Teach Selling To Learn Selling

By June 8, 2010Learn!

Five years or so into my sales career I learned a lesson that still looms large in my brain.  Here it is:

The best way to learn something is to be responsible for teaching it to someone else.

This is especially true when you don’t know squat about the subject in question.  At the time, I was an erstwhile biology major who stumbled into a sales rep job for IBM’s “Big Iron” (i.e. mainframe) division.  I had stumbled blindly into the role and took it because I liked having regular meals.  And then, much to my surprise, discovered I liked it and had at least an above average knack for it.

Charlie Aimone (my first sales manager and although I haven’t spoken to him in 6 or 7 years I still admire, respect and thank) got handed the task of assigning a rep to teach a “Selling With Financial Analysis” class to the 150+ member office by the Branch Manager.  So did Charlie assign Ken, the senior guy on the team?  Or Bill, the Harvard grad?  Or Frank, the business major?  Or Jim, the best rep in the group?  Nope…  He picks the freakin’ Bio major.

The only angle I could think of to avoid publically embarrassing myself was to pull together 3 case studies from reps that knew finance and just regurgitate their work.  My search for those reps helped me realize why the topic had been chosen.  I wasn’t alone.  Nobody really knew squat about selling with financial analysis.

Everybody sorta’ kinda’ knew bits and pieces.  Let me repeat, to avoid publically embarrassing myself, I pieced together a “lesson plan” that was heavy on audience participation.  Lo and behold, with so many smart, seasoned folks in the room, a boatload of concepts and ideas got aired and discussed.  It took a bit from this gal, another bit from that guy all aimed at my case studies – but after an hour – we all “got it.”

So what’s the lesson?

The best way to learn something is to be responsible for teaching it to someone else.

If you’re a sales manager, do what Charlie did.  Put some young “genius” in the creepily uncomfortable role of teaching an unfamiliar concept.  If you’re a rep – rookie or crusty veteran – force yourself into that same creepy role.

…or are you/and your sales team too delicate to take it?

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Todd Schnick says:

    A lot of what I do for clients is me learning something myself.

    Several years ago a client asks, “should I be on twitter?” I said “I dunno, let me check it out.”

    More recently, I wondered if Foursquare is an important app for one of my clients, so I dove in to figure it out.

    I love the idea mentioned in your post. In fact, I hope people volunteer for such roles.

    The only way to learn is to dive in, head first…

    • Todd – Hadn’t occurred to me till just now, but about two years ago our now joint “Dreamland” client asked me if he should be blogging! Is answering, “I dunno'” a key indicator that opportunity awaits? – TY

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