How to really develop your selling skills!

Nicolas Caron

Published : 14 May 2019
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If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that skill development counts as one of our chief commitments. Every year I read a lot of books written by experts and once in a while I hit upon a gem…

PEAK, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is one of them!






I’m talking about a gem which describes in detail ways of developing skills with amazing efficiency. This book is incredibly rich in content and I could not hope to sum it up exhaustively in a few lines. Thus I really recommend that you get your hands on it.

I will nonetheless share with you the main teachings I gained from it. I hope that this will make you want to challenge your own practices and maybe make you turn to us for help in making your training practices more effective. Warning: the following lines must be read with the goal of pursuing excellence in mind (this is the end goal laid out in the book).

What’s not enough

To begin with, the author reminds us that the most common approach to acquiring a skill is insufficient when aiming for or attempting to achieve excellence.

Here is an example that sums up the classic approach:

  • You decide to take up golf.
  • You watch a few videos, read up on the fundamentals and buy a set of clubs.
  • Then you discover that reality is a tad more difficult than what you had pictured based on your books or videos.
  • Since you are still motivated, you take a few lessons.
  • You train right up to a decent level, i.e. decent enough that you can play with your friends.
  • Then you practice regularly in order to maintain or maybe slightly improve your level.
  • Now you have achieved a good enough level.
  • You’ve become a decent golf player and you will play at this level for the next 20 to 30 years. You have reached the level that suits you in terms of the amount of energy you are willing to put into training.
  • From there, how many years you practice won’t make much of a difference. After 20 years, your level will simply amount to one year of practice repeated twenty times over.

It’s the same as with driving. Just because you’ve been driving for 20 years doesn’t mean that you’re a better driver today than you were within two years of obtaining your license. There is a potentially similar phenomenon at work with our professional practices. If he or she is not careful, a seller could end up being no more an expert after twenty years than they were at the end of their first year on the job. The same is also true for managers.

The good news is that stagnating at the “good enough” stage is not a fatality.

Purposeful practice

In order to overcome the “good enough” plateau the authors outline the concept of Purposeful Practice. Practicing in such a way regularly and over a long period of time is the key to making significant progress.

Here are, according to these two authors, the key ingredients involved in this type of training. Feel free to compare them to your usual practices.

Specific goals

Expanding upon the example of golf, think about the difference between going to the driving range to hit some balls mechanically and repetitively and hitting some balls under conditions resembling competition while duly following your concentration routine.

Purposeful practice thus consists of breaking down a general progress-oriented goal into intermediary goals which may be worked on independently.

Maximum concentration

To illustrate this point, the author cites the example of swimmers or endurance runners who wander off into thought during training. How could they not be tempted to do so? Their sessions are so long and repetitive that they think of something else to fill time. The problem is that this way of doing is not very effective.

Hours spent at the swimming pool are not enough to achieve excellence. The author cites the example of a swimming champion who really took off after she started to no longer try to “escape” but rather focus on each movement and refine each day all the micro details of performance. Obviously, such levels of focus tend to put a time constraints on training. You cannot perform at 100% for hours on end.

Training therefore has to be targeted and narrowed down to a limited period during which concentration is maxed out.

Systematically step out of your comfort zone

This is very important. Practicing doing what you already do well helps you maintain the level you have reached but do not make you progress. Purposeful practice therefore involves trying things that are not yet mastered and/or trying to do them differently.

The author hammers home this key idea: it is by constantly getting out of your comfort zone that you make progress. He cites the example of the amateur pianist who took lessons for ten years and has always played the same compositions for the next 30 years. He is no better pianist than 30 years ago. His level may even have declined…

Purposeful practice is not about doing the same thing over and over, but doing it differently and better to generate more efficiency.

Quality feedback

In order to change your way of doing things and reach new milestones, the author insists on the important role played by coaches, mentors and teachers. As general rule, progressing is not just about doing more, but also doing things differently. That’s why a coach is important to suggest different ways of overcoming the plateaus you reach as you progress. The best coaches will then help you acquire enough maturity to be able to generate your own feedback.

Purposeful practice involves taking a step back – both literally and figuratively – in order to figure out how to improve.

Maintaining your motivation over time

Motivation is another crucial point because it allows you to continue to work in the long term. And to get out of your comfort zone (which is uncomfortable!) time after time, you must be motivated! While the principle is easy to understand, implementing it is more difficult. It’s all about maintaining your motivation over the long haul.

Quality feedback, as well as regular measurements and an awareness of your own progress are all boosters that will fuel the desire and energy needed for training continuously above your comfort zone.

In a nutshell, purposeful practice involves getting out of your comfort zone through targeted goals and a training plan built around these goals while maintaining long-term motivation.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is the next step, the ultimate level of skill development.

The authors explain through many fascinating examples how to move from Purposeful practice to Deliberate Practice. The path to excellence and expertise takes you through three complementary dimensions.

Identifying and assimilating best practices

Deliberate practice involves observing and assimilating the practices of the very best experts. Not all disciplines are so lucky as to have identified what makes the best stand out. But when this is the case your training can be optimized by having recourse to both precise goals and quality feedbacks.

Progress goals and feedback should be inspired by the best experts’ best practices.

Developing the most complete mental representations possible

The difference between an expert and a neophyte is that years of practice allowed the expert to construct very precise mental representations of the various options available to them. This allows them to be more effective in solving problems and mastering the sharp skills needed to excel in their specialty. The more these mental representations are vast and precise, the more quickly we are able to find answers to the situations we encounter.

The modeling of reflexes, attitudes and methods adapted to different situations is a permanent quest that requires apprentice-experts to be on a constant watch for possible alternatives.

Focusing on performance.

Traditionally, the teacher’s focus is very often placed on knowledge. When the goal is to be able to do something, the traditional approach involves providing information describing the right way of going about it and banking on the student’s ability to apply that knowledge. On the contrary, deliberate practice focuses almost “obsessively” on performance and how to improve it.

The coach should focus on the right question – that is “What can you do?” rather than “What do you know?”

To conclude, I hope that my summary made you want to read this fabulous book.

I also hope that it will prompt you to challenge your training, coaching, and skill development practices. Today not only do we know what we have to do, we also have great tools available for bringing all these principles to life in our training endeavors.

If you want to know more about our own methods in this domain and how we could implement them with you… then follow along!


Have a great sales day!

Nicolas Caron

© Halifax Consulting


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