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Dave, I'm interested in what you would recommend for a subscription to a monthly sales magazine and a sales improvement seminar.

by Dave Kahle

You have touched one of my hot-buttons with this question. So, forgive me if you get a longer answer than you expect.

First, let me applaud you for asking the question. As amazing as it sounds, I have come to the conclusion that only about 5% of salespeople ever invest in their own growth and improvement. My understanding of that number has evolved over the years. I used to think it was much higher, but the more experience I gain, the more I'm convinced that it's a rare and unusual salesperson who will actually spend $20.00 or so to improve himself/herself, much less to actually go to a seminar. So, just by asking the question, you have indicated that you are probably in that top percentile of salespeople. And, the fact that you probably will invest in improving yourself means that, over time, you will distance yourself from the pack.

Before I tackle your question head on, let me sketch a little more background. Here's a word to remember: Learning event. What's a learning event? It's an experience you have in which you encounter some new ideas, you gain insights in new ways of seeing existing ideas, or you are reminded of behaviors and practices that you may have been aware of, but that you have gotten away from.

So, reading a newsletter could be a learning event. So could a sales meeting or a conversation with one of your colleagues. So could five minutes spent after a sales call reflecting on what went well and what didn't.

What is important is this: As a result of a learning event, you focus on some better behavior that you are going to implement in the future. Learning, for adults, is all about behavior. In other words, you must find something that you can do differently, and decide to do that thing.

For example, you may have participated in one of my phone seminars. That's a learning event. Following the seminar, you say to yourself, "I really should spend more time prioritizing my customers, so that I don't waste my time with low potential accounts." That thought is the "better behavior" that you decided to pursue as a result of the learning event.

Generating those kinds of commitments is what learning is all about. When you asked for a recommendation, my belief is that you ultimately want to generate those commitments to "better behavior" in yourself or in the salespeople you manage.

I sometimes hear this kind of comment, "I knew that." This from an experienced salesperson following a seminar. My response is, "So what?" This is not about what you know, it's about what you do. So the question should not be, "Is this something new that you didn't know?" The question should be, "Is this something good that you are not doing, or that you could do better than you are now?"

The emphasis has to be on action (behavior), not just knowledge. Here's a real life example. I just now had a conversation with a sales manager calling me with a problem. He had read my How to Excel at Distributor Sales book, and was impressed with, among other things, the chapters on getting organized. He said, "It is such basic information, but yet they don't do it." He went on to say that getting your file system organized was fundamental, but when he rode with his salespeople, none of them had done it.

That's the point. They probably all knew that they should be organized. But none of them were doing it. You see, it wasn't about knowledge, it was about behavior.

If you want to continually improve, than you regularly answer the question: "What could I be doing better than I am now?" The question is not, "What do I not know that I should know?" It's not just knowledge, it's knowledge applied that is the issue.

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The way you find answers to that question is to regularly engage in learning events.

In other words, rather than just one intense day-long seminar once a year, I'd prefer you to be involved in a learning event at least once a month, if not weekly. My recommendation is four hours once a month. The systematic and regular involvement in learning events puts you in the mindset of continuous improvement, constantly stimulates you with new "better behaviors" and allows you the time to focus on one or two areas of improvement every month.

That's why, by the way, I do the phone seminars once a month, and our Up-A-NotchTM video programs are designed to be done once a month.

One more little piece of background before I provide some specific resources for you.

We all understand that people learn best in different ways. One thing that is rarely acknowledged is that different media generally have a slightly different impact on our learning. For example, when we take in something strictly by ear, we have a tendency to believe it more and remember it less. That's why you can't remember last Sunday's sermon in church. It may have sounded good at the time, but you've lost the message in the few days since then. Taking something in by reading has the opposite impact: We are more critical of the information, but we retain it longer. It's not as believable, but is more memorable.

The best learning experiences, then, require you to listen, to read, and to do. In that way, you are far more likely to gain helpful answers to the question, "What could I be doing better than I am now?" By the way, that explains why my telephone seminars, in-person programs and multi-media programs are configured and structured the way they are. They are all designed to maximize your learning by appealing to a multiple number of senses.

That brings us to this conclusion: If you are going to do "continuous improvement" effectively, then you need to regularly expose yourself to a variety of learning events, focusing on the question, "What could I do better than I am now?" as a way of gaining value from every experience.

Here, then, are a variety of resources:

  1. Newsletters: Start with my Thinking About Sales ezine. Then look at The Sales Trainer edited by Eric Slife. There are a number of other electronic newsletters available, and you should consider each that looks appealing.

    In terms of paper newsletters, I'm on the editorial advisory board of The Competitive Edge and recommend that, of course. I personally like Sales & Marketing Excellence or (www.eep.com to sign up.)

  2. Magazines: Personal Selling Power has been a good quality publication, although I haven't seen it around recently. I also subscribe to Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, which focuses both on management and sales. There are industry-specific publications for almost every trade group imaginable. Rather than attempt to list them here, let me just encourage you to get on their subscription lists. Contact the national association of companies who do what you do, and find out what publications are available for your industry.

  3. Seminars: I have to admit that I'm a terrible critic of others in my business. I think there is so much fluff passed off as information by people who have no idea how to help people learn, that it's outrageous. So, I rarely find someone to recommend.

    Of course you should be a regular or master subscriber to TGIF & K, my series of monthly telephone seminars. Look for my "Top Gun" seminars for distributors, as well as my Time Management seminars. I honestly think that my programs are the best in the world because I'm the only educator in the field of sales & growth that I know of who combines a deep understanding of how people learn best with a wealth of practical, street smart real-world expertise.

    Beyond that, there are dozens of learning events in the form of seminars. Ask around, and get word-of-mouth recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. AMA does a good job with almost everything they produce, although they are a little pricey.

  4. Books: With about 50,000 books published in this country every year, you have an almost limitless variety to choose from. I'm regularly asked to recommend a good book. My response is this: Read my books first. After you have read my books, then it really doesn't matter much. If your attitude is right and you prepare your mind with the question, "What could I do better than I am now?" you'll find something of value from almost any book.

    Go to the library or the local book store, and pick up what ever appeals to you that day. Having said that, I have to admit that I am impressed with Neil Rackham's books, and recommend them highly.

  5. Other resources: Self-study multimedia programs are highly effective because they appeal to all the basic ways to learn. I specialized in them, and you'll find a variety on my website. If you really want to get serious, check our self-study sales certification program - but remember, it's only for the top 5-percenters of the world.
The jury is still out on web-based media as learning medium for soft-skills. There is no doubt that CBT (computer based training) can be effective for skills like learning a new piece of software, but it is yet unproven for things like learning to ask questions effectively, or handle objections. With that in mind, I like the www.youachieve.com web site and think that it has potential. We're in the process of developing an on-line learning center, and will have some options to look at by the end of the first quarter.

Whew! Now that's a long answer to a short question. Hope this helps.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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