Head in Hands

The 4 Big Mistakes everyone makes with Sales Skills

And how to avoid them

You know that your Sales Team is only as good as the way each of them executes.

But from time to time, you’ll see something going ‘wrong’ or one of your salespeople doing something that frustrates you.  When you see it over and over again across the team, you feel you need to act.  And act as quickly as possible.

You’re smart enough to avoid the obvious trap of knee-jerking your team into a marketing-inspired Training Course, taking everyone off the road and putting them all onto it…

And are following the advice you were given to “slow down to speed up” – by Forbes, Harvard Business Review and McKinsey and many others.

You were probably told to complete a ‘Competency Review’ of your team? A 360° Review maybe?  They usually have a 1-5 scoring system and they’re often created by those who’ve not been in Sales recently….or at all.  Sound familiar?

The core thinking is right but it won’t achieve an effective Sales outcome because…

Traditional Sales Competency Frameworks and Reviews don't work!

And there are 4 reasons

  1. Competencies won’t be aligned with your core sales execution issues
  2. Traditional Competency Reviews are flawed because salespeople are not best known for being ‘open’ – it’s a sign of weakness…. right?
  3. Salespeople won’t fully engage with a Competency Review because they don’t believe anything will result from doing one
  4. Reviews start with Frameworks and typical ‘Competency Frameworks’ are a mish-mash of Skillset (Methods), Mindset (Behaviours), Knowledge (Facts and where to find them) and Values.  The mish-mash gets in the way of creating “personal development plans”.

So here’s how to avoid the same old mistakes

1. Don’t try and boil the ocean like everyone else!

Boil it SMART – One kettle at a time

You want a team that is both consistent and capable in all the selling skills you need them to have 

But it isn’t so easy when your Sales Team is made up of a mix of people

  • New into sales
  • Fresh into the business
  • Established salespeople who are falling behind the times
  • Great performers who you dare not touch.


I get it. It’s difficult to know where to start.  It can almost feel overwhelming.  With 20 years managing Sales Teams, small and large, I’ve been there too.

The answer:

Start boiling the ocean one kettle at a time.  Start by prioritising your execution challenges and focus first on the single highest priority.

Then decide which Sales skills and what methods will make a difference to that issue.  Not everything – just that one

…this will create clarity of ‘What good looks like’ in your business to fix that issue – you can create a simple plan to address it at speed.

2. It’s career suicide for an established Sales Person to ask for 'improvement.

so it’s pointless just asking

For those new into sales, it’s simple.  They need to be willing to absorb everything that’s best (and know how to get on your right side). They also need to listen and be ready to learn new skills to address execution issues.

But for the seasoned ‘Pros’ it’s not that simple, is it?

Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just ask established salespeople where they need development?

You may have tried doing it – I have too.  After all, we were taught that this is a vital part of 1 to 1s.

The issue is, you were told this by people who’ve never been in Sales.  Just asking doesn’t get the result you need because established salespeople will worry that they’ll show signs of ‘weakness’ and you’ll only get a shopping list of what they want.

You won’t get clarity on who needs what skills improvement to fix the top execution issue.

The answer:

A clear and concise, self-assessment framework.

Let your salespeople show you what you can do to help them.

You will be amazed at how three things rapidly emerge:

  1. Some of your salespeople will showcase ‘best practices’ that you’ll want to share around the team
  2. Some will claim to have a method but will demonstrate the need for further development
  3. Believe it or not, some will even ask for help

And in less than a week, you will:

  • Determine what skills are needed to fix your highest priority execution issue
  • Identify the methods for each talent that represent your best practices
  • Get absolute clarity who needs what development
  • And you’ll also get the shopping list – some of which could be valid.


3. “Sales People won’t take Assessment seriously”

but here’s how they will

All salespeople are motivated by Money and Kudos, right?

The best of salespeople know that Mastery of Skillset, Mindset and Knowledge is essential.

But, salespeople have also been conditioned to loathe the phrase ‘Competency Review.’

When you mention it, this is what they’re thinking:

  1. Someone who doesn’t understand my world is going to judge my performance
  2. I’ll have to endure a pointless, long-winded, 1-5 scoring Competency Review that may never end – many of them never actually get to a conclusion.
  3. Competency Reviews are pointless because everyone talks about creating a personal development plan. I won’t see one – I’ll just get shoved onto a Training Course as usual which will waste a load of my time!

The intent is worthy, but the Management execution fails.  So, don’t waste your time on a typical Sales Competency Review.

The answer:

A well-constructed, short Sales Self-Assessment that will make your salespeople think for themselves.  It will make them question themselves in a way you want them to.

It allows them to showcase where they believe they are good – or even GREAT!

And the questioning will bring structured self-awareness. In many cases, it’s where they’ll recognise, in themselves, the areas that they could improve.

4. Don’t muddy the waters!

Skillset, Mindset, Knowledge & Values unique areas of development – They can’t all be ‘trained’.

You want your Sales People to be GREAT.  You want to see your salespeople executing best practices in the right way with the right information – all put into practice at precisely the right time.

But more often than not, you find that ‘standard training’ gets delivered, skills don’t stick, behaviour doesn’t change, and information gets forgotten.

It’s because typical Competency Frameworks and Sales Training muddies the waters.

The answer:

Create GREAT salespeople using four simple keys:

1. Skillset:

Without method, skills are little more than random acts”, so think of sales skills as methods – Think simple method, and you can avoid lengthy, expensive training because coaching specific techniques can be done in short sessions.   Focus on teaching and sharing specific best practices – the best practices that work in and for your business

2. Mindset:

Mindset is reflected in behaviours such as Care, Empathy and Curiosity.  These can’t be taught.  Role models need to show what good looks like and coaching is required to nurture and develop salespeople.

3. Knowledge:

Sales ‘knowledge’ is fact-based:  Processes, Product & Solution, Industry and Subject matter.  Sales Knowledge can be taught, of course, but it’s better to teach salespeople how and where to find it when they need it (from People and Systems) rather than try to force a ton of information into their brains.

4. Values:

Values are overlooked far too often – they’re important.  At a personal level, they’re the combination of the way we’re brought up at home and work.  At a Company level, they are your Company Values.  For salespeople to have integrity internally and with Clients, they need to see values embodied by their Managers and Leaders – values that are consistent with their own and the Company.  There’s no getting around it.

So…Avoid the mistakes of others and do 4 things

  1. Focus on your most critical Sales execution issue and establish what methods make up the best practices that will fix it
  2. Use a Sales Self-Assessment to see who needs what development for your best practices, right now
  3. Commit to personalised plans of short-session instruction, refreshers, workshops and coaching on the back of Self-Assessment. Explicitly exclude the all-in generic Sales Training salespeople hate
  4. Simplify with the four keys of Skillset, Mindset, Knowledge and Values

With 35 years of learning best practices and 20 years coaching salespeople, I can help you get started.

Just 30 minutes on a call

And there’s no fee.

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