Is the Most Critical Aspect of Your Sales Training Missing?

Companies that address Achievement Drive in their sales training and coaching noticeably outperform those whose programs prioritize sales skills or product knowledge

This blog first appeared as a contribution to SellingPower.com.
By Mike Fisher

What separates the successful salespeople from all the rest?

This is the million-dollar question on the minds of leaders across industries today – particularly as new competitors enter and disrupt existing markets and the selling environment grows increasingly complex.

We set out to answer that question in a recent survey of more than 200 sales organizations, conducted in partnership with the Sales Management Association, and here’s what we found: According to our respondents, a salesperson’s “achievement drive” (defined as attitude, motivation drive, and belief in their own ability) is the key determinant of success, contributing as much or more to the person’s performance than sales skills or product knowledge.

Yet, despite the fact that 84 percent of them rated achievement drive as key, only 26 percent of our survey respondents said they effectively focus on achievement drive in their sales training efforts.

In fact, one thing we learned from the study – and in discussions since we released the findings – is that many question whether achievement drive is something that actually can be developed. The perception seems to be you’re either born with it or you’re not. So the expectation is that people will come to the job with it or just have to struggle along without it.

But the truth is we’re all born with achievement drive. You just have to know how to release and expand it – whether in yourself or in those you lead, develop, and coach.

The Number One Thing You Can Do to Release Achievement Drive

A sales manager once told me a story about one of her salespeople – a top performer who was consistently knocking it out of the park. All of a sudden, his results had begun to slide. The manager couldn’t figure out what was going on. The market hadn’t changed. Neither had the products or clients. Other top performers didn’t seem to be having any problems.

So she sat down with him for a coaching conversation and, during that discussion, he revealed that he’d recently paid off his student loans. It was a milestone in his life – something that had been driving him to keep going for more at work. But now that he’d accomplished it, he just didn’t feel motivated anymore. He didn’t have that clear target to hit, to keep pushing for.

As his story shows, without a clear goal that’s personally motivating, it’s hard to expand our innate achievement drive. Too many other things can and will get in the way. It’s human nature. We intellectually know what needs to be done (“I think” statements) but, when our emotions are in conflict with intellect, emotions (“I feel” statements) win every time. You know you should eat the salad when you’re trying to lose weight, but you really feel like having that cheeseburger.

But there’s another, even more powerful dimension at work here, too, and that’s what you say to yourself about yourself (“I believe” statements). This self-talk fuels what you believe you can and can’t do – and can hold back your achievement drive even further.

These are what we call resistance or avoidance behaviors. We know what we should do – and we know that doing those things will make us happy and deliver the results we want – but all these internal forces keep pulling us in the other direction. We know we should go to the gym or run in the morning to hit our goal, but – when the alarm goes off – the “resistance” voice gives us a hundred reasons why we can’t go today.

It’s the same with selling. New business drives goals, but we’ll experience less rejection if we go see an existing client or fill out an expense report. So, even though the salesperson knows he should call his prospects – that’s how he’ll land more business, which is what he really wants – it’s a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to just update the CRM or check in with some of his favorite clients.

We’re constantly encountering resistance. But goal clarity, along with a plan to get there, can override those resistance behaviors.

Luckily for this salesperson, his manager was a good coach. She worked with him on goal setting and, with his achievement drive reinvigorated, he was soon back at the top of the pack.

What to Look Out for in Your Sales Training and Coaching

If you’re coaching someone who needs greater goal clarity to release their achievement drive, the essential thing to remember is that the goal can’t be your goal; it must be something the salesperson comes up with and owns. Support them, have them write it down, and hold them accountable to the plan; but, for the goals to be personally motivating, ownership has to start with the salesperson.

And what about your salespeople who have plenty of achievement drive but still aren’t getting the results?

Take a look at your sales training. Is it focusing primarily on the intellectual issues, like product knowledge and sales techniques? When the more influential emotional and self-belief behaviors aren’t addressed, it can hold back those who are exhibiting low achievement drive. But overemphasizing the intellectual dimension can also create problems for your high achievers. They’re going to go full speed ahead with what they’ve been taught and – if it’s mostly product information – that means they’re likely delivering “product dump” sales presentations.

For them, the first order of business might just be to unlearn some of what they’ve learned.



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