As the daughter of two educators, I’ve always hated that saying. Teaching others, whether in a classroom or out on the road after a sales call, is one of the most valuable and meaningful things a person can do. This is not only a belief that I hold dear, but it’s also one that is supported by performance data. That is, the more effective a sales manager is at teaching their sales reps how to build their sales skills, the better the rep performs. Teaching is definitely “doing.”
However, in spite of my visceral negative reaction to that saying, there is actually an important kernel of truth in it if you reverse the saying... “those that can do, can’t teach.” Now, in the same way that the original saying is an obvious overstatement, so is it’s reverse. However, take a moment to consider this idea… when you are naturally good at something, it is harder to teach that same skill to others.
Think back to your time of being a sales rep. Now consider the aspects of selling at which you really excelled. Was it figuring out a customer’s needs? Was it knowing when to push or when to back off? Perhaps it was your tenacious and consistent follow-up with prospects? Every successful rep has different aspects of the sales process at which they excel and for most people, the areas where they excel came naturally to them.
The great thing about be a natural at something is that it’s easy for you. But the downside is that it’s often hard to explain what it is you do that makes you so effective. Consider again what you did naturally well as a rep. If somebody asked you to explain why you were so good at that particular aspect of selling, could you detail out step-by-step what made you effective? If you’re like most successful people, you would probably say, “I don’t know, it’s just how I do it.”
Being a natural at something means that it’s instinctual. You don’t have to think about it or come up with a step-by-step plan to ensure you work that way. It’s simply who you are, so you just do it that way. While being a natural is certainly valuable when you are selling, it can easily become a hindrance when you are trying to teach others how to do it. When you don’t have to think about how to do something, it’s more difficult for you to break down the steps to execution. In this way, there’s an important kernel of truth in the idea that “those that can do, can’t teach” and it’s important to acknowledge that your selling strengths may be your coaching weaknesses.
To assess whether your strengths as a rep are really your weaknesses in coaching your own reps, first identify the areas where you excelled as a salesperson. Now, consider your approach to helping your own reps improve in these same areas. Do you often tell them to just do what you do and mirror your approach? Do you make it sound like this is something they should be able to do without much planning? Do you ever find yourself saying to them, “if I can do it, it’s easy?” If your answers to these questions are “yes,” then you are not effectively teaching them these skills.
In order to rectify the problem, consider tapping an individual on your team who has struggled with building their skills in this sales area to create a step-by-step approach to teach this skill to others. When people had to work hard to learn a skill, they often have created a structure to help them execute that skill effectively. They also know what they had to learn or experiences they had to go through in order to sharpen that skill. Finally if it’s not a natural skill for them, they may have created a system to keep them disciplined in executing it consistently. All of what they’ve learned can make them a great resource in helping you define a way to teach the skill to other reps.
At the end of the day, it’s an important lesson to remember that what you are best at may be difficult for you to teach to others. Never underestimate your own unique talents by assuming that if something is easy for you that it should be easy for your reps. And never assume that just because you’re good at something that you will be good at teaching it.