Best Practices in HR
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Colleen Stanley
  June 2, 2020

Don’t Lose Sales to the J Curve of Learning

One of my favorite quotes comes from the late, great basketball coach John Wooden:

“Don’t equate your expertise with your ability to teach.”

This is great advice for all leaders, particularly in sales. Many sales leaders are former top sales producers, but being a top seller may not equate to your ability to transfer the knowledge, habits and skills that made you successful.

And in fairness, a sales manager shouldn’t possess these important skills.

Think about it.

Professional teachers attend four years or more of higher education to learn how to teach and transfer knowledge.

Where do sales managers learn the principles of adult learning and behavior change?  On their own or not at all. (In my new book, “Emotional Intelligence For Sales Leadership,” I devote several chapters to this topic.)

There are many areas that a sales leader can study to become a great teacher and coach. One area is the neuroscience of learning. For many years, scientists believed that the brain was fixed, that human beings had a limited number of neurons that could perform only in set ways. In other words, you were stuck with what you knew.

Research now shows the brain is elastic and has the capability to expand, learn new knowledge and skills by forming new neural pathways. It’s called neuroplasticity. New skills and habits are formed from hours of repetition, practice and visualization.

So mastering new selling skills should be easy, right?

Yes and no. Often when sellers are learning and mastering new skills, they encounter something called the J curve of learning. They’ll get worse before they get better. They haven’t logged the hours of practice and repetition to achieve sales mastery.

When a seller is at the bottom of the J curve, the learning curve, it’s easy for the survival part of the brain to kick in, saying:

  • You don’t know how to do this. You might fail. Play it safe.
  • Don’t try this new approach. You could blow this sales opportunity.

What can sales leaders do to help a seller master the J curve, master the difficulty of learning?

Teach your sales team the principles behind the J curve. Normalize the difficulty that often accompanies learning and mastery. Eliminate the seller’s fear that they are not smart enough to change or improve.

Second, apply the EQ skill of self-awareness and look at yourself. Are you investing the coaching time in role plays and practice sets needed to form new neural pathways, new skills? Or are you giving into the pull of instant gratification, allowing other distractions to pull you away from valuable coaching and teaching time?

Remember Wooden’s quote: “Don’t equate your expertise with your ability to teach.”  Learn and master the new skills required to be an effective leader. Learn and master teaching and coaching skills.

Good Selling!

Check out my new book, “Emotional Intelligence For Sales Leadership.” Preorder today and receive free bonuses such as a detailed book study guide, Sales EQ and IQ interview guide, and our new Emotional Intelligence For Salespeople Self-Assessment.