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Joanne Black
  July 18, 2016

Sales Leaders: Are You Really Ready to Learn?

The sooner sales leaders accept the fact they don’t know everything, the smarter they’ll be.

As the old saying goes, if you’re not learning, you’re dead. I prefer the former. I thrive on learning and could spend days reading posts online and immersed in books. Of course, I don’t have time for that. And besides, that’s not really learning.

Learning means acknowledging that we’re really just beginners—showing our vulnerability and embracing our ignorance. It’s like being undressed in public. Embarrassing, to say the least. We’re adults; we have responsibilities; we’re supposed to know how to do our job. We’re not paid to learn.

Yet, we all have plenty to learn.

4 Attributes of Great Learners and Leaders

How can sales leaders get past this fear of “beginneritis” so they’re in the right frame of mind to learn new skills and keep their sales teams moving forward? In Erika Andersen’s Harvard Business Review article, “Learning to Learn,” she offers four ways to face up to what we don’t know … and get over it.

Here are the four attributes she suggests we all embrace:

1. Aspiration It’s easy to see aspiration as either there or not: You want to learn a new skill or you don’t; you have ambition and motivation or you lack them. But great learners can raise their aspiration level—and that’s key, because everyone is guilty of sometimes resisting development that is critical to success.

2. Self-Awareness … Over the past decade or so, most leaders have grown familiar with the concept of self-awareness. They understand that they need to solicit feedback and recognize how others see them. But when it comes to the need for learning, our assessments of ourselves—what we know and don’t know, skills we have and don’t have—can still be woefully inaccurate. 

3. Curiosity … Curiosity is what makes us try something until we can do it, or think about something until we understand it. Great learners retain this childhood drive, or regain it through another application of self-talk. Instead of focusing on and reinforcing initial disinterest in a new subject, they learn to ask themselves “curious questions” about it and follow those questions up with actions. 

4. Vulnerability Once we become good or even excellent at some things, we rarely want to go back to being not good at other things. Yes, we’re now taught to embrace experimentation and “fast failure” at work. But we’re also taught to play to our strengths. So the idea of being bad at something for weeks or months; feeling awkward and slow; having to ask “dumb,” “I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about” questions; and needing step-by-step guidance again and again is extremely scary. Great learners allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to accept that beginner state. In fact, they become reasonably comfortable in it—by managing their self-talk.

To learn more about these attributes, as well as mental tools for cultivating them, read the rest of Andersen’s article.

My Two Cents

My personal favorite is curiosity. To me, that’s what life (and sales) is all about—curiosity about people. What’s their background? How did they get where they are now? What values do they represent? What do they love to do most? These questions pique my curiosity. They also help us build relationships, which are a salesperson’s most important asset.

But the attribute that is most difficult for most business professionals is vulnerability. The idea of feeling awkward and vulnerable keeps many sales reps from adopting referral selling. After all, the other person might say no. That fear of rejection is the height of vulnerability. But that fear disappears when sales teams learn and practice a disciplined referral selling process, and adopt a referral program.

Are you ready to go for it? Learn more about how to put a referral program in place for your sales team