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SalesLike most organizations, you likely have training in place for your competitive salespeople. What do you teach them? From what I’ve seen of sales training over the last few decades, you’re probably teaching them how to sell. You’ll teach them product knowledge, prospecting skills, the sales process, closing skills, and so on.

Yet, if so many organizations teach how to sell then why – in nearly every company out there – do only some sales professionals actually succeed in selling? After all, they all have the skills don’t they?

What is missing from most sales training programs is possibly the most critical aspect. Most sales training teaches salespeople how to sell… but not to sell. It’s the difference between being able to do something and actually doing it: can do versus will do.

Salespeople who succeed have a crucial skill that those who fail lack – despite having the same training. Those who are successful are self managers; they know how to sell and they do it on a consistent basis.

Our research over the last 35 years indicates that 99% of salespeople fail not because they don’t know how to sell but because they don’t do it regularly. Again, it’s can do versus will do.

Teach Them “How To Prospect” and “To Prospect”

A sales manager I have been friends with for over 30 years asked me one day why, despite  how much training he put into his sales professionals, so many of them still failed. He explained how extensive their training was at the organization, teaching the salespeople everything about how to sell.

It was frustrating because they all knew how to sell but they weren’t doing it often enough.

I asked him: “How much time do you put into teaching them TO prospect, rather than HOW TO prospect?”

His jaw dropped and he told me they don’t teach them to do it – they just teach them how to do it.

Likewise, I had a large client in the US that had an in-depth 4 week training program for all incoming salespeople. All of the “how-to” skills and product knowledge were covered. Yet they still have people failing because they aren’t doing what they are trained to do.

I asked this client how much time in their program was dedicated to building a success habit in prospecting so the salespeople will actually use the skills they’re being taught. They said their program was too packed to include that…

These examples are important because if salespeople don’t get into the habit of prospecting and start to do it on a daily basis (to be self managers, in other words), they aren’t going to be top performers. However, so few sales training programs teach this essential skill.

Talent and Habits: Why Do Salespeople Succeed?

The key to selling success is building a habit of initiating client contact often, and following up. The number one skill needed to do this is self management. Read more in my previous blog, “The Top 3 Characteristics of Successful Competitive Sales Professionals”.

While the level or degree of self management is innate, the habit of self management can be taught – and that is often overlooked by many companies. They fail to train and coach the habits needed for success.

Our performance prediction equation (click here for the full details)is simple: Talent x Habits x Fit.

Talent consists of two distinct aspects: DNA (innate abilities) and competencies (training, hard skills) – answering the question “can they do the job?” Just as importantly, we include habits, also consisting of two important aspects: habits of thought (attitudes) and habits of behavior (effort) – answering the question “will they do the job?”

A great salesperson needs both of these elements to be a consistent performer. Then, retention is strongly correlated to fit to you and your team.

As a sales manager, would you rather hire someone who scores high on talent and low on habits, or someone who scores average on talent and high on habits?

In the first case, you will spend your time trying to motivate this person to do their job because they won’t take the initiative to do it on their own. We call this “coaxing”. However, if you hire the person with average talent and excellent habits, your training with be more effective because they will actually use the skills you teach them. We call this “coaching”. It is interesting that most coaching programs focus on coaching, but if their sales team members are not self mangers, the coaches end up coaxing – a skill that very few coaches have. As a result, the coaches burn out coaxing.   

Add the “Will Do” to Your Sales Training

Your top salespeople have great habits and are always self managing and prospecting. Your struggling salespeople have mediocre habits and are only self managing and prospecting sometimes or rarely.

Self management training adds the will do to the can do, making for a very effective salesperson. With the right habits in place, your sales managers can focus on coaching instead of coaxing.

If you teach your salespeople the habit of self management, you will see a return on investment both in terms of performance and retention.


SMG has over 35 years of data and research on the characteristics of top performers, particularly in sales roles. Our popular POP™ profile is designed specifically to select successful sales candidates. Contact us to learn more.

Download a sample POP™ profile.

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John Marshall

About John Marshall

John is the President and Founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University where he also worked as a lecturer. For over three decades, John has helped hundreds of organizations develop into self-managed, high performance cultures. Using advanced statistical methods and principles, SMG has become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organizations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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