Jill Konrath’s 3 Keys to Mastering Rapid Learning

Are you struggling to close sales while also absorbing new information and skills every day? Jill Konrath, author of Agile Selling explains how embracing rapid learning is the key to staying ahead of the sales curve.

As a sales professional, you’ve probably encountered this situation: You’re interacting with a prospective customer, and they seem genuinely interested in your product. Multiple missed calls and unanswered emails later, you hang up the towel and accept they’ve vanished into the sales black hole.
What did you say (or didn’t say) to drive them away? According to sales expert Jill Konrath, author of the new book Agile Selling and one of OpenView’s Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2014, it’s probably not something you did. In fact, it’s not about you, at all. 
These days, businesses are changing faster than ever before. Customers are just as busy and stretched thin as the rest of us. Rather than take rejection personal, sales professionals need to embrace change and learn how they can be more relevant, insightful, and helpful than ever. That means employing some “meta skills” and mastering the art of “Rapid Learning.” In this week’s LabCast, Jill explains how you can apply three skills of Rapid Learning to improve your entire sales process — whether it’s closing more deals, adapting to change in market, or onboarding new sales hires more effectively.

This Week’s Guest

jill-konrath new“These days, everyone has to learn more in a faster amount of time. The real challenge is to learn new skills every day, not getting better at one thing in particular.”

— Jill Konrath

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Key Takeaways

  • When a company doesn’t get back to you, don’t take it personally. Regardless of whether or not they are interested in doing business with you, the truth is that companies are “just crazy busy.”
  • Always be learning. Make sure you’re a good learner and focus on harnessing that skill in general. The sales world is changing rapidly, and you need to constantly be flexing that muscle. [2:30]
  • Avoid getting overwhelmed. Constantly keeping up with change — whether it’s changing markets or products — can send your brain spinning. Organize your thoughts and adapt to change through “rapid learning.” [4:45]
  • Master “Rapid Learning” by harnessing these skills: [2:45]
    1. Dumping: Stop cluttering your brain with information. When tasked a new challenge or skill, write the information down on a piece of paper or post-it. For example, trying to learn GoToMeeting? Stop and write your process down. [6:50]
    2. Chunking: Break things down into units. Our brain has a filing system, and it stores things in different mental files. Don’t try and tackle all the chunks at once. Focus on one and then move into the next chronologically sensible chunk. [8:55]
    3. Sequencing: This skill is especially handy when it comes to onboarding. Don’t overwhelm your new sales hires with unnecessary information. Divide training into what needs to be learned now versus what can be acquired over time. What information you need to know now and what information you need to know later. Not everything is crucial. Figure out what things you absolutely need to know to succeed and what things you can learn over time. [9:45]


Announcer: This is Labcast, insights and ideas for the expansion stage senior manager, hosted by OpenView Labs.
CeCe Bazar: Hi, everyone. This is CeCe Bazar from OpenView Labs, absolutely thrilled today to be joined by Jill Konrath. Jill is the best-selling author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies. Most recently, she’s put out a brand new book, Agile Selling. In it, she’s showing how sales people can succeed in a constantly changing sales world. Jill, thanks so much for being here today.
Jill Konrath: Hey, CeCe. Thanks for having me.
CeCe: We are so excited to have you here with us and talking to this audience of sales people. Things are constantly changing in the world of sales. Can you tell us a little bit about your first two books briefly? And how Agile Selling came to be?
Jill: Sure. My first book was Selling to Big Companies, and I actually wrote it because I personally was experiencing a problem setting up meetings with decision makers. Suddenly no one answered the phone. All calls rolled to voicemail, and nobody called me back, and my emails went unanswered.
So I actually went on a one-year binge of experimentation, trying to find a systematic way to get in the door. That’s what selling to big companies is about, how to get your foot in the door of bigger companies. But a few years after that, what happened is I ran into another problem. In this particular case, the problem that I was running into was the fact that I was working with prospective customers, and they would be interested, and suddenly they would disappear into a black hole.
CeCe: We’ve never seen that happen before.
Jill: You’ve never seen that happen? Yeah. So at first, I thought it was me and it was personal.
CeCe: Absolutely.
Jill: How come they’re not getting back to me? I actually thought maybe I’d screwed up or offended them in some way. Finally I realized that it wasn’t me. It was them and that they were crazy busy. So I went, “The world has changed again and now customers are disappearing. Even if they were interested, they’re gone.” So at that point, I began studying how to effectively work with crazy busy people.
CeCe: Got it.
Jill: That’s what “SNAP Selling” is about. My newest book is Agile Selling, and it’s about the next challenge that I ran into, because I actually like to write books about real challenges that people are facing.
CeCe: Absolutely. So this book is really about getting sales people into the world of selling as it stands right now and today. I think it kind of takes you back to the basics. The first thing that I’d love to dig into today, with you today, is this idea of rapid learning and how it’s applicable to sales people.
Jill: Yes. It’s really, really applicable to sales people. It’s a topic that’s really not talked about in the sales profession. Remember how I said I like to talk about real problems? After SNAP came out, everybody came up to me and they said, “Jill, this book has really helped me deal with frazzled customers, but I’m frazzled too. How can you help me?”
At first, I was stymied. Then I realized over time that it actually wasn’t just a time management issue. Certainly that was part of it. It was deeper. There was something more going on. It was because everybody was struggling to deal with so much change, whether you take a new position in a company, whether you’re new to sales. Your company goes after a new market segment. The economy goes up. The economy goes down. You’re coming out with new products and services. I mean, all these changes are happening every single day, and our buyers are changing at the same time. Their expectations have fundamentally shifted.
So everybody now has to learn more in a faster amount of time. You have less time. As a sales person or even as an entrepreneur, what you’re struggling with is trying to drive revenue, get sales, close deals at the same time. You have to absorb all this new information or to learn new skills. So that’s the real challenge we’re facing now, how to get better at doing that than anything else.
CeCe: Yeah, I think that’s such a good point. I think that sales professionals have so much to contend with every day when they walk into the office. It’s so easy to get drawn to that bright shiny object and to not focus in on what really matters. I think that when you look at a new market or you look at a new product, it seems like it’s so much to learn and so much to absorb, that we almost shy away from it.
Jill: Exactly.
CeCe: So how do we do that quickly?
Jill: I mean, anything new sets our heads spinning.
CeCe: Absolutely.
Jill: I mean, it’s like, I don’t understand this new thing we’re going after, the changes in the market. It sends you into overwhelm. Overwhelm is like the least effective place to be as a salesperson, because you’re not moving forward. You’re actually getting all this stuff spinning in your head, and it literally is spinning because your brain is only a single dimensional organ. It cannot process two things concurrently.
So if you’re trying to do your job and do your work and learn something new, and you’re trying to figure it all out, or all this stuff is swirling around, your brain is bogging down. It’s like it’s trying to pull something that’s way too heavy to pull. It’s jumping back and forth between these different things and growing increasingly inefficient.
So what really is needed and a lot of people don’t realize, is that there are skills about learning. These skills are what are called meta skills. They’re bigger than any specific skill. They’re bigger than a skill in how to do an effective presentation. They’re bigger than a skill on making a cold call or phone call. They’re bigger than any of that because they are skills that if you learn them once, you can port them to anything that you’re doing, whether it’s learning Chinese or how to close a deal, but they are meta skills.
So we need to dig into them and focus on becoming better at learning and more rapid at learning, because then we will learn everything faster. We’ll be more productive in our job and get more things done.
CeCe: I love it. So, Jill, let’s break it down. How do we as salespeople and how do we as entrepreneurs become rapid learners?
Jill: Yeah. That’s a good question. I’ll just give you some overview of some skills that I think are essential to becoming a rapid learner. These are backed up by neuroscience, meaning there’s a lot of research that supports this based on how the brain actually operates.
But the first thing that everybody needs to do if they’ve got this swirl going on in their head is they need to get it out of their head. We need to stop trying to remember everything in our head and get it out of our head, onto some paper or a digital format or whatever we use to free our brain up for the stuff that we need to learn right now.
So I always suggest to people that any time a thought comes into their mind, that they note it on a notepad or a post-it note or whatever they use, and they keep it there. If they have a question, they write the question down, so that they can not have to keep thinking about it, trying to remember it. So dumping is the first strategy. Stop trying to remember it all. Dump it out of your head onto another format, where you can look up what you need to remember or the different aspects. So dumping is crucial because it frees up your processing power, enables you to learn a whole lot faster.
CeCe: Absolutely. I love that idea. We, here at Open View, use Scrum methodology in order to organize our weeks and make sure that every day we’re accomplishing everything we need to get done. A lot of the process around that is getting everything down on paper and getting everything organized the week before. So when you walk in, you know exactly what it is that you need to do. There’s no thinking about, “Okay. It’s Tuesday at 9:00. Where do I need to be now?”
Jill: Right. Right. It makes a huge difference, and a lot of people don’t do that. They think that they are being smarter if they can keep it all in their head, but it’s actually really, really impacting people’s productivity. For example, if you’re learning something new about technology, like how to do GoToMeeting or how to do a WebEx thing. I mean, why try to remember it all? Isn’t it nice to create a checklist?
CeCe: Absolutely.
Jill: One, two, three. Oh, you don’t have to have that in your head when you contact a customer. You can just go through the steps that are written down there, and then focus on the customer when you’re having a conversation.
CeCe: I love it.
Jill: So that’s another example of dumping, is to do it like that. But there are other skills too that people don’t realize, like chunking.
CeCe: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about that.
Jill: Chunking is about breaking things down into units. I mean, our brain has a filing system. Whether we know it or not, it does. It stores things in different files mentally for us to access. It might store things alphabetically. It might store things by a particular story and what happened in the story. It might store things by this is product information that I need to know. But the reality of it is we will increase our retention if we literally create these mental files one at a time and focus on that. Learn it, and then move to the next logical one in the sequence.
CeCe: I think this is great. Jill, what do you think about managers who are training sales teams, taking all of this into consideration, when they go into a training? Because that’s a lot of information to absorb day one when you walk into an office.
Jill: Oh, my goodness. The shear amount of overwhelm that good, well-intentioned managers create – They should be shot. Okay? They don’t do it purposely. They’re really trying to be helpful. Like, here’s everything that you need to know about this. Literally they’re slowing the learning down. So a lot of people have said to me, that have read Agile Selling, have said, “This is an on-boarding Bible,” because it tells you what they need to learn first, versus everything that they need to learn.
There are some pieces of information that are need-to-know-now, and there are pieces of information that are nice to know now or nice to know some day. The key for anybody who’s trying to on-board a salesperson is to roll it out over time and to build skills and knowledge, so that they have a foundation to be added to, as opposed to try to dump it all. Here’s everything you learn right now.
CeCe: I think that’s great, and I think that is something that people forget all the time, is learning as it relates to training and on-boarding a sales rep is an ongoing process. It doesn’t stop day one. It doesn’t stop week one. It needs to be something that happens over time. I think that the research you’ve done for Agile Selling and this information on chunking and dumping is so important for managers to take into consideration when building out those programs.
Jill: Yes, and sequencing too because we need to know the need- to-know-it-now information versus later.
CeCe: Absolutely.
Jill: That’s another crucial part, is sequencing. Most people don’t do that. Everything is important now. We want you to learn all this.
CeCe: Well, Jill, I think this is so great. I love Agile Selling. I love the idea of going back to the basics and figuring out, “Okay. Where can I start today to advance my career and to make sure that I am on top of everything without overwhelming my brain?” So thank you. Thank you so much for joining us today. Everyone out there, make sure to check out Agile Selling by Jill Konrath.
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