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Sales amateur or sales professional?

In sports, there are plenty of opportunities for people to participate in backyard games or pickup leagues, regardless of ability or experience.  From axe throwing to Zumba, tens of thousands of people in the Lehigh Valley to participate in organized sports on a monthly basis. In sales, there is no backyard game or Thursday night league for amateurs.  As a result, amateurs are mixed with professionals every day. While an amateur football player wouldn’t make it onto the practice field for an NFL team, amateur salespeople carry briefcases and proposals into prospective clients daily!

Amateurs come in two forms: those who are naturally talented and those who are hard working.  Both of these types of salespeople tend to level off slightly above mediocrity. Professionals, on the other hand, are the select few who consistently achieve success.  As a result, they earn the spoils of a successful career in sales – compensation, awards, trips, and freedom.

What qualities separate salespeople who consistently deliver from their average or amateur peers? In my experience, the difference in approach between sales amateurs and professionals is similar to the difference between amateur and professional athletes – for example football players or golfers.

  • Lucky timing or a good territory?  Maybe in some cases. I’ve also witnessed poor performers tank a good territory quickly.  I’ve also observed strong performers elevate a previously underperforming region.  
  • Natural talent?  I have watched some talented salespeople rise quickly, only to plateau at mediocrity.  
  • Work ethic?  Perhaps. Work ethic alone tends to result in consistently average results.

True success in any field is more about commitment to a process of continued improvement than it is about relying on natural talent, fortunate timing, or hard work alone.  Dedication to improving attitudes, behaviors, and techniques necessary for success leads to strong performance. Chasing only the results without understanding the process will lead to short-lived success, if not outright failure.

So what are the key drivers to success?  Here are six qualities I have found that consistently differentiate high performers from average players. All of these characteristics can be learned, applied, practiced, and improved.  

Amateurs wait for the opportunity. Professionals are biased toward action.

An amateur will look for the reasons “why”.  Why a goal was missed. Why a prospect may not be worth a call.  Why the sales pipeline isn’t flowing. A professional will possess the self-awareness and confidence to attack problems and challenges head on.  They will move things both internally and externally for the sake of progress.

Amateurs see results as the end game. Pros see results as the next step.

I’ve witnessed some of the most naturally gifted salespeople work hard to achieve 101% to a goal.  Then stop. A professional embraces the opportunity to over deliver for the sake of the team and the organization.  Instead of viewing their goal as an endpoint, a the professional views a goal as a jumping off point for the next breakthrough.

Amateurs hope.  Pros plan.

An amateur will make the best of the circumstances they are given.  They will hope a prospect picks up the phone, or agrees to the proposal.  A pro will identify risks and develop a plan to overcome hurdles before they become hurdles.  They will likely even practice or even role play to overcome expected challenges.

Amateurs are afraid to fail. Pros look to failure as a learning opportunity.

Amateurs will avoid situations where they may fail, often missing opportunities along the way.  A pro will plan to succeed; but will also embrace failure and seek to learn from these shortfalls.  Simply stated, where an amateur will evaluate situations as win / lose, a professional possesses an attitude of “win or learn”.  

Amateurs practice as much as required. Pros never stop.

Look to sports as an example here.  An amateur athlete may play adult league football, or a round of golf weekly during the summer.  An amateur salesperson will attend the mandatory seminars. Just as top NFL quarterbacks show up to practice every day, or elite golfers play or practice four to five days a week, a professional salesperson will continually hone their skills beyond the time required.  They seek opportunities to reinforce and apply new skills and continually sharpen their tools.   

Amateurs develop skills. Pros develop a portfolio.

This doesn’t mean a professional salesperson has to be a jack of all trades.  Where an amateur may focus primarily on skills, professionals will focus on the attitudes, behaviors, and techniques to be successful.  All professionals have an area of strength or expertise, but will focus on improving weaknesses. This continued SWOT analysis is something a professional does not wait for during an annual review.  In sports terms, a pro will “review the tapes” to identify and fill holes in their game.  

Bottom line: Professionals are committed to success and dedicate themselves to continually improving themselves.  Amateurs are capable of elevating to the professional level but often need help and support in this development.  Business owners and leaders can support their development by ensuring the proper resources are in place to support their growth.  

Dan Storm is president of Sandler Training by True North Performance Advisors in Bethlehem. He can be reached at 610-509-1869 or [email protected].

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