You have a specific experience. Let’s assume it is a negative experience. You have to communicate this experience, so you create or find a concept to allow you to explain it to someone else, while trying to make sense of it yourself. Here is an example: You lose a big deal you believe you should have won. Your client told you that your competitor provided them a lower price, one significantly less than yours.
The experience created a concept. That concept might be “I lose to my competitor when they have a lower price.” Now the idea is available in future experiences, reinforcing the concept. Eventually, the concept becomes a belief. The belief is burned in by both your experience and the recounting of the idea as you explain how you lose, making it true for you.
In the above example, the salesperson is unaware of concepts like differentiation, value creation, justifying the delta, the difference between price and cost, and a half dozen other ideas that would have helped them win a deal they lost because of a lack of knowledge. Concepts are one form of knowledge, and experience is another; they are very different ways of knowing.
Not Concepts Alone
Concepts alone are not enough to improve your results, even though having been taught and trained to recognize the scenario (something we might call “awareness”), you would have been better prepared to win the deal you lost on price.
Sandler wrote a book called You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. Well, you sure as Hell can teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar. All you need is a kid and a bicycle.
Experience is crucial to sales performance. There is no way to really know something without experience. Armed with both the conceptual understanding that allows you to recognize what you are experiencing and the strategies, tactics, and language necessary to be effective in a sales conversation, you are better prepared to succeed at winning big deals.
Having won a big deal that you might have lost, your experience provides the concept that “There is a way to succeed in sales, even when your competitor has a lower price.” This is something that many salespeople already believe because they’ve experienced it regularly.
Why You Don’t Get Better
The reason you don’t improve—or don’t improve as fast as you could—is because you have developed concepts based on experiences from which you derived limiting beliefs. You sometimes create concepts that don’t serve you when you have positive experiences, like being told you won because you had a lower price, something that might create the concept, “It is easy to win big deals by having the lower price.”
Unless you are introspective enough to look at your theories, you aren’t even aware of them. You believe things to be true, even though other people find success with beliefs exactly counter to yours.
Most salespeople learn what they know through experience, without having been provided with the conceptual frameworks that would improve their results and eliminate a lot of the time it takes to develop. Instead, they spend years struggling, although their results could be better with training, development, and coaching.
Without acquiring both the concepts and the experience, you are not going to get better, and you certainly aren’t going to get better faster. When you don’t know what you don’t know, it isn’t easy to improve your results. The reason I have always hired coaches is that they can very quickly and effectively show me what I don’t know that I don’t know. Why wait for years or decades to produce a result you want when you could have it in months?
Every Negative Concept
For every experience that creates a negative concept, there is a positive concept available to replace it. Any time you lose, there was a win available to you had you made different choices. It is negligent not to acquire the concepts that would allow you to serve your clients better, helping them make better decisions about the future of their business, something required of a consultative salesperson.
You could take something like the book, The Lost Art of Closing, and find two dozen concepts that would immediately help you see something that was invisible before, like the need to trade value, how to control the process, as well as ten commitments you tend to find in B2B sales. B2C people email me to tell me they get through all the commitments in no more than two conversations.
There is no way to communicate without concepts. Those who are aware of them have different conversations, beliefs, and results than those who lack them.
Getting Better Faster
You need both types of knowledge to get better at sales, the concepts, and the experience. First, you need concepts, so you have a way to make sense of what you experience. You also need the experience, there being no way you can understand how best to achieve positive results without being able to practice, and to see, hear, and feel it.
Getting better faster means learning, B2B sales training, developing, and being coached, acquiring the concepts, and processing your experiences to understand better how to execute more effectively. You have to notice the distinction between one possible choice and another, recognizing when to use one strategy, and when to use another.
If consultative selling is your vocation, you need to spend time understanding how best to practice your craft. As a leader, you want to make sure you provide your team with what they need to serve your clients better and succeed at winning big deals.
As a side note, here is the shorter version of this idea I have always used: Reading a book about swimming won’t keep you from drowning the first time you get into turbulent and tumultuous waters.
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