Jill Konrath has made a name for herself as one of today’s top thought-leaders in sales. A well-known author & speaker, Jill seems to be just about everywhere these days, and with good reason.
I’ve known Jill for years. A smart, driven and straightforward woman, Jill epitomizes the best of the Midwest – she lets you have the truth between the eyes, with good intent and a generous spirit. She also knows just about all there is to know when it comes to selling. Her most recent book, Agile Selling, represents a further evolution of her thinking. As I note in the interview, it reminds me in some ways of The Trusted Advisor.
We sat down recently to discuss her new book on how when it comes to sales, you can never stop learning.
CG: How did you come up with the idea for Agile Selling?
JK: Shortly after SNAP Selling came out, tons of salespeople said to me, “This is great info on selling to today’s crazy-busy prospects. But I’m frazzled too. Just like them. How can you help me?”
Initially, I thought it was a time management problem. But, after pondering it awhile, I realized it was an information management problem. Too much was changing: customers, products, buying cycles, the economy, competitors. It was literally impossible to keep up.
When I thought about it, I realized that rapid learning was one of my core competencies. And, I’d never even talked about it before. It was just who I was.
Then, when I thought deeper about it, I realized I’d developed innumerable strategies over the years to address the fears and challenges you face when you’re trying something new. In researching the book, it was fun to discover that the approaches I’d stumbled on were now verified by neuroscience research.
CG: This book struck me as very similar to Trusted Advisor – a ‘wisdom’ book that can only be written after subject-matter and process mastery. It’s fundamentally about consulting. Comments?
JK: Personally, I’m amazed that it took me so long to “see” some of these things that are now blatantly obvious to me. They are truly the meta-skills that enable subject-matter and process mastery. Yet no one really talks about them. That’s why so many people don’t reach their potential.
And, you are so right that selling is really about consulting. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s about maintaining a singular focus on your client. Where are they trying to go? How can you help them get there? What value will they get from working with you?
Unless you do that today, you won’t get clients. Selling is truly about service.
CG: How far can you get in sales without coming to grips with some of these agility issues? I assume the answer is getting ‘less and less’ as the pace of change accelerates – is that true?
JK: Learning agility issues start from Day One of any new position. At that moment in time, you’re thrown into massive overwhelm, trying to learn all sorts of new things. And, unless you have a process for doing that, it will take you longer than necessary to become proficient.
Most people don’t realize there are rapid learning practices they can use to quickly master new information or pick up skills. I’m talking about strategies like dumping, chunking, connecting and more.
Plus, when you take a new sales position, you need to take an immediate 30-day deep dive in order to develop situational credibility. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to maximize that time frame. Instead, they muddle around, hoping to absorb everything by osmosis.
In reality there are certain things that need to be learned first – which I outline very clearly in Agile Selling. And, if the company doesn’t have the info you need (which many don’t), there are fast strike ways to get it.
CG: What about dealing with all the changes? Does that cause more agility issues?
JK: Absolutely. In a world of lookalike products and services, our expertise is primary differentiator. Essentially that means we can never stop learning.
And, those who learn faster than others will have a serious competitive advantage.
CG: On the face of it, this book is an “advanced” book on selling. Does that mean a newbie can’t read it? What advice would you give a relatively new salesperson on reading this?
JK: Funny you should ask that. Too me, it’s a foundational book that all sellers should read. Here’s what I’d say to a new person:
“These are the underlying skills of all top sellers. They’re not visible on the surface, when you observe or talk to them.
“But this is what’s at their core. It’s about how they learn, deal with challenges and transform themselves into an invaluable resource.
“If you focus on becoming an agile seller at the onset of your career, you will be in high demand – regardless of the direction you choose to take in your life.”
I think Agile Selling will help anyone who wants to shorten his/her path to proficiency.
CG: This book strikes me as out of sync with what’s usually written in sales books these days – and beautifully so. It’s about the art and craft of sales, not about the mechanics and plumbing. Is that how you see it?
JK: It’s totally out of sync with other sales books. Nobody is writing about this critical meta-skill of agile learning. And thanks for your kind words too.
To me, Agile Selling is about “being” a top performer. It’s about the mindset that enables people to thrive when they’re in the midst of change. It’s a skill set about being able to quickly assimilate lots of information or to pick up new skill. It’s also a discipline about creating an environment for success.
The more you embrace agile selling strategies, the higher your likelihood of short-term success and long-term mastery.