Have you ever heard music that was so brilliant, you couldn’t even carry on a conversation while listening? I had a friend in college who played like that. Her audiences would be nearly silent as she played, mesmerized by the sound, until her last note when they would go nuts!
She practiced both the piano and the guitar often, simply because she loved it, and she often played for us upon request. I’m not much of a musician myself, and I don’t know a lot about the business, but those who did were certain that she could be one of the few who actually made a career for herself in music.
But music was not meant to be. Her parents wanted her to go to medical school like both of her brothers had done, and while they appreciated her natural talents, they didn’t want her to focus time on them that could be spent studying. Her boyfriend, while also a loyal listener, enjoyed their limited time together and didn’t want to share it with an instrument. So, needless to say, she practiced less and less, focused her time on other things, and found herself on a very different path.
This is not a story with a sad ending, but rather, with food for thought. She is now happily married and enjoying both a career in medicine and two young children. She even plays when she can, just for fun, but you can’t help but wonder what could have been….
What if her talent had been spotted, encouraged, and consistently developed? What if she had someone who mentored her, showed her the ropes, and celebrated her successes with her? Could she have been the Taylor Swift of our generation? Who knows? But maybe…
The fact is that talent is not enough. Whether we are talking about music or talking about sales, talent is key (a total deal-breaker if you don’t have it), but it’s only the first step in a tricky staircase to climb.
As a sales manager, you have the tremendous opportunity to help your talented salespeople hike what can feel like a mountain and make it to the top.
Here are 5 ways that you can help them to turn talent into performance:
Avoid the cookie-cutter approach.
Manage each individual in the way that they need to be managed—which will be different than the way the guy sitting next to them needs to be managed. When making your next hire, use a validated talent instrument that measures the intensities of their strengths and weaknesses so you can clearly understand what you are working with. Make sure the assessment you choose is able not only to predict success, but also give you the information you need to build a highly-customized coaching plan that will allow you to maximize their strengths and work around their weaknesses. Build that individualized management plan and refer to it often.
Build a solid relationship.
People work best for a manager who they believe sincerely cares about them. Relationships in the workplace matter! So make sure you take the time to develop those relationships and show your salespeople that you care about them. Remember important occasions, become familiar with the things they enjoy outside of work, and spend time with them. Most importantly, get their input on what they need from you. Our clients use an instrument we call the Individualized Management Questionnaire which guides them through a list of questions like, “Do you like being given a clear plan to follow, or do you prefer to do your own planning?” Create a list of questions that you can use to uncover how your salespeople want to be recognized, corrected, motivated, and challenged. Anyone can point out their shortcomings, but it takes someone who really cares to show them their strengths and help them to grow.
Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself.
Give them plenty of feedback so they can better understand exactly what is working for them and what is not. The best feedback is timely, frequent, consistent, and focused on the big rocks so you don’t overload them. Make sure you have systems in place to ensure that you are noticing their work because without a specific plan in place, it’ll never happen. And remember that the average person needs five pieces of specific positive feedback in order to be open to one piece of corrective (negative) feedback. That 5:1 ratio is hard to achieve but oh-so worth the effort!
Cheer them on!
Celebrate their successes with them and let them know you believe in them when they fall down and need to get back up again. Encouragement is wildly powerful and a lack of encouragement can leave a gaping hole in the drive of many. Did you know that the number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated? If you are celebrating their successes with them, or helping them to consider how they might turn their failure around, your salespeople will know you greatly appreciate them.
This does not mean you should put an unbearable burden on their shoulders. It means that you should count on them in areas that fall directly in their wheelhouse—so they can be successful and grow in an area where they have talent. Spend time with them as they are learning their way, but don’t let them take the easy way out if you know they have the natural ability to push themselves. The fact is that when you spend time developing someone’s talent, you can increase performance up to 10 times! That’s time well spent.
Talent is rare! We all have many more weaknesses than strengths and there are very few things that any one of us can do to the level of excellence. If you take the time to hire only those who have the kind of innate talent necessary for success, and then you coach them and develop their talents… who knows what they can accomplish! Don’t let them get stuck at the bottom of the stairs.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published February 27, 2014 and has been updated.