Experience versus Learning

Matt Garman
17 Dec, 2019

It seems incredible that there’s no specific training available for a career in sales.  Incredible, because we all buy things, often very expensive things, and need help and informed advice to do it.  Perhaps the lack of recognised training, explains why sales gets a bad rap.

If you’re lucky, there’ll be sales training once you’ve got won a position, but how do you prepare for that first interview and how do you persuade a company you can do the job?

You can start off in a relatively easy job and work your way up, using the experience you accumulate as your ‘training’.  In other words, learn on the job.  Experience teaches us what works and shapes what we know.

Learning will teach us what to do, but we can only get experience from actually doing it. So, which is more important? It’s impossible to say, because there are too many additional factors that come into play to influence the different outcomes. The saying: ‘If only I’d known then, what I know now’ describes looking back and wishing our experience could be retro added, to protect us from the mistakes we made.

What is certain, is that learning from mistakes will be significantly lower, if there is proper training.  The value of training cannot be underestimated. Really, who wants someone learning by their mistakes on actual customers?

Sales people are in a unique position, precisely because there is no specific ‘learning’ path to teach selling skills and techniques. There are no exams to take, no quick starter courses to catapult you up the ladder, no certificate to prove you know how to do the job.

Experience then, becomes the key to success but, and it’s a big but, experience can be limited to a specific sphere and not transferable.  The way to achieve consistent results in any sales environment, is to make sure your sales people are selling the way you want them to.  They’re not all going to be the same type, they might be confident and experienced with a great track record (perhaps why you hired them), or they might be straight from school, with zero experience and a hefty dose of first job anxiety. Whether you have a mixed bunch, or they all have similar experience (or lack of), how do you get your sales team all selling the way you want them to?

Simple. You tell them. You train them. You measure their results, and you reward them for doing things the way you want.  The better your induction and onboarding, the better they’ll be set up for success.  Regular training will teach them new skills if they’re new to the workforce, or if they’re experienced staff, it’ll be a refresher to get rid of any bad habits.

A good sales process, which matches experience with proper learning, is the key to ensuring all your team achieve their potential and maximise your company’s success.  If you think this doesn’t apply to you, because your team aggregate is ok and your top performers are doing well enough to cover the less experienced people, consider what might upset the balance of your team and affect your bottom line:

  • There’s a sudden disruptor in your market
  • One or more of your top performers leave to join your competitor
  • You lose a couple of long term customers

One or more of these will happen at some point and they are all outside your control.  You can minimise the risk to your business, by introducing a sustainable sales system with regular training and performance management.  In addition to staff development, it’s important to reward and recognise the behaviour you want to see.

Muhammad Ali could’ve been talking about sales with this quote:

“I hated every minute of training, but I said: ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

While gaining their experience in the field, give your sales people regular great training and you might just build yourself a team of champions!