Helping Salespeople Avoid Awkward Selling Adolescence

Here’s something I’ve noticed. Sales excellence progression is like child development. Individual sellers, as they gain experience, mirror the same evolution that we witness in children growing into adolescents and mouthy teenagers.

If you have children who are or were adolescents at one time you will likely connect easily with what I have to say. Even if you have been around adolescents but don’t have any of your own, I think you will understand my points.

Kids Growing Up

Small children by and large listen to their moms and dads. In the early years, they are sponges. They take direction from their parents, adore them, and do what they say…mostly. As they grow older, they want more autonomy. They show it in phases, like the terrible twos and around five as they express a desire to be more in control of themselves.

But as adolescents and teenagers, they want autonomy on a whole different level. They want to make every decision on their own and sow their oats. Instead of following the advice of their parents, who have been down this path before and could help them avoid poor choices, bad situations, and mistakes, they instead do ill-advised things. Eventually, most children come to realize that their parents aren’t so stupid after all and have a healthier relationship with them, finally taking their advice, appreciating their wisdom, and sharing in adult conversations.

Salespeople Growing Up

Well, salespeople are similar. At first, brand new salespeople are like sponges. They do and say what is asked. They try to please the boss. But somewhere after they have gained some proficiency, their performance may dip. They may falter. Their closing ratio may decline.

And generally, what is happening at the same time is some business is closing because of their prior efforts. So managers and leaders may not notice the subtle decline in effectiveness. They may miss the slight slip in discipline.

However, it is completely typical to see salespeople improve over their introductory period, gain proficiency then either flatten or decline in effectiveness. I have witnessed it. I have fallen victim to it myself, and it can be quite frustrating to observe and experience.

Data to Back Me Up

I did some digging to see if I could uncover any data-backed reason why, rather than just relying on anecdotal evidence. I found something intriguing that might just point to the answer.

Out of a database of over 630,000 salespeople, I looked at those with 0 to 1 years’ experience and those with 1-2 years’ experience. Assuming a dog-years-like calculation, I equated those with 0-1 years as the “children” and those with 1-2 years as our “adolescents.” The chart below shows there is a noticeable increase in the percentage of salespeople proficient at different selling skills once they reach adolescence.

That’s great. Salespeople become more proficient at these tangible selling skills over time.

So how can we explain the apparent slip in effectiveness that we witness if, on average, the skills improve? Well, I think the answer can be found in other measurable traits, not just selling competencies.

I reviewed the Mindset elements or Sales DNA for these same groups and found that there was no change from child to adolescent in either Doesn’t Need Approval or in Comfortable Discussing Money.

The Wrap Up

The reasons are illustrated above. As I surmised – new salespeople are taught what to do and how to say it. In the beginning, they do it and they follow the process to the letter. However, their mindset is typically not addressed, and this probably hinders their long-term success.

As they get more comfortable with the process, with the words and behavior, their mindset takes over and cripples them. They can’t help it. They are stymied by their beliefs, their perspective, their upbringing.

And therefore, their selling competencies are better, but their ability to apply those selling skills is limited. They quit being diligent about doing it exactly as taught or how they witnessed others have success. They fall into their own comfort zone and unless the manager is very diligent about coaching and pushing them outside that zone, they will remain stagnant.

What to Do

This means that salespeople need training for sure. But they also need to be coached and helped to get out of their own way. Teaching salespeople what to say and do is critical in the beginning. Just as important is helping them get over their need to be liked and their inability to discuss money, ROI, and the like. While you’re at it, get them to follow a repeatable sales process.

The ultimate goal is to dig deeply enough to help them overcome the items that they might not be aware of, that are standing in their way. Just like adolescent brains still need guidance (even though they don’t want it), so do developing salespeople. By addressing both their skills and mindset, they will be able to push past their adolescent and comfortable selling ways and truly ascend to sales adulthood, equipped with what they need to excel.

If you want to compare your team to others in your industry with no cost and no obligation, dive into some very powerful statistics.