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How to engage even your most experienced salespeople in self-development

If you’ve got a team of highly experienced salespeople, the title of this blog will resonate. Sales is one of those professions where people earn their stripes by continually showing up and putting in the effort. Those who have been plying their trade for years are traditionalists at heart and believe, rightly, that relationships are at the heart of success.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

But the business landscape is changing, and faster than ever since the ramp-up of digitisation. Nowadays, there is much to learn and, while the traditional values will never change, there are new techniques and significantly more data at hand which can make sales faster, deals bigger and competition much greater.

Upskilling your most experienced workforce can be a challenge

People often operate from within their own comfort zone, finding change both scary and something to be viewed with suspicion. Your most experienced salespeople may have seen many trends come and go and found that picking up the phone to have a conversation remains the best way to make a sale.

There may also, of course, be the self-imposed limiting belief that they’re an old dog that can’t be taught new tricks. So how do we go about convincing them otherwise?

Creating a growth mindset

Self-development is all relative. By that, we mean that it’s a personal thing. Your salesperson is operating at a given level and you want to enable them to better themselves.

It was Dave Brailsford, General Manager of Team Sky who looked for marginal gains. He set about improving every little thing by 1% and, in a story told by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, moved British cycling away from 100 years of mediocrity to a position where the nation dominated the sport at the 2008 Olympic Games, and again at London 2012.

It’s understanding that even the smallest improvement can be a game changer which marks the difference between mediocre and high performers. It’s also much easier to sell this concept to a hesitant audience than to try to convince them a wholesale change is needed.

A growth mindset facilitates the belief that it is always possible to do more.

Six tips for fostering a growth mindset amongst your experienced salespeople

  • Look for the marginal gain – focusing on bite-sized chunks, in the manner of the Dave Brailsford example above, will always make success easier to contemplate.
  • Question beliefs and attitudes – Chris Voss was an FBI hostage negotiator and is now known for his masterclasses in negotiating for business. He argues that compromising, or settling, is never the right choice, reasoning that if we are not open to learning, we will deny ourselves access to the opportunity in the first place. Asking people to consider things with an open, not closed mind, can shift perceptions.
  • Harness their experience – turn the most experienced into coaches in a pivot that reinforces that, to teach, you have to be able to confirm you know something in the first place. Taking this approach shows that learning is always relevant and introduces them to a safe learning environment.
  • Consider innovation – innovation is rarely planned, it often comes from conversations. Start informally and build from there. If you can spark someone to be inquisitive, they will be receptive to learning.
  • Coaching is a good tool to start engaging a sceptical audience because a conversation often feels safer than a training course, which can feel challenging. It draws out the reality and can then signpost the best way to engage an individual.

    Want more? Read 3 steps for retaining your top employees here.
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