I love the ah-ha moments in my job! You know that feeling… when you are talking about something you passionately believe in and then—bam!—you can practically see the light bulb go off for the other person (even on the phone). That’s a highlight for me and one I was able to enjoy just this morning. Talking with a new client who has never been exposed to the concept of strength management before, I was struck by how differently we each perceived the talents of the young seller we were reviewing. He was stuck in the old management paradigm of fixing people and hoping for improvement with additional experience until it all finally clicked. While this salesperson had quite a few strong talents, her account list and project responsibilities required her to lean heavily on areas I knew were weaknesses. The fit was all wrong!
Our conversation led me to share with you these five common misconceptions about sales talent.
1. Our talents can change over time.
Lots of things change as we get older and gain experience both in life and in our careers… but talent isn’t one of them. Our natural patterns of behavior are set at a very young age and once they are hard-wired, our thoughts, feelings, and knee-jerk responses remain pretty consistent over time. Luckily, as we mature, many of us learn how to use our talents more effectively and work around the weaknesses that keep getting in our way. We also learn which behaviors are socially acceptable and begin to conduct ourselves accordingly. So instead of throwing a fit on the floor, kicking, screaming, and crying like we may have done as toddlers, a highly competitive salesperson will typically act like a good sport in public and save that temper tantrum for those first moments alone in their car. They didn’t become any less competitive; they just learned how to handle themselves in public.
2. Talent is good but it’s not as important as hard work and practice.
Many years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the importance of “deliberate practice.” He maintained that, with 10,000 hours of repetitive training, an individual could become world-class in any field. You may have heard the buzz already, but a new Princeton study recently proved that while practice certainly leads to improvement, that improvement is often marginal at best. Practice makes perfect? Not exactly. The closest that practice came to perfection in this study was in the world of games where it was proven that an individual could become 26% better with deliberate practice. Many attribute that growth to the stable nature of the activity; games have rules and the rules don’t change. At the opposite end of the spectrum, this study showed that in careers such as sales (which we all would agree plays by different rules with different prospects), the bump was only a paltry 1%. Bottom line: If you have talent, you have the potential to grow and become excellent. If you don’t have talent, practice alone won’t get you there.
3. You can fix a weakness if you really focus and work on it.
Actually, sort of true… but not by much. If you dedicate great energy and many hours to becoming better in an area of weakness, you certainly won’t get worse! But the ROI is pretty low. Research shows that when we spend time developing our weaknesses we only become about 10% better—we never become great. What a wasted opportunity because that same amount of time dedicated to developing strengths can make us 10 times better! Every one of us has a unique set of strengths and an even larger set of weaknesses. Want to know what makes the most highly successful people so great? It’s the presence of the right strengths—not the absence of weaknesses. The goal is to focus on your strengths and become great in the areas where you have talent. Then your weaknesses become irrelevant.