Psychological and learning theories tell us that learning curves are a continuum of four basic competency levels. It may seem like a stretch to apply theoretical knowledge to your sales process, but simply being aware of the levels of knowledge and how they can impact your sales is a great place to start. Think of this as your own sales competency continuum, a way in which you can continually improve.
The first level of knowledge is called “unconscious incompetence”. It sounds like a terrible label, but if you’re in this area you’re not really aware of what your knowledge deficiency is. The only way to move to the next level of knowledge is to watch someone else perform the skill, or explain it to you, so that you become aware of its existence. New salespeople may be in this stage in regard to products and services, but can also be unaware of various sales techniques. But with more experience comes the feeling that you cannot improve – which means you may be missing out on new or improved sales processes and techniques. Obviously, new salespeople will attend training and observe the pros to find out what they need to learn. But if you’re highly experienced, you can also take the time to observe others and discover some areas of unconscious incompetence.
Once you’ve become aware of the knowledge you don’t have, you move to the next level of learning, which is called “conscious incompetence”. In this stage, you obviously realize the skills you lack – or the skills you need to make improvements in your sales process or client handling techniques. With awareness, you might even practice a new skill or technique, because you know that practice will help you incorporate the skill into your everyday work. In the conscious incompetence phase, it is absolutely vital that you make the commitment to learning and practice – even if you are a highly experienced salesperson. Set a goal to attend seminars, read on the subject, and even to find a mentor who can help you improve. But becoming aware isn’t the end of the road on new skills.
The third stage is called “conscious competence”, in which you learn to practice the new skill or technique reasonably well. If it’s a new technique, such as remembering to research your competition before every sales presentation, you’ll start to roll it in because you’re constantly thinking about it. And even though you think about it, it’s still easy to forget because it’s not quite a “rote” skill that you practice every day. You may even be able to demonstrate the skill to someone else, but it’s probably difficult to pull the skill apart and explain it to someone who doesn’t yet have it. In sales, and many other professions for that matter, the best thing you can do in the conscious competence stage is to practice, practice, and practice. And only through practice can you move to the next new skill or technique, so make a commitment to deploy the new skill in your sales process every time you make a presentation.
The final stage of learning is the “unconscious competence” phase, where your skills and techniques are second nature. Often learning theorists will describe driving, walking, and writing as unconscious competencies, because you can perform the skill without thinking. As the skill becomes more developed, you may even discover that you can teach it to others. But the main thing to remember about unconscious competence is that it does not exempt you from comparing yourself to new standards and consistently observing others to find even more unconscious incompetence. In sales, you can make a commitment to observation and to asking for feedback from others to evaluate yourself. In addition, with unconscious competence comes responsibility, because you can observe others and mentor them with your highly developed skills.
It’s easy to settle into a sales process that works – and continue using techniques that always generate results. But when you consider the sales competency continuum, your skills should always be undergoing change and improvement – and will therefore improve your bottom line.
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