Selling Microsoft

Your Most Important Sales Investment: Yourself

A few simple tricks for staying ahead in the selling game.

Recently, I read a newspaper article emphasizing the importance of annually reviewing your various investment plans. That advice brought to mind the partner-company salespeople I've met over the past decade. Right about now, many are conducting their year-end reviews, looking at their year-to-date earnings and thinking, "Am I where I want to be?" But in doing those self-evaluations, salespeople often forget to consider one important factor: how well they've invested in their own professional growth.

In sales, as in most other fields, what distinguishes the professionals from the amateurs is a high-level combination of education, expertise and dedication. So in undertaking their annual self-assessments, serious salespeople should evaluate not only their numbers, but what they've done to enhance their commitment to their profession by improving their knowledge and skills.

The best in the business consciously strive to increase their value by investing in themselves, often following steps like these:

Read several good, general-business books per year. Many executives read business best-sellers. Doing the same provides you with fresh business insights -- and the opportunity to discuss them with your prospects and customers. Such increased business acumen can strengthen relationships by generating new levels of respect.

Read sales-training books. When I interview prospective sales candidates for our clients, I always ask about the last sales-training book they read and how long ago they read it. The answer is a sure sign of the candidate's commitment to the sales profession. Look for guides focusing on strategy, complex sales, solutions and negotiation tactics. Tip: If you're on the road a lot, consider listening to audio books instead.

Subscribe to relevant business and technology magazines and newsletters. This constantly updated reading program will keep you current on important topics that are relevant in the business and technology sectors-as long as you actually read them. I read such publications while relaxing and have even carried them along to the beach in the summer; I consider this professional-development time.

Practice for perfection. Professionals in every field get ready for important events. Musicians rehearse. Baseball players go through spring training. Salespeople should prepare as well. Before every sales call, plan your opening comments and responses to potential objections. If you're making sales calls with your colleagues, be sure everyone understands who's leading the discussion, when other participants will present and who's playing on the prospect's team.

Analyze your own performance. This is the most important step-and the easiest. Train yourself to review every sales call you make, whether it's a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, a presentation or a demonstration. Ask yourself, "If I could do it over, what would I do differently?" Professional football players analyze post-game films; professional salespeople should adapt that approach to assess how well they're performing.

Draw on Microsoft resources. Visit for a variety of free sales resources. You'll find Microsoft Solution Selling content, as well as 23 new sales-training courses created by Acumen. There will be four additional sales-management courses rolled out this fall.

I challenge you to evaluate your professional growth this year and develop a game plan for investing in yourself next year. Your efforts are likely to pay off -- literally -- in higher earnings. Meanwhile, if you'd like suggestions about useful books, magazines and newsletters, e-mail me at the address below and I'll send you our list of recommended resources.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].