Agile Selling: Get Up to Speed Quickly in Today's Ever-Changing Sales World - by Jill Konrath

Agile Selling – by Jill Konrath

How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
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Highlights

Part 1: The Case for Agile

1: Change, change and more change

It’s tough to be proficient in a changing environment.

2: Understanding Today’s Buyer

You may think you’re different. Buyers don’t.

Buyers want ideas, insights, leadership, and guidance to assess whether changing makes sense and how to do it best.

Buyers’ expectations have changed; sellers need to provide value.

3: Be the differentiator

Here’s what it all boils down to: To become the differentiator, you need to always be learning. Sometimes just the sheer magnitude of what I need to learn makes me want to hyperventilate. There are days when I wish that someone would pry open my brain and pour everything I need to know inside. Just because I’ve been in sales for years doesn’t make me immune to all these changes. Sometimes it makes it even worse because I have more to unlearn.

Turn yourself into the primary differentiator.

4: The agile imperative

The truth is, in today’s business environment, learning agility matters. We can never know enough. When change happens, we need to be able to turn on a dime

According to research by Korn/Ferry International, “Learning agility is a leading predictor of leadership success today—more reliable than IQ, EQ [emotional intelligence] or even leadership competencies.”

Learning agility becomes your competitive advantage.

Your sales success depends on quickly assimilating information and mastering new skills, and learning agility is the key meta-skill that makes this success possible.

Part 2: the Agile Mind-ser

Leer The War of Art de Steven Pressfield.

5: Make the pivotal decision

They’ve made the pivotal choice. They’re not hoping or trying to be successful; they’ve chosen it deliberately. This mind-set keeps them going through the tough times, proof positive that it matters.

Success is a decision. Dare to choose it.

6: Transform Sales Problems

The key is to shift your perspective and stop seeing problems as something to fear. While this isn’t easy, it’s transformative.

Everything changed when I turned my problem into a challenge.

My experience isn’t unique. Neuroscience research shows that when you make a mental shift to view obstacles as opportunities, your brain is reenergized. It loves challenges and immediately starts scanning the environment, looking for insights that you might find useful. It also starts digging into your past, looking for previous experiences you’ve had that might be helpful.

For most people, creating challenges out of problems is not a natural habit. But, as I’ve discovered, it’s what agile sellers do on a regular basis.

Transform your problems into challenges.

7: Reframe Failure

When asked what made her successful, she said it was the question her father asked every single night at dinner: “What did you fail at today?” If she hadn’t failed at something, her dad was disappointed. It was a sign she wasn’t growing, learning, or stretching to her potential.

a learner’s mistake—an opportunity for growth.

Judging yourself too harshly in your early months gets in the way of achieving your potential.

If you’re struggling, you’re not failing. You just haven’t learned it yet. I love that mode of thinking; it always motivates me to keep going, knowing that success is imminent.

Reframe failures as valuable learning experiences.

8: Set The Right Goals

we need “getting better” goals. According to psychologist Don VandeWalle, these goals are “focused on acquiring new skills, mastering new situations and improving one’s confidence.” In his study, salespeople with “getting better” goal orientations actually set higher sales targets, worked harder, planned better, and achieved significantly more. Clearly, a getting-better mind-set is much more motivating than setting blue-sky performance goals.

But it takes more than that. Agile sellers have a purpose and a process that ensures they keep on getting better. In Succeed,Heidi Grant Halvorson expands on this concept. Her work at the Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center shows that we also need two other types of goals:

• “Why” goals for motivation. They help us get in touch with the benefits we’ll realize from achieving this goal.

• “What” goals in order to achieve our big picture. That means we need to outline, to the best of our knowledge, specifically what actions we need to take to accomplish our goal.

Turn performance goals into getting-better goals.

Part 3: Learn New Info Quickly

10: Leverage rapid learning

The six rapid learning strategies we’ll focus on can be applied to virtually anything at which you’d like to become proficient. You can use these techniques to learn how to fly a plane, develop a Web site, or speak a different language. Your prior knowledge and experience affect your starting point but do not alter the need for these strategies. Here’s a quick overview of the six strategies:

  • Chunking. Breaking big subjects down into smaller, more digestible chunks is always your first task in rapid learning. Otherwise, the assignment is simply too overwhelming. Your brain loves structure. It files all new knowledge into mental folders, wherever it thinks is the best fit. By creating the specific folders yourself, you significantly increase your recall and retention. You also free up processing power for more complex mental tasks (such as planning an account strategy).

  • Sequencing. After you’ve broken the subject or skill set down into discrete chunks, you have to determine what you need to learn first, and what comes after that. Most people don’t take control of this step; they just take in the information as it’s being delivered. But if things aren’t learned in the right order, they often don’t make sense.

  • Connecting. Linking new skills and information to something you already know is a great way to expedite learning and retention. For example, you might reflect on how your new job is similar to previous positions. Leveraging a connection strategy is one of the fastest ways to grasp new concepts because you already have mental folders in which you can file new learning.

  • Dumping. Your brain gets bogged down easily. The more it has to remember, the worse it works. The key to remembering a deluge of information is getting what you learn out of your head and into a place where you can look at it later. This isn’t a fancy strategy but it is a highly functional one because it frees up brain space for learning more.

  • Practicing. Any time you need to learn a skill, deliberate practice is essential. When it comes to sales, the way to practice is through role-playing. Many sellers ignore this critical strategy, yet it’s only by trying new things in semi–real time that you know if you’re ready for prime time. Practicing is a test with a built-in feedback loop. Further, each time you practice a new skill, it cements the new behaviors more firmly in place.

  • Prioritizing. Your brain is incapable of doing two functions simultaneously. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking isn’t a good way to get many things done at once. It actually causes serious degradation of the brain’s processing power. To harness your most effective thinking, decide which activities are most important at the beginning of each day and then focus on one activity at a time, to the exclusion of all others.

In the upcoming chapters, you’ll find numerous ways to apply each of these learning strategies to your sales job. You’ll also find tools to help you slash your path to proficiency.

To learn faster, chunk, sequence, connect, dump, practice, and prioritize.

11: Map the terrain

I’m sure you’ve felt overloaded by information yourself. When there’s so much to learn, you often don’t know where to begin. Even if your company has a decent onboarding program, it can be overwhelming.

Next we turned to chunking. According to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, research shows that four is the maximum number of chunks our brain can optimally process for a given set of information. During my product launch consulting days, I’d discovered that the best chunks for salespeople to use were: company, products/services, customers, and sales. Within each of these chunks are subchunks for each of the primary subsets.

Once you’ve come up with these chunks, what do you do with them? Start by creating mental storage “folders” for each of them—with very specific names such as Target Market, Prospecting Strategies, or CRM System.

More than that, you also need physical or virtual folders for all relevant resources you’re given or discovering in your learning quest. This seemingly simple action is actually a powerful strategy for recalling what you’ve learned at the moment in time when you need to use that information. Keep your folders and mind maps visible. They can be used almost like a checklist to help you keep track of what you’ve already learned and what you still need to tackle .

Chunking strategies minimize mental chaos and increase recall.

12: Take the deep pe

If people don’t sense progress within thirty days, they lose confidence, begin to dislike their jobs, and start pulling back and dwelling on the negatives. Just like that, they’re looking for another job. It’s a bad cycle to get caught in.

That’s why it’s smart to expedite your path to proficiency. The thirty-day deep pe, while intense, offers huge payback. Here are some tips to help you make the most of this time.

Set yourself up for learning. Quite simply, be prepared to learn. You wouldn’t go to your first day of class without a notebook and a pen, and you should be similarly ready to learn in a new role. You’re going to be taking lots of notes in the upcoming weeks, so have some notepads handy. I’d also suggest getting a bunch of folders so that you can immediately categorize and sort information about products, services, markets, buyers, and decision processes as you learn it. Otherwise, the piles accumulate and you’ll never find what you need when you need it. If you prefer to organize online, get yourself set up there too—there are useful online organizational tools available. You can use the same folder labels. Same concept, just different media.

Use your grace period. No one expects you to know everything when you’re new to a job or account. Most of your bosses and colleagues are ready to help answer questions you may have, so don’t let your ego get in the way of learning. Keep a running list of questions you need answered.

Update the boss regularly. Your employer may have turned you loose to learn on your own. Even so, regularly sharing what you’ve recently learned shows him or her that you take your professional development seriously. Your boss will be thoroughly impressed with the initiative you’re taking to get up to speed quickly. Share what you’re planning for the upcoming week. Bring your calendar along to show how you’re using your time. You may not think this matters, but it does. Invariably, you’ll get extra support when you need it.

Know how you learn best. Everyone has his or her own learning style preference. Personally, I like to read; I’m a visual learner. You may prefer to learn by listening or by physically engaging with the new content. What matters is that you find a way that works best for you.

Finally, be kind to yourself. In times of deep pe, you can be your own worst enemy. Keep focusing on “getting better” goals. Make sure you take a few moments now and then to reflect on how much you’ve already learned. Sometimes you’ll even impress yourself.

Use the thirty-day deep pe to develop situational credibility.

13: Focus on “Need to Knows”

If you’re in that situation now, tell your “teacher” that while you appreciate all his or her help, your brain has capacity limitations and you’d be better off waiting until later to learn all of that information.

what you need to learn now and what can wait

1) Start with the big picture. Research shows your brain needs a conceptual overview before it can take in the details. Ask your boss and coworkers these questions:

  • Can you give me an overview of the primary products or services I’ll be selling?
  • What’s the target market for these offerings? Why are they a good fit?
  • Without going into detail, how do they help these customers/companies? What outcomes do they get?

2) Determine your priorities.Separating the “need to know” from the “nice to know” is my favorite step because it immediately simplifies your life. Again, check with your boss andcolleagues to help determine your priorities. Dig into the “whys” of their responses too, so you understand their rationale.

  • Which of our products and services are key to our company’s success this year?
  • Which of our products/services are the best door openers?
  • If I could sell only one of our products/services this year, which would it be?
  • Which of our products/services are our existing customers most interested in?
  • Do we have any products/services that aren’t really all that popular?
  • If we’re selling into multiple industries, where is the best place to start?
  • Which market segments present the best opportunities right now?
  • Who are the most influential people involved in the decision-making process?
  • What factors, if any (such as time of year), impact product/service sales?

Ignore nonessential learning for now. Your job, at this moment, is to learn as much as you can about the “need to knows.”

14: Learn the lingo

Starting on day one, create your own dictionary. Any time you hear a new word or phrase, jot it down immediately. Then, when you get time, ask someone in the company to define it for you. Make sure you get precise definitions too, or you’ll still be floundering.

15: Build on buyer insights

“Understanding whoyou’re selling to is far more important than what you’re selling!”

People, not organizations, make decisions.

Once you nail down the positions, you need to understand their roles and responsibilities, objectives, motivations, status quo, and challenges. This essential info helps you:

  • Craft relevant, enticing messages.
  • Plan customer-engaging meetings.
  • Help people make the right decisions.
  • Differentiate yourself from competitors.

It’s easy to get lost in irrelevant information. That’s why I developed a tool—the Buyer’s Matrix—to keep me on track. 

BUYER’S MATRIX

Position:

Roles/Responsibilities: What are they in charge of or expected to manage?

Business Objectives and Metrics: What do they want to achieve? How do they measure success? How are they evaluated?

Strategic Initiatives: What likely strategies and initiatives are in place to help them achieve their objectives?

Internal Challenges: What likely issues does the organization face that could prevent/hinder goal achievement?

External Challenges: What external factors or industry trends might make it more difficult to reach their objectives?

Primary Interfaces: Who do they frequently interact with (e.g., peers, subordinates, superiors, and external resources)?

Status Quo: What’s their status quo relative to your product or service?

Change Drivers: What would cause them to change from what they’re currently doing?

Change Inhibitors: What would cause them to stay with the status quo, even if they’re unhappy?

Gathering these insights early in your new position enables you to better serve your prospects at the same time you increase your sales.

Use the Buyer’s Matrix to ensure in-depth knowledge about key decision makers.

16: Embrace the status quo

The truth is, the status quo is your biggest competitor. Your prospects don’t want to change how they’re doing things. It takes time and energy they don’t have.

“How do our targeted prospects do things without us?” Find out if they’re using competitors, and if so, which ones. If you’re in the services business, find out if a company’s internal resources may already be doing the work you provide.

  • What problems might they be encountering with their current way of doing things?
  • How do these problems impact efficiencies? Costs? Revenue? Other departments?
  • What effect does this status quo have on achieving their objectives?
  • What’s the business case for making a change?
  • What issues might arise if they’re doing it themselves?

R&D session

  • What are they already buying from my competitors?
  • What do we offer that they might not have right now?
  • What might my competitors have overlooked when they initially sold this policy?
  • Have any changes occurred that could get them to rethink their original decision?

Immerse yourself in the status quo. Search for its weaknesses, shortcomings, and gaps. Once you have a working knowledge of your biggest competitor—the status quo—you’ll be able to have more intelligent conversations with your prospects.

Become an expert on your biggest competitor—the status quo.

17

Only 8 percent of people trust what companies say about themselves.

FAQs

  • When cables fail, what happens?
  • What are the direct costs to fix?
  • What are the indirect costs? Opportunity costs?
  • Who/what else is affected? What happens then?
  • Why wouldn’t they have changed earlier?

Use reverse engineering to clearly articulate the business case.

18 :SINK INTO STORIES

Your brain loves stories—it remembers narratives a gazillion times longer than a bunch of disparate facts.

When Matt heard this story from his colleagues, he finallyunderstood why prospects would pay so much for his company’s services. It gave him the much-needed confidence in his sales initiatives.

the outcome of the story echoed what his potential clients were hoping to achieve. Best of all, when Matt told this story, the clients—not his company—were the heroes. His prospects loved it.

Every company has stories but they’re often hidden and need to be pulled out.

Seek out stories. Find out about the issues that caused clients to take action. Learn how your company helped. Most important, find out what difference it made. When you know the difference you make, selling is much easier.

Identify stories that pique buyers’ curiosity and move them to action.

19: INTERVIEW CUSTOMERS

One of the best things you can do to learn why people buy your products or services is to interview your own customers. Don’t be shy about this. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and just how valuable it can be in your sales initiatives.

 Long-term customers may love your company to death, but they don’t make for high-value interviews since they have no recent basis of comparison. You are their status quo.

Your most recent customers, however, know what life was like under the previous status quo. 

Start by picking out a few customers in your territory that you’d like to interview. Tell them that you’re following up to find out if they’re getting the results they’d anticipated when they decided to work with your company. Ask if they’d be willing to spare a few minutes to answer questions about this topic. Quite often, they’re willing to help you out. (Be aware that you may occasionally run into an unhappy customer. If so, listen carefully to their issues and don’t be defensive. Find out what you can do to help.)

Record your interview

Knowing the difference you make in your customers’ lives is essential for selling. When you’re talking to prospects, it helps you position your offering. You can also ask better questions, challenge brush-offs more successfully, and build a case for change.

Don’t just stop after you’ve interviewed one customer. In your first few months, the more people you interview, the faster you’ll get up to speed. Also, consider interviewing multiple people within an organization; everyone involved in the decision process has a different perspective. Digging out these additional insights enables you to customize your message for the various buyers and increase its effectiveness.

20: define the buyer’s journey

1ST DECISION:

ALLOW ACCESS

2ND DECISION:

INITIATE CHANGE

3RD DECISION:

SELECT RESOURCES

4TH DECISION

EXPAND RELATIONSHIPS

Buyers are reasonably happy with the status quo—until something either piques their curiosity or changes their priorities.

Buyers are interested in learning more. They research, they meet, they discuss. The key question they ask is: Does it make sense to change from the status quo?

Buyers educate themselves on options, get proposals, meet vendors, validate ROI. Their key question is: What’s the best decision for us?

Buyers evaluate satisfaction with the initial decision and relationship. Their key question is: Should we do more work with them?

For example, here’s how Natalie, a digital marketing manager and buyer, answers the question “What’s the process for making decisions in your company?”

If you are a salesperson who contacted me from out of the blue and your message interested me, I’d go to your Web site first to check things out. If you looked like a credible company that potentially could help us, I’d agree to a short conversation. If I liked what I heard, I’d talk to my VP of marketing and lead gen specialist to share what I’d learned and bounce some ideas off them. If they were interested in learning more about your product/service, I’d want to get them on the phone with you to find out a bit more.

Whenever you’re talking to prospects, try asking the following questions to gain even greater insight into their buying journey:

  • What piques your curiosity and gets you to even consider a change?
  • Who are the people who need to be involved in decisions like this?
  • How do you determine if a product or service makes good business sense for your company?
  • How do you decide which resource is best for you?
  • What are the most challenging parts of this decision process? Why?
  • What does it take to get a contract for something like this approved?

Become an expert on your buyer’s journey. Knowing where you stand in the journey will help you decide which strategies to use and when.

Know your buyer’s journey so you can align with it.

21: CREATE CHEAT SHEETS

A cheat sheet also helps you stay focused while you’re learning new information. It reminds you of key facts that you don’t want to forget. It’s also useful to have handy when you’re talking to your prospects for the first time—you’re not relying on your own unreliable memory to retrieve and record all of the crucial information you’re seeking or delivering in a short span of time.

Furthermore, the very act of creating a cheat sheet helps you internalize information much more quickly. Doing this may make you feel like you’re back in high school, but your retention skyrockets when you make this extra effort. Entering the information onto the cheat sheet cements it in your memory.

This practice utilizes several of the learning techniques we covered in chapter 10. The sections on the sheet correspond to the file folders in your brain that categorize this new information, which helps with recall. Writing a cheat sheet also helps you dump the information you’ve learned in one easily retrievable spot. By doing so, you free yourself up to handle all the additional complexities of your new position.

To make this cheat sheet “stick,” review it periodically. At first, you’ll want to go through it several times per day to ensure that you remember it. To really make this information come alive for you, combine it with a story. The more places your brain files things, the easier it’ll be for you.

Got it? Okay. Next we’re going to focus on trigger events, anoverlooked but invaluable strategy to get business quickly. Pay attention.

Create cheat sheets to help new info stick in your brain better.

22: TAP INTO THE TRIGGERS

If overcoming the status quo is your biggest challenge, then trigger events are your trump card. By identifying and tracking factors that catalyze change with your ideal prospects, you’ll be able to focus your prospecting initiatives on opportunities where you’ll have a higher likelihood of success.

How can you determine what trigger events are important for you and what you’re selling? To get started, ask yourself these questions or brainstorm them with colleagues:

1. What goals, objectives, or initiatives do our best customers have in common? Perhaps they’re focused on business drivers such as entering new markets, growing sales or market share, or improving operational efficiency. If that’s the case, you’ll want to pay attention to those newsworthy triggers.

2. What challenges did our best customers face before they changed? Were they struggling with declining profits, increased competition, or changing marketplace demographics? Maybe inefficient processes or changing customer requirements were causing problems? These related issues are also triggers you should be on the alert for.

3. If we look at our fast-moving sales, were there anycommon precipitating events? You want to find out what created the urgency. Why, after doing nothing for so long, did these organizations suddenly decide they had to take action? Look for and monitor the catalyst behind the change.

Another way to stimulate thinking about trigger events is to review local business journals or trade magazines. As you’re going through such publications, ask these questions:

  • What’s the trigger event that’s in this article?
  • What might this company need to change because of what’s happening?
  • Could it possibly create a need for our offering?

Personally, I discovered that the following trigger events created new business opportunities for me: company growth, stagnant sales, product launches, and new sales VPs. Knowing this, I stopped prospecting promiscuously and focused my efforts on companies that were experiencing these trigger events.

Here’s the good news. Many triggers are public knowledge; you can read about them on company or business news Web sites. Because of this, you can use a variety of online alert services (for example, Google Alerts, InsideView, or DiscoverOrg) to notify you immediately when they occur. For example, I have an ongoing alert for “new VPs of sales” in “technology companies” because they create new opportunities for me.

Remember, trigger events are catalysts. Companies may not yet be ready to buy, but they certainly are experiencing changes that could create an opportunity for you to sell them something.By getting in the door early, you have a chance to turn a trigger event into a sale.

Trigger events loosen the grip of the status quo and catalyze change.

 

24: CEMENT YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Here’s one approach that works really well: When you’re deep in study mode, stop every thirty minutes to review what you’ve just learned. Repeat the information you just covered out loud to yourself. This helps cement it in your brain even more when you want to recall it.

The more visual and verbal pictures you can create, the better.

Another strategy that will help you retain information better is to connect what you’re learning to what you already know. As you’re studying all this new information, keep asking yourself questions like these:

  • What does this remind me of?
  • How is it similar to something else I’ve sold before?
  • In what ways is this decision maker similar to other people I’ve worked with?
  • Who does this buyer type make me think of?

Don’t keep rushing blindly forward, trying to cram even more facts and figures into your already overflowing head. Stop at regular intervals and use connect-the-dot strategies to cement new learning and reaccess old knowledge.

Connect what you’re learning with what you already know.

25: TAKE THE GOBBLEDYGOOK TEST

Every time you learn something new, test yourself by trying to explain it to someone else. Not only does this make the learning stick (which we’ve already talked about), but it also forces you to process the information in your own words. Don’t move on until you can explain things clearly, without stumbling over your own explanations.

  • What does your company do?

Your challenge: In three minutes, tell your prospect what you do from their perspective. They don’t want to know that you sell software or accounting services. They want to know what kinds of companies you work with and how you help them.

  • What are your primary products/services?

Your challenge: In three minutes, give your prospects an overview of one of your offerings. What is it? What does it do? How does it work? Your job is to make it so understandable that a novice would get it. (Note: If you have multiple products/services, repeat this for each one.)

  • Why should I consider changing from my current way of doing things?

Your challenge: In three minutes, share the challenges and issues that your targeted prospects typically encounter with their status quo. Then expand on that by talking about the outcomes people get from using your products/services.

  • Have you worked with other companies like ours before?

Your challenge: In three minutes, tell a short customer success story. Make sure the prospects know how the customer handled things before you worked with them, the issues they had, and the value they’re getting now.

Fighting gobbledygook is a never-ending battle. Every time you learn something new, you need to figure out how to articulate it to others. Make sure you’re speaking in plain English. It’s so easy to slip in acronyms or industry-specific terminology that normal people don’t understand.

One more thing. Not only do you have to figure out the most important points, but you also have to figure out what to leave out. Otherwise, you babble on and on, boring people to death. At the same time, you need to make sure you’re not oversimplifying.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure that what you know is understandable to others. If we don’t do our own gobbledygook tests, we’ll flunk in front of our best prospects.

Tell others what you’re learning before you tell your prospects.

Just because you know something doesn’t necessarily mean you can explain it well.

PART 4: PICK UP NEW SKILLS FAST

In sales, the key to long-term success is short-term success

28: FIND YOUR STARTING POINT

1. Prospect Acquisition: At this stage, your objective is to initiate a conversation with someone who has the potential to be a good customer. To do that, you need to move your prospect from oblivious to curious. Your company may start the process with online lead generation or it may begin with your own outreach efforts. Sales skills for this stage include networking, prospecting, targeting, and researching.

2. Opportunity Creation: At this stage, your job is to aid prospects in determining if making a change is worthwhile for their company. To do so, you need to move them from complacency to deciding that the status quo needs to go. Key sales skills include questioning, business case development, getting buy-in, and creating value.

Push case studies

3. Winning the Business: Your role here is to help prospects understand why working with you and your company is the best choice. This step requires you to guide prospects from considering a wide variety of options to feeling certain that you’re the right resource. Key sales skills include presenting, differentiating, negotiating, addressing obstacles, and competitive strategy.

4. Account Management: Your objective in this stage is to expand your account presence. This means you need to first ensure your customer’s satisfaction and then locate additional sales opportunities within the company. Key skills include customer service, proactive problem solving, and opportunity identification.

You can’t become a good seller by focusing on all these skills concurrently. Your challenge is to identify the one area you can tackle right now that will make a quantifiable difference in your success. Consider these factors in making your choice.

First Things First. If you have to develop your own client base, your immediate emphasis should be on prospect acquisition skills. Your focus should be on getting better at setting up meetings. Until you’re talking to an actual prospect, everything else is a moot point.

Sometimes the job you’re in dictates what stage you start with. If you’re following up on leads generated by another person, you need to determine where the prospects are in the buyer’s journey. If they’re considering a change, focus first on opportunity creation skills. If the prospect is further along in the journey and seriously looking at options, focus on skills that help you win the business. If you’re hired for account management, work on those skills first.

Set the Sequence. Follow the buying journey. If you prospected successfully, you’ll soon be having conversations with potential clients. You must assume that at most, they’re only interested in learning whether a change could help their organization. That means your next focus should be on opportunity creation skills. Once prospects decide a change is worthwhile, then turn to those skills that look more specifically to winning the business.

Fix Problem Areas. No matter how long you’ve been in sales, there’s always room for improvement. Ask yourself these questions to determine the best sales skills to focus on initially:

• Are you satisfied with your prospecting results? If not, you need to figure out what’s causing your problems and how you can change.

• Are enough of your initial conversations turning into serious discussions? If there’s a big drop-off, consider what you can do to get better results.

• Do you lose to “no decision” frequently? If too many forecasted prospects decide to stay with their status quo, focus on opportunity creation skills.

• Are competitors beating you up? If so, look at improving those sales skills that help you win the business.

• Are your existing customers growing? If not, it’s time to get to the root cause of why you’re not expanding the services you offer to those customers and brainstorm ways you can change that.

Now, let’s dig into those rapid learning strategies that’ll help you master selling a whole lot faster.

29: FOCUS ON PERSONAL BESTS

I loved this viewpoint and so did she. Because I’m sales obsessed, I immediately saw its application for salespeople. Instead of just focusing on quantity, we’d be much better off if we emphasized improvement metrics where we could continually strive for personal bests.

Deconstruct your messages into their component parts: introduction, body, and close. Identify factors that could affect your success, such as subject line, length, tone, appearance, and grammar.

Use personal bests as a way to track your improvement.

30: PREP WITH PASSION

Planning matters.

Prospects can quickly determine if you’ve done your homework.

Planning enables sales agility.

31: CONNECT WITH QUESTIONS

Questions are also crucial in the sales process itself. But traditional questions like “Tell me about your company” or “What keeps you up at night?” are no longer effective. Today’s buyers look down on you if they have to provide information that’s readily available online. Buyers also hate smarmy questions like “If I can show you a way to save 25 percent, would you buy from me?” It signals that you have nothing to offer.

On the other hand, if you ask your prospects insightful and thought-provoking questions, you’ll get a totally different reaction. Your credibility will soar. You’ll be seen as a caring person who has their best interests at heart. The prospect will consider you an asset who’s capable of providing value beyond that of your product or service.

The ability to ask powerful questions is a “need to know” now skill. 

The quality of your questions ultimately determines the quality of your conversation, it’s imperative to plan them ahead of time.

1) Focus: From your prospect’s perspective, good conversations are all about them. They explore, evaluate, and pinpoint what matters most to their company and the inpiduals involved in making any change. Here’s what you need to be asking about:

  • Status quo relevant to your offering
  • Issues and aspirations you can impact
  • Business value of making a change
  • Possible solutions, ideas they’ve considered
  • Perceptions of priorities, risk, vendors
  • Where they are in their buying journey

Asking these questions enables you to shape and refine your approach as you move forward. Yes, it’s all about being agile and relentlessly relevant.

2) Context: Use your knowledge and research to set up your questions. This positions you as a much more valuable asset. Here are two examples:

• “In researching your account, I noticed that shrinking time to market is a key objective this year. What impact is this having on your area?”

• “Last week you downloaded our white paper, Improving Sales Conversion Rates. What’s driving your interest in that topic right now?”

3) Sequence: As you plan your questions, pay attention to the order in which you ask them. To get the conversation rolling, start out with easy questions such as, “What are the biggest challenges your salespeople are having with prospecting?” Your next question should always be a logical extension of the previous one; it’s what keeps the conversation flowing. For example, a good follow-up to the previous question would be, “What have you done so far to help them improve their prospecting skills?”

Before your meeting, review all your questions. Think about how you’d answer them if you were the prospect. Would they get you talking? About what? Do they make you think? Do they feel manipulative? After your conversation, analyze what worked and what didn’t. If a question yielded a “stupid” answer, change it. If it didn’t elicit the information you’d hoped for, try phrasing the question a different way or plan follow-up questions.

Proficiency at asking crucial questions allows you to be even more agile throughout the sales cycle. It’s well worth the effort, don’t you think?

Insightful questions build credibility and deepen relationships.

32: PRACTICE SAFE SELLING

In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes: “Soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments. These are places where you encounter difficult obstacles and respond to them over and over, building the network of sensitive wiring you need to read, recognize and react.”

Deliberate role-playing is the only way to get better at selling. It’s embarrassing—and costly—to practice in front of prospective clients. Believe me, looking stupid in front of supportive colleagues is a whole lot better than looking stupid in front of prospects.

Role-playing helps you hone your skills and increase your effectiveness. You can use it to improve your phone and in-person conversations, demonstrations, negotiations, and more. It’s really invaluable to build your soft skills through repetition and trial and error. Enlist your colleagues to play your prospects. Ask them to listen, participate, and react as if they were the person you’re meeting.

After the role-playing exercise, ask the person who’s playing your customer for feedback. Try asking questions that will specifically point out what worked and didn’t work in your conversation, such as:

  • Did what I said make sense, or was it confusing?
  • Did it interest or engage you? Why or why not?
  • If you were to make one suggestion for my presentation, what would it be?
  • How could I have elicited a different response?
  • What could I do to make it more of a conversation?
  • In your opinion, what did I do well?
  • Would you have taken the logical next step with me? Why or why not?

Listen to what your colleagues say and note where you can improve what you’re doing. Run the role-play until the material is ingrained in your brain and you’re comfortable with it.

Role-playing isn’t always fun, especially when others are evaluating you. But it’s an investment in yourself that truly does make a difference.

33: REMOVE THE BLINDERS

To get up to speed quickly, we need multiple forms of deliberate practice. Role-plays are essential. Filming your role-play provides an even deeper level of feedback. Hearing your own audio is also very helpful, because so much of selling is done over the phone.

But the real judge of our behaviors is our prospect. That’s why it’s crucial that we review everything we do from their perspective. Are we enticing and engaging? Do we seem credible? Are we adding value? Does our flow make sense? Do we run on and on? Are we understandable? Do we come across as a pro or sound like a cheesy salesperson?

Everyone has the capacity to look at what they’re doing from another person’s perspective, yet few people take the time. It’s simply a matter of making this aspect of preparation a discipline. Get your prep work done earlier than your actual “performance” time so you have a chance to review and improve it. When you do, you’ll see rapid progression in your sales success.

35: OBSERVE TOP SELLERS

Why am I telling you this? Because there’s so much you can learn by talking to top sellers and by watching them in action. The key is to be a smart questioner and a savvy observer. Don’t take what you observe at face value without digging into the full context of what you’re seeing.

You can also ask these questions for specific sales observations:

  • Prospecting: What are you doing to pique curiosity, establish credibility, and engage them in conversations?
  • Initial meetings: What’s your strategy for getting a prospect interested in making a change?
  • Change justification: How are you helping the client assess if a change makes good business sense?
  • Risk: What’s your approach for minimizing the risk inherent in change initiatives?
  • Differentiation: What will you be doing to differentiate yourself, our offering, and our company from the competitors?

36: GET OVER YOURSELF

The lesson is short but simple: You have to get over yourself. There’s no way you could possibly know everything when you’re just starting a new position or selling a new product or service. Asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s another way to slash your learning curve. Plus, the suggestions you get will enable you to close more deals sooner. That in itself should be reason enough for you to put your pride aside and request the assistance of others.

 

Get over yourself and ask for help so you can get better at selling faster.

Eat your pride; ask for help earlier rather than later.

37: INCREASE YOUR PERCEPTIVITY

 it’s people who make decisions, not companies.

Perhaps you could even say something like, “You seem distracted,” or “It looks like you’ve got some hesitation about changing things here.

When you see these things, you could say, “It looks like this could be helpful to you,” or “You must be facing a similar problem to that of the client I was just telling you about.” These reinforcements help you make sure you and your client truly are on the same path.

38: DEVELOP RECOVERY STRATEGIES

After your prospect responds, you probe a little deeper: “So have you had any issues or challenges with it?” Your prospect nods his head and says, “Yes. Some.”

The minute you hear that, your heart jumps. This company has problems you can solve. Hallelujah! Before you know it, you lean forward, filled with excitement, and say, “Oh. You have problems with that? We can help.” And then you start babbling away, sharing every little nuance about your product or service that you think will impress him.

Your prospect immediately senses the change. You’re pitching; the conversation is over. He needs to protect himself now.

Luckily, I’ve discovered a recovery strategy that’s always gotten me back on track with my prospect. I’ve taught thousands of sellers to use it the moment they catch themselves droning on about their offering.

“Sorry, Mr. Prospect. Sometimes I just get so excited about how we might be able to help. But I really don’t know enough about your business yet. Let’s get back to talking about those challenges you mentioned earlier. . . .”

Conclude your recovery statement by asking a specific question related to the issue that started you down this path. Believe it or not, your prospect will probably laugh at your eagerness and accept your apology easily. He’ll also appreciate that you nimbly pulled yourself back from the pitch and turned your attention to his business.

When you’re new to selling, sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re on the path to blowing it. Here are some signs that you could be in trouble:

  • You feel a sudden rush of excitement on discovering that your prospect has a “problem.”
  • You’re leaning forward, babbling endlessly about your product/service.
  • You’re concerned about time and trying to get “everything” in.
  • The prospect’s arms are crossed and she’s leaning back, away from you.
  • The prospect’s asking all the questions and you’re busy explaining things.
  • The energy in the room is flat; people are yawning or checking their messages.

Pay attention to when these moments occur in meetings and what you were saying/doing before they happened. Then think: Have you run into the same problem before? Is this a pattern for you?

Develop recovery strategies to deal with the inevitable blunders. 

39: DARE TO DEBRIEF

When you’re just getting started, debriefs are more important than ever. Often, you’ll have to evaluate your own performance. Sometimes you’ll be able to get outside input from a colleague, boss, or trainer who’s listening in or at the meeting with you.

Whatever your situation, always be curious about how you could improve your selling ability. Be critical of your own behavior. During your client interactions, pay attention to times when the conversation was challenging for you. Note when things went according to plan or turned out better than you expected. In short, observe your own behaviors while you’re doing them. See anything interesting?

To debrief the meeting, try asking yourself or your colleagues these four questions:

1. What did I expect—and what actually happened? If it turned out the way you’d hoped, your planning was likely sufficient. If not, it’s a sign you missed something.

2. Where did I run into trouble? Being cognizant of your problem areas is the first step in ensuring you don’t make the same mistakes over and over. If you had difficulties in any areas, pay attention.

3. What could I have done differently? Brainstorm some options. Specifically look for ways that you could have improved how you handled things. Better yet, explore ways that you could have eliminated the obstacle entirely.

4. What did I do well? Paying attention to your positive behaviors is important too. You want to be able to repeat them. Also think about how you can enhance what you’re already doing well.

Don’t just ask these questions when you lose a sale. It’s just as important to be curious about what you did to clinch a deal too. Really dig into how you piqued interest, demonstratedvalue, built the business case, and more. Debrief to find the keys to your success as well.

Staying curious propels you faster on your path to proficiency. It’s also what makes you agile and more quickly able to respond to changes as they occur.

Realize rapid and radical improvement with frequent debriefs.

40: PREVENT EPIC FAILS

 Thinking positively can backfire on you. Seriously. Recent research by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, a psychologist at New York University, says that the better you are at visualizing your goals, the less likely you are to achieve them. Visualization can cause your brain to relax; it thinks the hard work has already been done. As a result, you lose focus and clarity, making it much harder to reach your goals.

Instead, Dr. Oettingen discovered that “mental contrasting” works far better than positive thinking alone. Essentially, that means that you’re visualizing two things at once:

1. How great it will be to close that big sale (your goal).

2. All the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving that goal.

But that’s minor compared with what I think is one of the biggest fails of all—interested people who stay with the status quo. If this is happening to you, it’s crucial to ask yourself:

  • Why don’t they see the value of change?
  • How can I build a stronger business case?
  • What questions could I ask to help them realize the cost of sticking with the status quo?
  • Am I rushing to a solution too quickly?

41: MINIMIZE THE MEMORY BURDEN

He stood firm, telling me that pilots always use checklists, even the most experienced ones.

Since that time, my marketing director has created a newsletter checklist that we now use religiously before we hit “Send” on a newsletter. We haven’t had problems since then. It didn’t take long for me to become a real fan of checklists. I loved how they freed up my memory for the more important things. Checklists also ensure that you don’t unwittingly make stupid mistakes.

Here’s one I recently created for online video meetings. Before I hold one, I make sure I’ve checked off every element on this list.

ONLINE MEETING CHECKLIST

Preparation

 De-clutter my work area.

 Turn up lights, avoiding windows behind me.

 Adjust camera so it’s at eye level.

 Test equipment (camera, slides, microphone) to ensure that it works.

 Log on five minutes prior to meeting.

 Use headset to eliminate background noise.

 Shut down e-mail, instant messaging, and other distractions.

 Position myself in center of screen, three feet from computer.

 Turn on webcam.

 Move meeting viewer window to center to ensure eye contact.

 Press “Record” when meeting starts.

During Meeting

 Look into camera, smile, and welcome people when they log on.

 Begin with intros and a little chitchat.

 Review meeting purpose and time frames.

 Present vital, must-know information.

 Ask questions to gain insights and perspectives.

 Suggest/solicit input for logical next steps.

Follow Up

 Send e-mail confirming key points, decisions made, and “to dos.”

 Forward recording to people who missed the meeting.

 Review meeting, looking for ways to improve skills.

As you’re getting up to speed in your new job, think about what kinds of checklists you can create to simplify your life and ensure that you do things right. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Pre-Call Research Checklist
  • CRM (or any technology) Checklist
  • Sales Proposal Checklist
  • Lead Follow-up Checklist
  • Sales Process Checklist
  • Referral Checklist
  • Messaging Checklist
  • Key Questions Checklist
  • Presentation Checklist
  • RFP Preparation Checklist
  • Contracting Checklist
  • Negotiations Checklist
  • Implementation Checklist

As you can see, there are countless jobs that you can simplify by creating a checklist. The key to creating a thorough, useful checklist is to document the steps you go through to complete a task or process. That’s how you make your new job simple, simple, simple. Better yet, it increases your sales agility. Instead of having your brain all tied up trying to remember complex tasks, you’ll be able to focus on higher-value activities related to sales strategies and buyer interactions.

Make checklists to ensure you don’t forget.

42: FIX THE ROOT CAUSE

 You need to dig deeper to determine the root cause of the sales problems that you’re personally facing. By changing your own behaviors and implementing different strategies, you can often realize fundamentally different results.

This problem-solving approach should help you figure out where you need to improve:

1. Identify potential causes. Most sellers immediately jump to one conclusion (for example, closing skills) and stop there. Expand your thinking beyond the obvious to find the root cause of the sales problems you’ve created by your actions. Ask: What’s causing my sales problem? What else could be a cause of my problem? Create a list of potential factors.

2. Separate what you can control from what you can’t. You don’t have any impact on the economy or industry trends. But you have total control over what you do in every client interaction.

3. Sequence the factors. Now that you’ve identified the areas you can impact, look at their sequence in the sales cycle or sales meeting. In my experience, the root cause is often found much earlier in the sales journey than most people think. For example, closing problems are caused because prospects don’t believe it makes sense to change. To solve them, the seller needs to focus on building a better business case, not closing harder. Ask: Where is the true source of my problem?

4. Brainstorm solutions. Once you’ve identified the areas you can impact, brainstorm ways to address them. Perhaps you could ask better questions, develop a stronger ROI, delay pitching, or have a more engaging presentation. If you’re stuck, go talk to other people who can offer you fresh insights. And finally, take action.

44: STRIVE FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT

Top sellers spend more time prepping for meetings than average sellers, at every point in their careers. They still role-play. They debrief regularly. They exchange ideas with their colleagues.

When prospecting, they’re always thinking about new ways to increase their effectiveness. They may experiment with different e-mail subject lines, first sentences, salutations, and messages.

by embracing a maximum-impact philosophy, you can achieve your goals with fewer prospects, minimal competition, and in less time. You’ll also get more business from your existing customers. That’s something we should all strive for.

Constantly ask yourself: “How can I have maximum impact?”

PART 5: SUCCESS HABITS OF AGILE SELLERS

46: PUT THIS PLAN IN PLACE

The best way to be accountable to your own learning schedule is to create a 90-Day Plan that covers exactly what you need to learn.

Put week schedule.

Make sure to include a weekly conversation with your boss in this 90 days plan.

47: POWER-PACK YOUR DAY

You should think in blocks of thirty-, sixty-, or ninety-minute intervals, max. Any longer is counterproductive.

I’ve also found it really helps to chunk time related to specific sales opportunities. For example, after talking to a good prospect on the phone, I’ll dedicate the next thirty minutes to consolidating my notes, fleshing out how I can offer value, and writing a draft of the discussion document I want to use in our next conversation. By doing this right away, I come up with much better ideas and I don’t waste time later, trying to refresh my memory.

Social Media: Don’t overlook Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. Follow heavy hitters and companies, track industry hash tags, and participate in conversations. Check out what they’re recommending.

50: ELIMINATION DISTRACTIONS

Distractions stress you out too, and when that happens, cortisol (hormone) is released, making it more difficult toconcentrate. Your memory, great sales ideas, and keen insights can disappear in a nanosecond.

• Wear headphones. If you’re sharing space with lots of other people, wearing headphones is often the equivalent of a “DO NOTDISTURB” sign. If you still get frequent interruptions, tape a sign to your back. Have a sense of humor about it!

Move to a different area. As I write this, I’m in a coffee shop. It’s the perfect way for me to have alone time, even though I’m in the midst of a group of people. If you work in an office, go to a conference room—preferably far away from your colleagues.

51: UPGRADE YOUR BRAIN

 I’m writing this, I’m using a Word function called Focus (under View) that lets me see only this document.

Ninety minutes of time in which you’re totally focused on learning your new knowledge and skills will get you up to speed faster than anything else.

Eliminate multitasking to learn faster and think better. 

51: OPTIMIZE YOUR ATTITUDE

“Salespeople who sell with noble purpose—who want to make a difference to customers—outsell salespeople who focus on sales goals and money.”

Optimism can be learned or controlled; essentially, if you’re feeling down, you can change your feelings. It all goes back to realizing that despite how bad things seem, there are always factors you can control. You can transform the problem into a challenge. You can turn the failure into a learning experience. You can look for the positives within the difficulties.

Changing your attitude if it’s impacting your sales

53: TEACH SOMEONE A LESSON

teaching others in order to solidify your own knowledge. 

Here’s what closed that deal: I took a crash course in two competitors and became an overnight expert. In order to teach Alice, I had to really think through my meeting strategy step-by-step. Then I had to figure out how to explain to her what I was going to do in the meeting and why. Because I wanted to look good in front of Alice, my boss, and the prospect, I actually leapfrogged in my own sales development.

It seems strange to recommend teaching others while you’re still learning yourself. After all, we so quickly defer to the experts. However, the upside can be huge. As the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote nearly two thousand years ago, “By teaching, we learn.”

Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, writes about a program at the University of Pennsylvania in which students are responsible for teaching a specific subject to a computerized character. She writes, “As they prepare to teach, they organize their knowledge, improving their own understanding and recall.” Doing this helps them find gaps in their own learning too, and they’re more motivated to master the material.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Teaching really challenged me to learn quickly. I felt really good about it. Alice learned. I got better. Consequently, we got the order that day.

After Alice, I had a string of trainees at Xerox. Each one increased my skill level. I became a conscious competent about what I was doing. In other words, I knew what worked, but it wasn’t second nature to me yet. Doing it right required me to pay close attention to all the steps involved. By teaching, I accelerated my learning significantly.

To this day, I teach so I can learn. You might want to give it a try. Think about what you really want to (or need to) learn about in more depth right now. What is it? Who could you teach it to? It doesn’t have to be people in your own company. Get creative. But most of all, start teaching so you learn faster.

Accelerate your own learning by teaching others.

54: GAMING THE SYSTEM

neuroscience research has discovered that games activate the brain’s “seeking circuit.” In other words, they create challenges that our brains just can’t resist.

The Objection Game. Whenever I encounter an objection that stumps me, I turn it into a game. For example, I hate it when prospects say, “I’m not interested,” especially when I know I could really help them out. Clearly something I said elicited that response—but what? To find out the answer, I replay as best I can what I was talking about just prior to their reaction. Then I try to figure out how to say things differently, so that my next prospect will say, “Ooh, that’s interesting. Tell me more.” When I get that response, I win. It’s tougher to do than you might imagine; I’ve spent days thinking and rethinking how to get a different reaction. Sometimes it’s required me to rethink my entire approach. But I love winning this one.

The Competitive Game. When I’m up against a known competitor, I approach it like a chess game. I ask myself questions like “What moves are they likely to make? How can I gain an advantage? Where are my weaknesses?” Looking at my ability to close a deal as a zero-sum game spurs my thinking. I’m not just going through the motions; I’m actually challenged to my maximum.

The One-Customer Game. In this game, I take a look at my best customer and ask, “If this were the only company I could work with, what would I need to do to earn a decent living here?” This game has serious parameters, which make it even more challenging. To win, you have to ask lots of questions like: Where else could I go in this organization? Which of our products/services aren’t they using? How can I change that? How can I leverage existing relationships for more business? How can I keep competitors out? This game is fun. Playing it enabled me to sell significantly more to my key customer—and it was so much easier than having to prospect for the same volume of business.

55: CHANGE SABOTAGING BEHAVIORS

For one week, I wrote down what I was doing every fifteen minutes—uncensored.

56: GET GRITTIER

Turning problems into challenges makes you grittier. So does reframing failure as a valuable learning experience. Setting “getting better” goals helps too. What’s really important is to make grit a personal success habit—one you leverage whenever you face adversity.

Here are some ways you can build more grit:

Focus on what’s controllable. What’s important from the get-go is separating the areas you can impact from those you can’t. Then you need to deliberately make a choice to not spend one iota of your precious time on areas you can’t influence (for example, pricing, economy, marketing support). Instead, dedicate all your energy to areas that you can affect such as your skill level, depth of knowledge, how you spend your time, and your mind-set.

Challenge yourself. Pick a small habit you want to change, like delaying checking e-mail for an hour. Or, put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. I recently spoke out publicly about a sales-related issue that really bothered me—and got significant flak for doing it. It was tough, but I’m stronger because of it. If you need to get grittier, I’d suggest you take risks on minor things before you tackle bigger ones. While you’re challenging yourself, be conscious that you’re building grit. Although it’s not actually a muscle, grit acts like one; the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

Take a break. Research shows that grit is also a finite resource. When you’re under intense pressure to perform and you’re stressed out because of it, your stick-to-itiveness quickly evaporates. Recognize when your grit is waning and give yourself a breather. Take a walk, talk to friends, or play a game. Do something to refresh yourself for a short period of time. By taking the pressure off yourself, even momentarily, you refill your grit reserves and are better able to handle the stress.

Most of all, don’t give up on yourself. Developing more grit makes a huge difference—not only to your success in your job today, but for your whole life.

Develop your resilience by practicing grit-building exercises.

57: BORROW A BRAIN

I was deep into catastrophizing when it hit me. I might not know how to respond, but Jim sure would. By thinking about how he’d react and using that as my guide, I could handle almost anything. From then on, when prospects asked questions I couldn’t answer, instead of sounding like a babbling idiot, I parroted Jim: “Great question. Why is that important to you?” When they tried to dismiss me by saying they already had a copier, I brought in his cheekiness: “Of course you do. That’s why I’m here.”

“Borrowing” Jim’s brain was a lifesaver for me. It allowed me to shift my perspective away from the angst that had paralyzed my thinking. Plus, it turned my problem into a question: How would Jim handle this? Suddenly my brain had an irresistible challenge to solve and immediately went to work. New ideas and answers quickly popped into my head, enabling me to deal with customer scenarios I feared.

I love the quote by former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, who said, “I not only use all the brains I have, but also all that I can borrow.”

Whose brain are you going to borrow today?

Expand your options by thinking from another person’s perspective.

58: FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

Sometimes, before big meetings, I’d get sick to my stomach with fear. Other times I’d dread picking up the phone to make a call. Fortunately, I stumbled onto a secret confidence booster. I’d sing a little song to myself, “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” The lyrics, which tell you to “hold your head erect” and “strike a careless pose” worked miracles for me. I’d stand up straighter, feigning the posture and attitude of a real pro.

When I did this, people responded to me differently. My fake confidence increased their perception of my competence, which strangely enough made me feel confident. At that time, I had no idea why it worked, but I sure loved the results.

59: REFUEL YOUR FIRE

Refueling your fire is even more essential when learning so many new things. Here are three strategies you can use to keep yourself sharp and avoid burnout:

Get off your butt. Your body craves movement—and so does your mind. In fact, your brain actually works best when you’re not actively thinking. Wander around your office. Walk the stairs. Go stretch somewhere. Get outside if you can, even if it’s only for a short period of time. And take time to exercise at least three times per week for an hour. You will feel so much better and your brain will have an opportunity to rest and recalibrate as well.

Do something fun. This isn’t a joke. Talk to your colleagues. Play some games. Give a friend a call. After fifteen minutes or so, return to the task at hand. When you’re refreshed, you’ll assimilate all that new information faster and will be able to rapidly improve your skills.

Get more sleep. If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep each night, your memory circuits are not operating at full strength. Your performance can be significantly improved by sleeping eight or more hours nightly. If you have a home office, you might even consider taking a midday nap.

Detach from devices. It’s hard when they’re your lifelines, but shutting down during breaks, evenings, and weekends gives us a real breather. Turn off your cell phone for a period of time. At a minimum, don’t check e-mail. Before you say it’s impossible, give it a try. Even a couple hours of unconnected time is enough to renew your energy.

60: PICK THE RIGHT ROLE MODEL

if pepito can do, so can I.

Take a look around at the people you know. Who could you pick as your role model?

Choose role models who are slightly ahead of you in their careers.

61: RECALIBRATE OVER COFFEE

As sellers, we’re very action oriented. We don’t stop to think about what we’re doing; we just “do.” Yet getting away from the office, the computer, and other people is often exactly what’sneeded to get perspective, to look beyond the obvious, and to come up with a rock-solid plan to address the challenges we face.

Tackling a new sales position isn’t easy. To ensure that you stay on the right track, meet with yourself on a regular basis—alone, far from the madding crowd. When I do it, I always discover I know more than I think I do. Try it. You might be amazed at how much you really know too.

Take time out to think and reflect, by yourself.

62: KEEP MOMENTUM GOING

Getting up to speed quickly can be both energizing and exhausting at the same time. What’s crucial is that you keep moving forward, expanding your knowledge and fine-tuning your skills. To maintain both your impetus and your enthusiasm, use these strategies. They work!

Form a learning group. When you interact with other people, you learn a whole lot faster. At Xerox, there were a whole bunch of us who started at the same time. During our first year, we constantly tested one another. We brainstormed how to approach certain situations, role-played various scenarios, and reviewed one another’s proposals. We even had a book club. Knowing that other people were in the same boat—and being able to bounce ideas off them—had a huge impact on my getting up to speed faster. If you work for a company where you have a peer group, form your own learning community. It’ll really expedite your professional growth.

If you’re on your own, you can use this strategy as well. I’ve created my own peer groups on numerous occasions. Several years ago, when I was just getting into professional speaking, I cofounded a group of five speakers who met monthly to practice and get feedback. The meetings were invaluable. Plus, it’s something you can easily do on your own by inviting colleagues from within or outside your own company.

Revel in past successes. If your confidence is starting to waver, it’s time to take immediate corrective action. Believe me, if you don’t, it’ll just keep eroding away. Start by looking backward, to times in your life when you’ve successfully overcome challenges.

Immerse yourself in those positive thoughts and wins for a while. Connect with your strengths again. When I was going through a major slump, my husband even said to me, “Are you ever going to work again?” I answered, “I think so.” Getting my mojo back wasn’t easy. I had to remember and revel in what I’d accomplished previously in order to give myself the confidence to address my current challenges.

Pat yourself on the back. All too often, companies reward salespeople only when they close deals. As far as I’m concerned, getting a sale is simply an outcome of doing many things right. What’s most important, especially as you’re learning, is to celebrate your achievements along the way.

Can you clearly articulate your value proposition now? What an achievement! Did you create a highly targeted prospecting list this morning? Yay, you’re on your way! How about setting up three meetings today? Hip, hip, hooray! Did your conversation with your prospect advance to the logical next step? Good for you! Are you one of three finalists being considered? That’s impressive. Movement matters. So does recognizing progress and being nice to yourself.

Read inspirational stories. When your enthusiasm is flagging and you’re not sure if you’re up to the challenge, look outside for support. Research into resilience is now showing that people who read about how others have overcome major difficulties in life will hang in there much longer. So when you’re down, read about an athlete who made a major comeback, an entrepreneur who built an incredible business after three big flops, or a person who is changing the world despite a handicap. Knowing that others have succeeded against immense odds may be all you need to get your oomph back.

Being successful in sales is an ongoing challenge. Everyone wants to do well. When you’re new to a job, it can be overwhelming. If you’ve been around for a while, dealing with all the changes can be hard. To keep on top of your game, you need to always be learning. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated, but it is your responsibility.

Motivate yourself to maintain your momentum.

FINAL WORDS

Your learning agility becomes your competitive edge. You can ramp up quickly in any new position, becoming competent in record time.

By embracing the agile mind-set, you also learn strategies to deal with those difficult times.

Beware of complacency, however. You will reach a plateau where you’re doing okay, and selling enough to make a decent living. Often, when you reach a level of proficiency, you stop learning and growing. Don’t do that! It’s going to kick you in the butt all too soon.

When you start to feel complacent, challenge yourself to get even better. Start by asking questions like:

  • Am I having maximum impact in every interaction?
  • What can I do to make it easier, simpler, or faster for both my prospect and me?
  • What other options could I try to get the business?
  • How can I reduce my losses to “no decision” or competitors?

Get curious again. Remember that sales is an experiment. It always will be. For long-term success, you need to stay in atesting mode. That’s what leads to proficiency and, ultimately, mastery.

Make your own personal growth and development the number-one priority.