A Passion For Learning Underlies Sales Success

November 9, 2016

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

                                                          - Albert Einstein

Want a silver bullet to astounding success as a sales professional? Looking for a fail proof way to win more business? Intellectual curiosity can be the “x-factor” for you.

In fact, research by Steve W. Martin, a business author and teacher of sales strategy at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, indicates 82 percent of top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser-performing counterparts.

Let’s take a look at the importance of this powerful—but often misunderstood, ill-defined and nebulous personality trait.

First, consider the difference in intellectual curiosity in a lower-performing sales professional vs. one who’s dynamite. For example, let’s say the mediocre sales associate hears from one of his close contacts that a CFO is announcing his retirement soon. He pauses, reflects, and says “that’s interesting,” and the conversation moves on to other topics.

The dynamite sales professional hears this exact same news and asks questions like, “Do a lot of people already know?” “Will he help name his successor?” “Is he retiring for good or staying on in a consulting capacity?” “Do you think he’d mind if I reach out to him before he retires?” Then, after the conversation with his contact, the dynamite sales professional calls a few key people in his network, including a personal friend who’s also a dynamite executive headhunter.

You see, the dynamite sales professional possesses intellectual curiosity in spades, and knows how to use this strength to his advantage. He leverages his high intellectual curiosity to be a visible and credible strategic partner for his current clients, his prospect clients, and his large professional network. And that ultimately benefits the business.

The good news? If you’re not already a poster child for intellectual curiosity, it’s a trait you can work to develop.

Assessing Intellectual Curiosity
Before we tackle the task of improving our individual intellectual curiosity, we must start with an assessment to know where we are today. Here are a few questions to begin understanding this trait more fully.

  1. Do you have a natural tendency to be curious, or do you need to work hard at it?
  2. Who do you know in your professional network who is inquisitive, curious, and clever?
  3. Would one of these people let you shadow him or her for a day of professional development?

 After you’ve taken a moment to reflect on these three questions, let’s move on to look at these two continuums.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being NONE and 10 being TONS, how much intellectual curiosity do you think you have, at this moment, in time in your current role/job function?   

         1        2          3          4          5          6          7          8           9          10

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being NONE and 10 being TONS, how much intellectual curiosity to you want to have in the future? 

         1        2          3          4          5          6          7          8           9          10

In a classroom setting and in one-on-one coaching sessions with business professionals, I find it invaluable to also discuss whether we are self-aware enough to truly assess our own levels of interest and engagement in our professional lives. Or do we need to consider asking a few people close to us to make honest and fair assessments about us? Are there other questions we should be asking ourselves?

The key comes from within. You can develop and advance your intellectual curiosity score if you are passionate about your customers’ businesses, your industry, your product/solution, or another facet of your role.

The Journey to Higher Intellectual Curiosity
Regardless of how you scored yourself in the assessment exercise, if you have a strong desire to strive for excellence, you will always find room for improvement. To be “off the charts” with our intellectual curiosity, we must also examine our active listening skills. Intellectual curiosity and active listening are inherently connected.

Let’s face it. Today’s environment is filled with distractions: chatty coworkers, email, meetings, an ever-buzzing phone. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. What’s worse: it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to where they left off. (Source: Washington Post.)

It might seem next to impossible to give your undivided attention to your prospects and clients. But, don’t they deserve it?

To build your intellectual curiosity, first, you must manage or eliminate distractions. Doing so takes practice.

Stephen Covey advised that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. What if --for the next 21 days—you implemented the following practices into your sales routine:

  • Use only a notebook and pen when meeting with prospects and clients.
  • Leave your cell phone, tablet, laptop, and other gizmos in the car, in the briefcase, or even back at your desk.
  • Wear a watch to keep track of the time, so you could give your eye contact, your focus, and your attention on the person speaking with you.

 Imagine all the possibilities of practicing active listening and enhancing your own intellectual curiosity by simply removing the distractions. To maximize your sales success, spend time honing these skills – you will not regret the investment you make in yourself.

Three things to do immediately to focus on intellectual curiosity

  1. Read 212: The Extra Degree by Sam Parker. It’s a quick read with a powerful message. This book will inspire you to push harder and achieve more in both your personal and professional life.

  2. Take more notes. Practice better notetaking with both current clients and prospects. Reflect on what you’ve heard and learned, try to connect the dots and think strategically like an executive would. Taking more notes, the old-fashioned way pen to paper, is a surprisingly easy way to sharpen your concentration and increase your ability to listen well.

  3. Ask more questions. You can improve your own intellectual curiosity by genuinely asking questions in many situations to explore further, learn more, and clarify your understanding. Ask questions of your colleagues. Ask questions when you are with your clients. Ask questions when you are prospecting. If genuine and sincere, your inquisitiveness will be received favorably by those you interact with. It will differentiate you from your competition. It will help you build stronger professional relationships. It will help you win more business.

This article is the second in a series of six on “6 Strategies to Maximize Sales Results.” The first focused on Growth Mindset. Watch for the next one soon. The series is a collaboration among Amy Franko, Brittany Shonka (IMPAX) and Jen E Miller (Marsh & McLennan Agency)—to create a resource to help other sales professionals maximize results. The goal is to help you go farther, achieve sales success, and transform into top performers.