A Journey of Continual Improvement

The path to greatness is paved one learning at a time

“Acorns were good until bread was found”
~ Francis Bacon

I don’t know you personally, but I bet we’d get along great.  I say that because if you are reading this article, we must be kindred spirits.    At some point in our conversation, we’d realize that we’re both sales professionals on the same journey of continual improvement which has become a way of life for us.

As sale professionals we have been asked to believe in something.  To wholeheartedly buy into a product or a service that was created to add value to people’s lives and businesses.  We are then asked to share that belief and passion with everyone we know, and more often, with people we don’t know.  We are asked to put our beliefs on the line for critique, for judgment as to whether THEY (the prospect) feel it is valuable.  Thus, we are also kindred spirits because day in and day out, we put ourselves in a position to be rejected.  That is the life we’ve chosen and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Don’t take it personal?  Yeah right!

If you’re like me, one of the first “sales tips” you ever got was to not “take it personally” when people say “no” to us.  How is that possible?  I’ve always struggled with that concept because it goes directly against what I was asked to do.  My beliefs, my convictions, my passions are extremely personal to me, so how am I supposed to not take it personally when someone rejects them?

The truth is, the very best sales people DO take it personally.  It does bother them when people don’t buy or see the value they are presenting.  The best sales professionals are trusted because they are authentic and that authenticity comes from a foundation of actually caring, which is, by definition, a very personal process.

So how are we able to keep going even after taking all this rejection personally?  It’s not because we don’t care, it’s because we have developed effective coping methods to manage the rejection.  We use mantras like SW – SW – SW NEXT (Some will, Some won’t, So what, Next) to help us move forward on to the next call.  We share war stories with other sales professionals as a way of venting and offloading the stress.  At the end of the day, what really keeps us in the game, what really makes it all worth it, is when we make that sale.  At some point in the early part of our career we realized that the positive feeling behind truly solving a problem and making that sale, far outweighs the pain of rejection.  We begin to frame rejection differently.  I know for myself the switch happened when moved from believing rejection was someone saying “no” to me to thinking “obviously they would say ‘no’ at this point because I haven’t presented all the value yet”.  The emphasis moved away from me and onto the presentation and how well I was able to deliver the value message.  Not to mention, our ability to qualify the prospect became better which helped us makes sense as to why someone wouldn’t buy, they weren’t qualified (didn’t have the need or desire or ability to buy) while it improved our conversion ratios.

Personal & Professional Development

Given all that we go through in our profession, is it any surprise that we all gravitate towards personal and professional development?  Why we flood seminar floors and conferences looking for that next competitive advantage both psychologically and technically?  Why we listen to “motivational” programs to keep us on track every day? We do that because we are searching for ways to not only out-sell our competition and stand out, but also for ways to help us cope with the emotional roller coaster that is part of being a sales professional.

Continual improvement is not a new concept.  I first heard it from Tony Robbins when I was 17 years old when he called it his “CANI” principle.  “CANI” stands for Constant And Never-ending Improvement. It’s an acronym that Tony developed almost 20 years ago but he was first influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming is credited as one of the leaders who brought one of the first quality movements to the Japanese back in the 1940’s.  His basic premise was that the secret to helping the Japanese achieve world power and economic success was if every single person and organization commit to constant improvement.  What a great philosophy for all of us!

The Japanese have a single word for “constant and never-ending improvement” and it’s called “Kaizen.” Kaizen is from the Japanese words Kai and Zen where “kai” means change and “zen” means good.  If you’ve ever worked in a manufacturing site, chances are you’ve heard the term “Kaizen Event”.  Now you know what it means.

I can remember the first time I spoke to a group of sales professionals.  After years of working with some of the world’s most challenging workforces and labor unions, I expected the same level of resistance to the concept of change.  Instead, what I found was a group of hungry and eager professionals looking for something new.  They wanted change and wanted it now.

Why Continual Improvement?

Once we get a handle on coping with rejection, we then need to face the reality that we are in a highly competitive world.  Consumers have access to more information than ever before which leads to more options to choose from than ever before.  It is essential that sales professionals become experts in the decision making process consumers go through.  Here is something I ask sales people to keep in mind:

“if you don’t choose a unique value proposition, then your customers will choose it for you.  And they will choose the only thing they know how to measure…price!”

This is to drive home the point that if we are to be successful, then we need to commit to continually improving not only our skills and our message but ourselves as well.  My mother once told me “you are either moving towards something or away from it, there is no standing still in an ever evolving world.”  That struck me very deeply because it made me question everything, every relationship, every action, every endeavor. Was I moving closer to or further from what I really wanted in life?  That applies perfectly to a competitive market place.  There are always new entrants coming in vying for your customers who can legitimately pose a threat to your business.  My good friend and best-selling Author of Mastering the World of Selling said it best when he said, “your best customer, is someone’s best prospect!”  So powerful!  If we aren’t continually getting better, someone else is and it is only a matter of time before they pass us up.

The foundation of improvement is Learning

The good news is we can ALL get better and improve.  That is what makes life so amazing, we can all get better and improve.  This puts learning is at the core of continual improvement.  We need to become experts at learning.  We need to nurture the hunger for learning every day and with every interaction we have.  Learning curves are what typically slow us down in the sales world but they are as long or as short as we want them to be.  If you take three months to give 10 presentations, it will be a long and slow learning curve.  I myself would rather give those initial 10 presentations in 2 days and conduct a review after each one.  Not to mention I’d probably record it for analysis and critique. It’s our choice.

Simple ways to “get better”

Here is a very simple yet actionable list of disciplines to adopt that would ensure continual improvement.  Everything on this list is designed to be simple and easy to implement if you have not done so already.  I believe that it is up to us to make the fundamentals of life unique and exciting.

We have to read.  If you don’t like to read, then get the audio book.  Our markets are changing, our customers are changing and we need to keep up.  There is so much good information out there today that there really is not excuse for not knowing what to do.  So don’t miss the book that could have saved your career!  Suggested reading:  The Millionaire Real Estate Agent (Gary Keller) & Action Selling (Duane Sparks).

Continuing Education
Take the classes.  They are available everywhere and taught by very smart people.  Even if you don’t like the instructor, challenge yourself to learn at least one new thing that you can implement.  Be driven by your desire to learn and not by how the teacher is or isn’t engaging.  I had THE WORST neuroscience professor ever but my desire to learn about the brain was so strong, that I took all his classes.  I sat through the boring lectures, read the unbearable research studies, it didn’t matter how I got the information, I just wanted it!

Learn how to take effective notes
Surrender to the fact that there is no way you will remember all of it.  There is way too much information coming at us daily that we need to have effective ways of capturing all that information.  I keep a chronological diary of my thoughts, meetings and ideas.  One notebook, not several, ONE!  It is dated with a subject for every entry.  Because of the chronology, it ties directly to my daily calendar which of course has all my meetings in it.  Chronology makes it easy to find notes from every meeting. EVERNOTE is a great tool.

Find good mentors
Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.  There are plenty of highly successful people out there that have walked your path that are willing to share their stories and ideas with you.  Seek your mentors, don’t just wait and hope they arrive.  Be aware of your current “mentors” and what they are teaching you.  We are influenced both positively and negatively every day by the people around us.  Make sure to add value to their lives and remember the biggest gift you can give a mentor is to heed their advice!

Master the Basics!

Goal setting
Your year has not begun unless you have clear goals with a clear action plan.  This is not rocket science and yet it is so often overlooked – what are your goals?

6 Money Making Activities
Make sure that your day is spent in the follow activities – Prospecting, Setting appointments, Presenting Value, Closing, After Care & Getting Referrals.  You can watch a video of me explaining this concept at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqILyyarooY 

Time Mastery
Time is all you have, so spend it wisely.  Get David Allan’s book “Getting Things Done” for a great system.

Commitment to growth and learning
Make it part of your everyday activity. Every sales call, presentation or meeting should always end with an “after call review”.  What you did well and what you need to improve.  Keep is simple.

The path of a sales professional is not an easy one but nothing valuable in our life ever came easy.  Stay in the game and persevere!

Our days are full of distractions and opportunities to make excuses.  Don’t given in and stay the course.  If you have your goals and a clear plan, this becomes a lot easier.

Life is a lot easier when we have the right attitude and philosophy about life.  This is a choice so choose the right philosophy.  Your team, your customers and your family will all thank you.

Without a doubt, you will become more like who you spend your time with.  Ask yourself if you are surrounded by the right people.  Will they challenge you and push you to grow or do they enable the behavior leads to failure?

Can you now see why I say, we are kindred spirits?  This is who we are but yet, we sometimes forget.  I truly hope that this article serves as a reminder of the things that initially made you successful.  I hope these words reignite within you that fire for learning and passion for growth that you had when you first started.  The world needs professional salespeople more than ever to keep the economy moving, so let’s take back our market and show the world the value that we can create.  Till next time my friends…

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