“We are governed by what we are accustomed to see and practice. The simplest and most obvious improvements are adopted with hesitation and reluctance.” -Alexander Hamilton
Research shows it requires 21 days of use and implementation for a new process to feel natural, which is why many give up before making the change. In order to increase the likelihood of success when making a change or improving a skill, we must first understand the steps in the learning process. This applies to EVERYTHING from learning to ride a bike to becoming a professional athlete to effectively handling objections during the sales process. We can break these 21 days into four stages:
Stage 1 Beginning Awareness (unconscious incompetence)
We first learn there is a new and better way of doing something. Perhaps we watched an older kid glide down the street on a ten-speed. We didn’t really know how to do it, but is sure looked better than our training wheels. In sales training it may be listening to another sales professional make a sale with a challenging customer or we are faced with a new objection to our product/service. The goal is to truly open your mind to a new and better way of doing something.
Stage 2 Awkwardness (conscious incompetence)
There is always a level of uncertainty when we start to implement a new process or way of doing something. Picture a child swaying back and forth across the street with a parent chasing along behind making sure they don’t crash. Unfortunately, in the real world we are typically out there on our own sometimes feeling very uncomfortable. This is the most difficult stage, where learning begins and mistakes are made. This is also the stage where most people give up and fall back on old habits particularly if they stumble at bit. Some are quick to say, “See I knew it wouldn’t work!” The key is to hang in there and not give up.
Stage 3 Skillfulness (conscious competence)
Now we are able to handle the new process or skill pretty well, but we still spend a great deal of time thinking about it. With our bike analogy, we are up on our own two wheels, but keeping our hands on the handle bars at all time and watching for bumps in the road. This stage of learning is easier than the second stage, but it can still be a bit uncomfortable as we tend to be very self-conscious. If we persist, our skills are constantly increasing with every new attempt.
Stage 4 Integration (unconscious competence)
The final stage of learning a skill is when it has become a natural part of us. We don’t have to think about it, we just do it automatically. Bike riders with true skill integration may start racing or taking on tougher courses. They invest in the gear and more specialized tools. In sales this would include asking open probes, listening effectively (rather than talking too much), and closing with confidence.
Maintaining sales technique integration is analogous to a professional athlete practicing their sport. The most successful athletes are constantly training, seeking out new coaches, reviewing video tapes of their performance, and looking for ways to be better, faster and stronger. As dedicated sales professionals we need to do the same. This may involve attending sales learning opportunities, reading books on the subject, recording sales presentations for review, and seeking out help from a sales leader or coach. Being at the top of your game, whether it is football or sales, takes a dedicated effort to constantly improve.
“If you are not getting better, you are getting worse. Nothing stays the same.” –David Brandon