For this week’s Performance Management discussion, I’m shifting gears quite a bit. It’s a topic few sales people think about as an aspect of managing their personal performance, but it’s critical. All the best sales people I’ve met spend time setting specific goals in this area.
I’d like to focus this discussion on Personal Development. Too often, sales people surrender their personal development to whatever the company does—the annual sales training meeting, tools or resources on internal websites. If their managers are doing a good job in coaching, the manager may recommend resources they might use to improve their skills and capabilities–but too often, managers just aren’t doing that, choosing instead to focus on “what have you done for me lately?”
Regardless what your companies or managers do, each sales person has to have a personal development plan and goals that allow them to achieve their full potential. Whether it’s developing new skills to help achieve your quota, to become more effective as a sales person, or to prepare for the next job or role.
Top performers are always learning, they are always investing in improving themselves. They set goals to acquire new skills, learn new things, expand their capabilities. They look for traditional and non traditional ways of learning and developing.
What should a sales person do in setting personal development goals? Here some ideas:
- Do a personal assessment of your current skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Match them with what is needed to be a top performer in your company, industry, etc. Identify 2-3 new skills or capabilities you want to focus on for the next 6 months or year.
- Ask friends, mentors, your manager for their views on item (1), get their input. They may see things you are blind to. Push your manager hard on this—it’s part of your manager’s job, so get them to help identify developmental areas.
- Don’t focus just on current or tactical capabilities, but think about where you want to be in a year or two years. I’m not talking about promotions or changing jobs, but think about where you want to be in your personal development and performance. Use these ideas to help shape what you might focus on.
- Think “outside the box.” Too often, I see sales people focusing only on selling skills. Are those the skills important to your success with customers? Are those the skills important to your future growth? You may want to expand your horizons–look at general business, marketing, financial analysis or anything having to do with improving business acumen. Consider areas like change management, project management, time management, procurement/purchasing. Consider learning new tools that improve your effectiveness. Consider industry skills. At one time in my career, I sold to banks. I got a customers (a very large NYC bank to allow me to sit in a new hire class for 4 days–it’s where they taught new hires the basics of banking). It didn’t cost anything, my customer was pleased to have me participate–they wanted me to be more knowledgeable about their industry. I learned a huge amount that I never could have gotten anywhere else (plus met some future customers).
- Consider putting together a peer group to focus on devleopmental issues. There’s a group of sales women in Boston–they call themselves the Fab 5. They’ve done something awesome. They get together to learn and coach each other on selling. They attend seminars together, they read books, they have discussions about what each faces in their job and use each other for personal development. They get together once a month, then have frequent phone calls. It’s won of the most fantastic ideas I’ve heard of in taking responsibility for personal development.
- Read, read, read. Reading is one of the cheapest, easiest, and best ways of learning and developing yourself. Read books, blogs, professional magazines. I have a friend that has a goal to read 100 business books a year–I don’t know that it’s necessary to read that many–sometimes I wonder if there are a 100 good one’s published a year. Set a goal of 1 a month–or whatever is appropriate. There tremendous numbers of “free” resources on the web–blogs–hopefully this one is on your regular reading list, but many others. One thing I don’t see sales people reading much on are the blogs, journals, magazines their customers are reading. If your customer is in the banking industry, read banking journals and blogs. As part of this, participate in discussions on the web, share ideas, learn from others.
- Related to the previous point, there are a lot of great free or near free webinars–leverage them.
- Take some formal courses. Go to your local college, audit a course. Get your company to pay for you to go to a good seminar.
- Devour any training your company provides. It’s interesting, I’ve trained over 100,000 sales people. Those that always pay attention the most, those that challenge me the most, those that get the most out of the class or workshop are the one’s that need to workshop the least. They’re the top performers, they’re the one’s committed to learning and devleoping, they’re the one’s that know they can always learn something from everything they do. By contrast, the one’s that complain, say it’s a waste of time, secretly do their email, are usually the mediocre or poor performers. They are the one’s that don’t realize personal development and continuous learning is what sets them apart and drive success. They will continue to struggle, falling further behind, never quite performing and blaming everyone else.
- Get a mentor–not necessarily someone you pay for, but someone who you respect, who’s been around the block a few times. Get someone who is willing to challenge and push you. Someone who is not going to tell you how wonderful you are, but will challenge you to reach your goals, who will ask you tough questions. Make sure both you and the mentor commit to a relationship for a good period of time–think of a year at least. Don’t limit yourself to one.
- Finally, while I’ve mentioned it before—look for development in different places. Look outside your industry, look outside sales. Diversify your personal development—focus on building business skills, focus on building yourself as a whole person. These are what set you apart.
You are responsible for your own development. Make sure you have a personal development plan in place. Measure your attainment on the plan–set 1-2 goals every quarter. Make sure you achieve them!
For managers, make sure your people take responsibility in identifying their personal development plan and establishing goals. Coach them, help them understand what they need to do–both to maximize their performance and their potential. Help them identify resources that help in their development, provide funding to support this, invest in your people. Make sure you have a personal development plan for yourself—personal development never stops, regardless the role you are in.