Back to School: Reviewing your sales team’s skill set

By now, I’m guessing that your kids are in their classrooms (“Yay!”), the older ones have returned to campus and the digits on your credit cards are ground down to the nub after the back-to-school sales. 

For students, it’s back to an environment of new experiences, new ideas and continuous learning, and development. But, as business development professionals, it begs the question:  what are you doing to continuously update your knowledge and skill set, hone your craft and maintain your competitive edge in today’s ever-evolving business environment?

In Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he speaks of the importance of “sharpening the saw:” the concept of self-renewal and continuous learning to improve performance and achieve lasting success. In the sales and management, arena, how do you maintain that razor-sharp effectiveness to retain your competitive edge?

Embrace and adapt to the changing sales landscape. Today’s business environment is driven by changing market dynamics and customer preferences. What worked a few years – or even a few months – ago may not be as effective today. Top producers need to stay abreast of the latest trends, technologies and best practices regarding sales strategies, communication tools and market data.

Enhance sales skills and techniques. We often debate whether sales is an art or a science. Answer: It’s both! While innate talent certainly plays a role, true sales professionals constantly work to refine their abilities in building relationships, effective communication, negotiation and persuasion.

Leverage technology. There’s no question that technology has revolutionized the sales process and those who fail to learn, understand and embrace it risk falling behind their competitors. From advanced customer relationship management (CRM) systems to automation tools, data analytics, artificial intelligence and newly developed communication platforms, your sales reps and managers should be fully versed on your company’s “tech-stack.”

Understand customer behavior. Customers’ needs, preferences and buying habits have evolved significantly, especially with the ever-increasing preponderance of e-commerce and social media. To remain competitive, sales professionals must understand how to navigate customer behavior changes, market trends and industry developments to deliver tailored solutions that resonate with customers and create long-term relationships.

Build trust and credibility. By demonstrating your commitment to “sharpening the saw,” you not only develop your knowledge and expertise. You also build trust and credibility with your clients and position yourself as a trusted advisor who thoroughly understands your customers’ needs and can deliver valuable solutions. This enhanced credibility can lead to stronger business relationships and increased customer loyalty.

Innovate and create. Continuous education and improvement encourage creativity and innovation. By learning from diverse sources and interacting with fellow sales professionals, individuals can gain fresh perspectives and be exposed to innovative ideas and creative problem-solving approaches. The ability to think creatively can set you apart in a potentially crowded and competitive, market.

Develop leadership skills. For sales managers, effective leadership includes understanding what motivates and inspires your sales teams to excel. New managers, in particular, should seek out leadership training and embrace mentorship opportunities. Managers can also foster a culture of learning and continuous improvement within their sales teams, which will contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Advance your career opportunities. Continuous improvement enhances your qualifications as a sales professional and can open doors to new career opportunities. Whether you are seeking a promotion to a managerial role or transitioning to a different industry, additional education provides a competitive edge in a crowded job market. It demonstrates a commitment to personal and professional growth, which will get the attention of potential employers.

Going “back to school” and devoting yourself to continuous learning is not a step backward but a strategic move forward for sales managers and salespeople. Embracing education enables sales professionals to embrace change, adapt to new challenges and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Or, as a wise educator once said: “The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.”

Jim Marshall is owner, and president, of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or

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