A friend recently asked me what has changed in sales. The aim of his question was to discover what new ideas would lead to an increase in his company’s sales. I know he wanted to talk about the impact of social media and sales 2.0. But that wasn’t the answer he needed, and it wasn’t the answer I gave.
Clearly, much has changed. But as strongly as I believe that the ability to adapt to change is an iron and unbreakable law of survival, the other iron laws of success never change either—even if they occasionally fall out of fashion to some new and shiny ideas.
The fact of the matter is that the boring, old, tried-and-true attributes and skills that led to success in the past are the very same attributes and skills that lead to success now—despite all that has changed. More still, the new and shiny ideas all rely on the fundamental attributes and skills in order to be effective in the first place.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
The greatest way to adapt to, and to capitalize on, the exponential changes occurring around us is to develop yourself by improving your command of the fundamentals; the attributes that lead to success and that never change. And the more things change, the more important it is that you commit to a plan to improve yourself. Here are three ideas to get you started:
1. Personal Development is Job One
Adaptation to change requires personal development and personal growth. Effectiveness in any endeavor, especially sales, is built on a long list of attributes, all of which can be developed and improved with effort.
These attributes have been observed, studied, debated, and written about for millennia. My list is here, but the top of my list surely includes honesty, integrity and self-discipline (which I believe to be the cornerstone to success in all endeavors).
Your personal development is your job one. It is something that no one can do for you, and it is a responsibility that is yours alone. You must recognize in yourself the attributes that you need to improve and you need to work on them.
Resolutions to change aren’t exclusive to the change of the calendar.
Take a personal inventory and make a plan to develop and improve yourself. Find books and articles that give you perspective and ideas on the actions you can take to make the improvements you wish to make. Find and read biographies of people who embody the attributes you are trying to develop.
Study the attributes you want to improve. Write about them. Keep a journal. Make an inventory.
2. Become a Life-Long Learner
Being a life-long learner is no longer optional—if it ever was. Too much is changing and success requires both a broader and deeper understanding of the subject matter in which you come into contact in your life and your work.
You finished high school. You finished college. Maybe you acquired an advanced degree. Do you really think you know more now than you did then? Or do you recognize that the more you learn, the more you realize how little any of us really knows.
Commit to learning. It doesn’t have to be at an educational institution. It doesn’t have to be formal classes. It doesn’t even have to be related to your work. Learn a second language. Learn to play an instrument. Learn to sing. Take up martial arts. If you want to learn accounting, take classes. Take cooking classes in the evening.
The key is to find something that interests you and pursue learning it. I promise you that what you believe to be the most irrelevant and irrational pursuit will develop your effectiveness in many other areas of your life, including your work—regardless of how distant it may seem to your work.
If you pay close attention, you will discover that the fundamentals that allow success in your new endeavor all carry over into other areas of your life, including sales.
“The true value of sword-fencing technique cannot be seen within the confines of sword-fencing technique.” Miyamoto Musashi from The Book of Five Rings
3. Develop Yourself Professionally
K. Anders Erricson who studies expert performance at the University of Florida once said (I am paraphrasing):
“Just because you have been walking for 45 years doesn’t mean you are getting any better at it.”
Why would I study sales? I already know how to sell?
The fact that you have been in sales for 25 years doesn’t mean you are getting any better at it. In fact, I’d argue the opposite is more likely—unless you are one of the rarest of individuals who reads a book a month (or a week), listens to audio books, attends seminars and trainings regularly, reflects deeply (and in writing), who studies their performance, and who makes constant adjustments and discernments.
Your professional development is your responsibility. The sooner you recognize and act on this fact, the sooner you produce greater results.
Whether your company will pay for your development or not:
Buy and read books. Download and listen to audio books. Download and listen to podcasts. Attend training seminars. Quantify yourself and your results. Study your performance. Write your own case studies and make note of what lessons you have learned. Make a list of lessons you have learned that you want to be able to repeat. Make a list of lessons you have learned and never want to repeat. Make a list of adjustment you want to make, and study the result; discern what works and what doesn’t.
No matter how long you have been walking, you can get better.
In case you are curious, I pointed my friend at a list of attributes and skills that have long proven to build sales results, as well as Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Despite the constant and exponential change occurring around us, the key to success in sales (or any endeavor) isn’t found in the shiny new ideas. Success is built on effectiveness, and effectiveness is built on improving the fundamentals and through devoting yourself to personal and professional growth.
1. Do you have a written plan for your own personal development?
2. Does your plan include development in areas outside of your profession? Does it include development in things that interest you and that have no connection to your work?
3. Can you find the connections between the study of the things that interest you and your success in other endeavors?
4. Do you have a written plan for your own professional development?
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