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The Ultimate Success Skill

In the last 12 months, only one out of every 20 sales people have spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement! Incredible. Let me repeat it to make sure you read it correctly: In the last 12 months, only one out of every 20 sales people have spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement! That’s my conclusion, based on lots of anecdotal evidence collected over the past 25 years of working with sales people.

I am embarrassed by that. Only five percent of my colleagues are sufficiently dedicated to their own personal growth and professional success that they will invest their own money in their careers. That means that ninety-five percent are not sufficiently motivated to take their own personal development seriously. What a shame.

I am convinced that the process of continuously improving — not only professionally in the core competencies of a professional sales person, but also personally as well — is the ultimate success skill for our time.

The ability to learn and grow in a proactive and disciplined way is several things:

  1. A method to do better at your job. Good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people. Good sales people make more money, enjoy more success and greater status than mediocre sales people. Good sales people work at becoming better.
  2. A way to distinguish yourself from the masses. Remember, ninety-five percent of your competitors and colleagues don’t care enough to invest in themselves. When you do that, you eventually separate yourself from the pack.
  3. A minimal requirement for your employer. I often tell my clients that every sales person (and every employee, for that matter) has two jobs:
    a. his job, and

    b. continually improving himself. If someone is not interested in improving his skills, I don’t want him working for me, or for my clients.

  4. An ethical imperative. It is, I believe, immoral to not improve yourself. Your employer has hired you not just for what you know and what you can do, but for your potential to know more and do more. When you refuse to improve yourself, you rob your employer of some of the reasons he pays you. That, to me, is immoral.

    That’s a lot of value wrapped up in a single, fundamental process. You can see why I believe that the ability to learn in a focused, systematic way is the ultimate competency — the foundational skill that, if mastered, will eventually lead you to success.

    I call this — the ultimate self-improvement skill for turbulent times and beyond –“self-directed learning.”

    When you hear the word learning you’re probably reminded of your days in school, or perhaps seminars and company-sponsored training programs come to mind. While these are all means of facilitating learning, they don’t capture the essence of the ultimate success skill.

    Self-directed learning is the ability of individuals to absorb new information and to change their behavior in positive ways in response. The key is behavior change. Learning without action is impotent. Knowledge that doesn’t result in changed action is of little value. Constantly changing your behavior in positive ways is the only reasonable response to a constantly changing world.

    For example, let’s say that you’ve read my book, Question Your Way to Sales Success. That’s a necessary first step. But, it’s one thing to read and understand the material in the book, and it’s another to actually use it. It’s nice that you understand it, and it’s good that you think it may help you. But that particular piece of information is worthless until you actually start using it. When you change your behavior and incorporate those ideas into what you do, then you will have learned. Everything else — the reading, understanding, and mental processing that came first — is necessary but not sufficient. They, by themselves, fall short of the goal. It is not until you actually do that new thing — ask questions more effectively, that you will have learned.

    Self-directed learning differs from the traditional approaches to training because it requires you to assume complete responsibility for your own behavior change. The stimulus for the learning must come from within you. You must develop your own learning program to expose yourself to new information and to change your behavior appropriately.

    In every direction to which you look, you’re faced with rapid changes. And these changes require you, if you’re going to stay competitive, to learn and change at a rate never before required of you.

    I firmly believe that the ability to take charge of your own learning, to consistently expose yourself to new information, and then to systematically change your behavior in positive ways based on that new information is the ultimate success skill for the Information Age.

    If you can master self-directed learning, you’ll eventually master everything else that you need to be successful.

Prerequisites to Mastering Self-Directed Learning

Proficiency at the ultimate self-improvement skill demands some fundamental attitudes on your part. I like to characterize those attitudes as being a “seeker.”

A seeker attitude is composed of several parts. First, you must have an attitude of proactive responsibility for your situation. In other words, you must believe that your actions have consequences and that to change the consequences, you must change your actions.

This sounds so fundamental as to be ludicrous, yet it seems to be a concept that is foreign to much of the world’s population. Most people tend to blame their problems on forces outside themselves. Your parents didn’t raise you correctly, your spouse doesn’t understand you, your boss doesn’t like you, your customers don’t respect you, the stars are aligned against you, etc. As long as you remain, in your mind, the victim of someone else or some outside force, you have no responsibility to change your own behavior. After all, your situation isn’t your fault.

That’s exactly the wrong attitude. If you are going to be successful, you’ll need to begin with the conviction that your actions have consequences, and that you can change your future. Once you get that, then you are ready to discover what actions will have the greatest impact on your success.

So, you must accept the responsibility for your own behavior as well as for the consequence of that behavior. As one of my clients said to me, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

That’s common sense. But think about the implications of that statement. If you want different results, you must do something differently in order to get them. The emphasis is on do. The responsibility is yours.

Next, sales people with a seeker attitude need to be open to new information. One of the sure harbingers of pending failure is the attitude that you know it all. Sales people who continue to improve themselves understand that they will never have all the answers. There is always something new to learn. They become like magnets, constantly attracting new ideas, new perspectives, and new information to themselves.

Finally, a seeker has the ability to follow through on his plans. You must have the ability to act on decisions you make, and to become a creature whose actions arise out of conscious thought rather than unconscious habit. In other words, you must have the strength to decide to do something and then to follow through with that decision and actually do it.

From time to time, people ask me about the characteristics of my clients. They’re expecting me to answer with the size of various companies, or how many sales people they have, or the product lines they serve. They’re always surprised when I answer that my clients are not defined by size or products.

Rather, they are defined by the personality of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). All of my clients have CEOs who are open mi

About the author

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople and sales managers to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries.