It has been said that the only constant is change, and that certainly has been the case recently in the building industry. Some of the most dramatic shifts include industry consolidation, technical evolution, and new regulations, to name only a few. And within this whirlwind of activity, today's lumber and building materials salesperson is being forced to take on a greater leadership role. While the old-time salespeople of bygone days were able to foster strong relationships based on personal friendships and the sales reps of more recent decades have been able to rely on their product knowledge and technical skills, today's modern Sales Leaders must continually innovate and become sales pioneers in their quest to remain one step ahead of the competition.

In this case, the competition is not other LBM dealers, it is other salespeople. As consolidation continues and purchasing decisions are made at the top of organizations, it is virtually guaranteed that some salespeople will be relegated to lower-paying service roles, either as inside salespeople or as project managers. The high-paying sales slots are becoming the sole domain of the top reps, and in order to earn and maintain one of these positions, great Sales Leaders must continually find ways to use scientific methods and creative innovation to achieve personal growth.

Journey to Self Improvement There are salespeople who have utilized one year's worth of experience over and over during their 30-year careers and there are salespeople who experience 30 years of ongoing professional growth. More often than not, most salespeople fall somewhere in between, advancing their skills some years and remaining stagnant in others. One of the keys to learning is to never lose your passion and commitment to self improvement. And assuming you are a salesperson who is strongly committed to a regimen of personal growth, there is only one factor that can help you achieve that goal: innovation.

On average, salespeople tell me that they receive personal coaching less than five days per year, and many sales-people receive no coaching at all. In both of these cases, the only person who can provide ongoing daily feedback and create performance improvement is you!

Thomas Edison was famous for the pride he took in hard work and objectivity. He once remarked, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Thus, the man often cited as the greatest inventor in world history courageously embraced failure as a learning experience. All too often, salespeople view failure as a lost sale rather than as a learning opportunity. Thus, many salespeople plod along, habitually employing the same tactics over and over, neglecting to consider the cause-effect ramifications of their behavior. As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This insinuates that we must experiment to improve our skills. Put these two great thoughts together, and we can conclude that the key to positive change is innovation and review.

Building on this premise, when I work with salespeople, I help them on their journey to self improvement with a simple three-step process:1.innovate; 2. evaluate; and 3. habituate. Scientific systems have demonstrated for hundreds of years that experimentation leads to new discoveries, and you can apply scientific procedures to your own self-management behaviors in order to expand your repository of selling skills with this method.

Formula for Success 1. Innovate. I have asked many sales-people how they came up with a new selling technique. In most cases, they aren't really sure. They will tell me, “I think that one day I just tried something new…and it worked! So I kept doing it.” In other words, they accidentally stumbled onto a new and better approach to handling a situation. You probably feel the same way. The difference between accidental innovation and real innovation is that the latter is more efficient because there is a conscious effort to change.

Let's track the process using an example: One day Homer, a sales manager for a retail roofing installer near Dayton, Ohio, decided that he was not as successful as he'd like to be on his initial sales calls to homeowners. His closing ratio was approximately 30 percent on first-time sales calls. He also felt he wasn't getting nearly enough referrals to boost his career objectives.

As a result, he consciously decided to change his objective on first-time sales calls in order to improve his overall performance. His innovation was that he only would gather information on the first call, with the objective of getting permission for a second sales call. He didn't know if this would improve his performance overall. He just knew he wanted to “back off” the pressure a little.

2. Evaluate. The second step to successful self-coaching is measurement, though in reality most salespeople simply try a new tactic and then sense instinctively whether or not it is working. Whether you make careful measurements of an innovation or simply “feel” its impact, the key is to consciously consider the outcome of your innovative behavior.