves so they remain “Sales Fit” – you don’t go to a gym and become fit after one or two sessions it takes months and you have to stick at it, which these people understand. This is equivalent to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs top level Self Actualization. They take responsibility for mistakes and give credit to other members of the sales team for their wins.
2) Sales Professional – Sales Professionals operate at Conscious Competence where with only a little thought and effort their Sales Activities and Sales Craft are highly proficient. These people will train when asked and whilst they do not seek change, they will embrace change as they want to improve. They have the “Intellectual Humility” which is the ability to admit “I don’t know what I don’t know and other people may have the answer”. This is equivalent to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs second level Esteem, whereby they are seeking achievement and the respect of others. They take responsibility for mistakes and take the credit for their wins.
3) Sales Amateur – Amateurs are people in the phase called Conscious Incompetence, in that they know they are deficient in some way, but struggle to break their existing sales conditioning. This group is best described as selective learners, in that they will only take on board new sales skills that are within their comfort zone. They will pushback anything outside their comfort zone and then externalize the blame. They struggle to differentiate their personal Sales Beliefs from Sales Facts, their tone is defensive and denial sets in. This group very quickly reaches a glass ceiling that prevents them from fulfilling their potential. They deny responsibility for mistakes and take all the credit for their wins.
4) Sales Hobbyist – They are in a phase called Unconscious Incompetence where they have no interest in learning or improving any skills, as they are simply not aware of both any gap in their sales skills or any relevance of sales skills. Furthermore, they believe everything is outwith their control and their responsibility. They deny responsibility and blame their own sales results on price, competition, products, customers and the company. There are few wins to take any credit for as they rarely reach any sales targets. They want the world to change so they can get results when in reality it is easier to change one person – themselves.
Attaching meaningful sales activities and attributes to each of the four stages would give you a competency framework from which you can develop your sales team, however in the majority of cases the people who need sales training the most, the Sales Hobbyists neither want it, nor will benefit from it. The real sales growth for any organization is moving the Amateurs to Professionals, and the Professionals to Leaders. Typically they will constitute 60% of the sales force and hence any increase in performance in such a large group will have an impact on the top line. The tendency to leave Sales Leaders alone, as they are never a problem can then create a problem. As Sales Leaders and indeed Sales Professionals continue to evolve and grow, then without Talent Management they might just evolve right out the door. If the company is to retain these stars, then the company has to grow and develop at the same pace or the Sales Leaders and Sales Professionals will seek another organization that will help them continue to evolve.
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