"The Navigator" News Blog

Professional Development in 2020 for Salespeople – it’s Vital.

Taking a look back at another six year old post, it seems extremely relevant now.  Professional development and evolution is always important to stay on top of developments, but 2020 has put an unprecedented series of challenges in front of salespeople, and we have to adapt to stay abreast.  As always, updated comments are in italics.

Are you continuing to learn?  Or have you stopped – and when did you stop?

Last week, I had a speaking engagement that went really well, but I didn’t really understand how well until I received a message from the owner of the company that promoted it.  I won’t exactly quote the message, but the gist of it was that he was amazed at how I have only gotten better at speaking over the years.  It was a great message, and I truly appreciate it.  But there’s a reason for what he said.  At the end of every year for the past three years, one of the biggest line-items on my personal P&L statement is “Continuing Education.”

Still true, six years later.  My continuing education and professional development might vary from year to year – for instance, this year, I’ve put a premium on getting better at video communications for obvious reasons – but the commitment and desire to improving my professional education is always there.  Yours should be, too.  What have you learned this year that is helping you advance your career in sales?  I’ll comment on some of the things that we SHOULD have learned at the end of this article.

Years ago, I committed myself to becoming a student of professional selling, and I’ve always preached professional development – but I guess I hadn’t always PRACTICED what I preached.  Up until about three years ago, my speaking skills had stopped developing.  In fact, I stopped that development at about age 20, when I was still participating in speaking events in college.

When I started my business ten years ago, I resumed speaking as a way to promote my training and consulting business – but I never really considered myself a professional speaker.  Then, nearly four years ago, I was invited to speak at a major national convention.  Armed with the speeches that had dazzled them at the local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary clubs, I was flown to Miami, put up for three nights at the lovely Fontainebleu Resort on Miami Beach, and I spoke four times in front of a total audience of around 1,000 people.

And I bombed.

I never really put a lot of detail behind this, but I will now.  In debate, the object is to get a lot of content into a short time.  I suppose that speaking style had never really left me; I thought that if I gave 80 minutes’ worth of content in a 60 minute speech, my audiences would love it.  Turns out that it was the opposite – I came off as monotone and dispassionate, and audiences hated it.  I also learned that in any speech, there are vitally important points and then there are supplemental points.  My programs now focus on the vital points – and audiences retain a lot more.  I have counseled salespeople against doing the “brochure barf” sales presentation for decades, and yet that’s exactly what I was doing!  When I went to my first professional development coaching session with Patricia Fripp and Darren LaCroix, they helped me see that, even when I was giving MORE content, the audience was actually retaining LESS.

I learned a few things that week.  First of all, keynote speakers have a big advantage over breakout session speakers.  If a keynoter bombs, they only do it once per convention. I know this because I bombed as a keynoter a few years after this article – I was asked to do a sales program in a slot where a more general interest keynote would have been more desired by the audience. A breakout speaker gets to bomb multiple times – as I did. I still love breakouts.  I love giving multiple programs to multiple audiences at a convention. Secondly, I learned that the speeches and techniques that they loved in unpaid speeches at a local Chamber aren’t good enough when a client is flying you halfway across the country and paying you several thousands of dollars.

As I said, I had continued to develop my sales skills – but I realized that I had let my speaking skills stagnate.  I rededicated myself to building my speaking skills.  I read a book by Alan Weiss, which led me to become aware of Patricia Fripp, who in turn made me aware of Darren LaCroix, Ed Tate, and Craig Valentine – and now I consider those fine people my mentors and my friends.  It’s been a journey that’s been both very beneficial and very expensive, but for me the biggest investment hasn’t been in dollars.

The biggest investment was in swallowing my pride.  And believe me – that was a tough one to swallow.  But it’s been worth it; without swallowing pride, professional development is impossible.  I’ve given two major speeches at major conventions in Las Vegas in the last two weeks, and both assocations have immediately rebooked me for their next convention.  “We want you back; we’ll figure out what you’ll speak about later,” has been the reaction.

The lack of conventions has been a big blow to me, both professionally and personally, in 2020.  I love speaking, I love conventions, and I love people.  I do my speaking and training by web whenever possible, of course, but in-person is where it’s at. 

Am I bragging?  No.  I’m sharing.  And I’m sharing because I think that some of you can benefit from my journey.  Here’s what I have learned in the past three years (besides the speaking skills and techniques):

  1. Never stop developing and never stop learning.  When you do, you might as well quit.
  2. Sometimes your greatest successes can come from your greatest failures – IF you can swallow your pride and get out of your own way.
  3. You may learn – as I did – that you are not good enough AT THE MOMENT to achieve your dreams.  It’s not permanent.  Seek out those who have made it and find ways to learn at their feet.
  4. On a related note, choose your mentors wisely.  Learn from those who are doing BETTER than you.  I have met many people in the speaking business who ‘mentor’ each other into mediocrity because neither of them is making it.
  5. Above all, there is no reward without risk.

Whatever your “it” is, you can achieve it if you follow these simple steps.  I wish you well.

So, what should we – salespeople and sales managers – gotten better at during 2020? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Multiple paths of communication.  It’s interesting; some industries haven’t seen much of a blip in their sales activity – they have been doing face to face sales calls all along.  Others have been video-bound for eight months.  Wherever you fall on this continuum, your customers still need to hear from you and you from them – so being adept at email, text, phone and video (in all its forms; here’s an article with more on this) as well as face to face is vital.
  2. Contributing more value on sales calls.  The “P.R. sales call” is dead. It was dying before Covid but it’s dead as a doornail now. When you do talk to a customer, you’d better be prepared to be of use and value to them.
  3. Resiliency.  We have had to adapt, improvise, and overcome in 2020 in ways that we would have never imagined before – and those salespeople who could do so have done okay.  Those who can’t, not so much.