I’ve been gobbling up some interesting sales research recently that slays a few sacred cows. Many of us in sales hold on to certain long-held beliefs about our profession that I’m finding out are no longer true. Are any of the following myths holding you or your team back?
The Education Myth
Do you know what Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Harry Truman, Dave Thomas (founder of the Wendy’s hamburger chain), and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They have all achieved extraordinary business success (Harry Truman was a successful businessman and the 33rd president of the U.S.) without finishing college. In fact, Dave Thomas dropped out of high school.
We live in a society that values education. Many firms require at least a bachelor’s degree, if not an MBA or advanced technical credentials.
But does education have any bearing on sales success?
Gallup researched this question and found that education is never – even in very technical fields – related to sales success. Never. As my husband, a successful salesperson himself, says: “The A’s teach, and the B’s work for the C’s.”
Bottom line: if you want a sales career, don’t limit your search to jobs that ask for your particular education credentials.
If you are recruiting salespeople, take off your education blinders. Ask candidates some questions that allow you to uncover the following: how quickly they learn; if they can clearly explain how your products meet customers’ needs, and whether this sales job is a good fit for their strengths.
The Experience Myth
In some professions experience matters and has a huge relationship to success. If you need open heart surgery, you should go to the cardiac surgeon who has successfully performed the most procedures.
Research shows, however, that sales is not an experience-sensitive profession. Salespeople with ten years of experience in the same companies or industries do not necessarily sell more than those with five years. Individuals with five years’ experience do not necessarily sell more than those with three years’.
However, many companies place great weight on experience, and herein lies the trap. If you are performing at only an average level, your strengths may not “fit” your job. Sales experience can delude you and potential new employers about your capabilities. You will probably get “up to speed” more quickly and need less training in a job that is similar to your former job. However, if you are average, all you will do is get back up to average more quickly in a new job that is similar to your former job.
Bottom line: Focus on “fit” rather than experience. Sales calls on nurses are different than calls on doctors. Large, complex sales are different than transactional sales. If you are recruiting salespeople, uncover how they like to work and what gets them jazzed. You will learn whether they “fit” your job.
The Lone Wolf Myth
Reps often work alone, not checking into an office for days or even weeks. Even if they work in a crowded office, salespeople are constantly evaluated by the numbers they post each week, month or quarter. The best salespeople are substantially more self-reliant than those in other jobs. However, this skill can mask the important role managers play in contributing to growing numbers. Top performers are not “lone wolves.”
Research shows that the best managers understand how to create a culture that supports reps. In this environment, sales performance shoots up. However, when less able managers take over, numbers decline. Just as legendary movie directors elicit better performances from actors, great managers can enhance sales performance.
Bottom line: If you don’t have the manager you want, find a coach or mentor who can help with your professional development. If you are a sales manager, ask yourself if your role is to develop and support your people or to take over their sales calls look like a genius at their expense.
Talk back: What are some other sales myths that may get in your way – as a rep or as a manager?