We’ve all met individuals who can take information and use it to change their whole lives. Some people vow to lose weight, take up exercise or change career on the basis of a TV programme they watched, an interview they heard or a book they read. These individuals with their clarity, iron-willed determination and passion for change are amazing and often admirable. They are also vanishingly rare.
Some folks have changed the way they sell and communicate with prospects and customers having read the SPIN® Selling book. Like those who vow to change other aspects of their lives, they are admirable and their conviction and commitment to change is to be applauded. But most people need a bit more help to learn and change their behaviour.
Understanding why might be useful. Here are five reasons why you and your people need to ‘go beyond the book’:
1. Learning is not about knowledge. Or, to be more precise, is not just about knowledge. While a lot of corporate learning seems to be focused on facts and vocabulary and the steps to follow in a process, knowledge alone is insufficient for all but a few to change their behaviour. What we take from a book, film, TV programme or podcast may be different depending on the medium, but for the most part it fits in the realm of knowledge. The information we glean is about what, not how.
2. Unlearning is more difficult than learning. Peter Drucker once wrote that ‘to start doing something new you have to stop doing something old’. The question for many of us is ‘which bits do we need to stop doing?’ If I want to lose weight, then breaking my doughnut habit may be pretty obvious, but changing how we interact with customers, talk about our products and services, demonstrate how we are a good fit for a customer’s requirements – that’s a bit more complex. Perhaps most importantly, the change we need to effect might be different in one set of circumstances than in another. When selling or having commercial conversations, one size does not fit all.
Most of the people who attend Huthwaite programmes are already skilled as sellers, negotiators and communicators. As well as having some terrific skills and behaviours we will build on, they may also have some habits we’d like them to unlearn. Unlearning takes time and so we give them time. Time in a safe space to try things out, guidance to reflect on what works (and why) and plan for future development.
3. Mastering new skills requires practice, reflection and feedback. Communicating effectively and being persuasive is a set of skills. Imagine this conversation:
Friend: Do you need a lift. My car’s outside.
You: I didn’t know you could drive.
Friend: Oh, I couldn’t - but I read a book and watched a couple of YouTube videos.
Do you get in the car?
Now, trusting someone to sell a product or service, build value for a customer and gain that customer’s trust and commitment is not – perhaps – as dangerous as trusting your life to a driver, doctor or pilot who ‘has read a book’ on the subject. The consequences for most commercial organisations of poor sales techniques may not be fatal, but it can be damaging. If you wouldn’t get in a car with someone who hadn’t had the opportunity of supervised practice and feedback, why would you let them sell your products without a similar approach to mastering the required skills?
4. People learn from each other. It also seems more straightforward to try new things if other people are on the same journey as you. Learning from the questions of others, sharing their experiences and successes and having someone alongside who knows exactly how you are feeling as you try to do new things, is a powerful boost to learning.
It’s even more powerful if you have a safe space in which to share your ideas, concerns and progress; ask for help, get feedback and discuss options with others having similar experiences.
5. The best sellers are habitually good. Building new habits is tricky. It involves going beyond the step by step approach when we are learning something so that it becomes natural – a matter of course to do things in a certain way.
Our approach is based on ‘learning journeys’ – these combine some knowledge acquisition – similar to ‘reading the book’ - but the required knowledge is structured so it doesn’t overwhelm or confuse. Furthermore, each new concept is combined with opportunities to try things out, reflect on what happened and why, and gain feedback.
Finally, the learning continues into the workplace. Using behavioural targets and detailed action planning, participants continue to build their skills one at a time in a logical sequence. This ‘scaffolding’ is designed to ensure that the learning continues after the formal inputs in a structured way. By building new skills incrementally, with live practice opportunities and the continued support of peers and the Huthwaite team of skilled facilitators and trainers, these skills become second nature. Through repetition, reflection and feedback they become ‘the way we do things’. As people build good habits, they become habitually good.
“All genuine learning comes from experience. The belief that genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative”. John Dewey