If you served in the military, you probably had to do some things that didn’t make sense to you at the time.
If you served and you’re anything like me, there were A LOT of things that didn’t make sense.
But you don’t get to ask questions; they tell you to do it and you do it.
And that’s how I found myself in a tear gas-filled room with a drill sergeant screaming at me to take my gas mask off. Which I did.
We all knew it was coming, of course. It’s a right of passage in basic training. And we all thought that we could hold our breath or were tough enough to not let it bother us.
Even if you somehow manage not to breathe at all while screaming the Soldier’s Creed in that nightmare room for five minutes, tear gas doesn’t care. It seeps into your eyes, your nose, your pores.
Over twenty years later and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
But the effects wear off quickly. We ran out and went about our day.
A few years ago, I was talking to someone that went through the same thing. He said that he thought it was the stupidest exercise ever, a complete waste of time.
Surprising even myself, I piped up with “In a firefight or combat, the last thing you should be concerned about is if your gas mask works. The exercise gives you trust in your tools so that way you can focus on the mission.”
I don’t remember anyone saying this to me, and I never felt this way about it before. But suddenly it all made sense. All those drills and things I didn’t understand at the time now seemed totally rational.
When you trust the tools in your toolbox, you don’t have to think about them. All your focus is on the bigger picture.
Most entrepreneurs don’t go into working for themselves blindly.
We’ve trained, we’ve studied, and read. We’ve gone to seminars, read countless email funnels, and worked with coaches. Whether it’s marketing, sales, business, or a mix of all three, most of us have taken a deeper dive into it than most.
But if we don’t practice the things we’ve learned until they’re ingrained in our brains and reflexes, then we never learn to trust these valuable tools. That lack of trust means putting too much focus on the little things we don’t feel comfortable doing, and ignoring or setting aside the big things that could really make a difference in our companies.
Take roleplaying, for example.
Most people in the sales world roleplay sales situations and conversations at some point. Maybe as part of a business or sales class, training at a new job, or at a conference.
While there are always exceptions, most of us really don’t like roleplaying in front of a bunch of people. I used to hate it.
So we only do it when we have to, and the lessons learned during these roleplaying sessions don’t stick.
Which sucks. There is so much value to be had from roleplaying!
As salespeople, we have to ask uncomfortable questions to get to the root of our prospects’ problems. Or at least we should be.
When you roleplay these conversations with a friend, co-worker, or even just yourself, those questions become easier to ask and happen more naturally. Your natural style and authenticity will turn those questions and responses into the tools you use to help your customers find the best solution to their problem.
(Yes, I roleplay sales conversations alone in my car. And I’m not ashamed of that. Roleplaying is my jam.)
But if you only roleplay when you have to, it takes a lot longer to develop the ability to ask hard questions naturally and with genuine curiosity. It will sound forced, and your client will probably know it. The tools are still there. You know what questions need to be asked. But without repetition and practice in a comfortable environment, they go largely unused or feel unwieldy when you pull them out.
To make matters worse, most salespeople are just completely untrained in how to actually have sales conversations. All too often, they’re only trained on the product or service. And nobody tells them that selling is a craft, an art.
Nobody picks up a piece of wood and a saw and magically turns into Ron Swanson.
The same goes for selling. While some people have natural inclinations that might make it easier for them, there’s still a lot to learn.
For me, finding a sales coach and taking a DISC assessment finally started to fill the tired, empty toolbox that I’d been carrying for too long. I went from thinking I was a fine salesperson, great even, to realizing that I didn’t know anything.
All those years of blaming the industry, cheap people, or impossible expectations for why I didn’t hit the numbers I wanted to hit went out the window. Talk about eureka!
I’ve talked about the stages of learning before, specifically moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.
- You don’t know what you don’t know.
- You realize you don’t know something or you need to learn a lot more.
- You are learning it, practicing, and taking the time to think about it.
- You are able to use your knowledge without thinking about it.
Numbers 2 and 3, these are your tools. These are the things that aren’t easy or automatic yet, but you know they will make you better once you have the practice.
Number 4, those are the tools that you trust. They’re innate, automatic, and look natural to the people around you.
So if you’re in sales, take however much time you need to build that trust. Your conversational leverage will increase dramatically, your prospects will find more value and trust in what you have to offer, and your numbers will skyrocket.
If you’re an entrepreneur, make sure you create an environment for both your team and yourself that allows that knowledge building. Give everyone the tools they need to succeed and the practice they need to trust in them.