It often takes several months of onboarding for new sales hires to reach "on-target" performance. It takes time to learn how to sell anything with impact.

How long? In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell notes that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice over roughly 10 years to excel at anything. It’s a daunting learning curve for new sales hires, most of whom typically have only a few months to learn what they need to learn in order to survive their initial onboarding.

Not to worry, though. It can take a lot less time to become proficient. The key to doing so is in how you practice what you need to learn. Break things down and learn what you need to learn in small, sequential chunks.

Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours, explains the value of such ‘smart practicing.’ He explains how anyone can go from knowing absolutely nothing about something to being quite skilled at it with 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice. That's all it takes! For new sales hires, his suggestions are a recipe for learning in 4 weeks what would normally take 3-4 months. Here are Kaufman’s 5 keys to quickly becoming proficient:

1. Set a measurable performance target for yourself

This can be as simple as "have more conversations" or "have more next conversations"—but "more" is relative. To be measurable, your goal should have some type of empirical metric—two conversations with each of 5 new contacts, for example.

2. Deconstruct your desired new skill into sub-skills

By breaking down the new skill you want to gain into its different components, accomplishing that new skill becomes less daunting. If you know that growing your contact base will involve four steps for each new contact (cold call, follow-up call, introductory email, second email), you can simply work your way through an itemized checklist rather than feeling overwhelmed by the larger goal.

3. Start by practicing the sub-skill that is key to all other skills

A good one to start with: the skill of building trust when you get a prospect on the line. This skill is often improved by how you introduce yourself, the proof you offer that you’re worth having a conversation with, and the questions you ask that get your prospects talking.

4. Eliminate barriers to practice

In other words, make it easy to practice the sub-skill that you need to practice. A typical barrier to practice: I’m busy or I don’t have time. Eliminate this barrier by scheduling time into your calendar to do the heavy lifting of calling strangers and inviting them to have a conversation with you.

5. Commit to 20 hours of such deliberate practicing

Making a time-based commitment will help you conquer the frustrations of early failures. Don’t be dissuaded by initial (and often disappointing) results—remember, you're practicing in order to understand and overcome these early failures. Keep those scheduled appointments with yourself. Keep an eye on how many of the conversations you’re having are leading to next conversations. Improve your success at "building trust" by repeatedly trying to do so. And most importantly, keep learning from your successes and failures.

Kaufman’s approach to becoming proficient, fast, is further proof that practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

So go forth and learn new skills that produce higher performance—through practice.

(Watch the unedited, full-length version of Kaufman's remarks at RSA here.)

About the Author:

6a01910500243b970c01901f0a5080970b-120siJohn Cousineau is the founder and CEO of innovative information inc., makers of Amacus. His firm provokes improved B2B sales productivity by helping sales teams see + improve the buyer value of their sales practices. Follow John at @jcousineau.



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