Are you into Mastery?

Just been listening to Daniel Pink’s  book Drive.  Drive is about what motivates us. One of the key motivators Pink talks about is the pursuit of mastery. Of course that made me think about mastery in sales.

Pink describes research about how people view intelligence. The research found that people fall into two groups: one group thinks of intelligence as something that can be improved and developed much like a muscle. The other group thinks of intelligence as something you are born with. Something you have a fixed quota of. Something you cannot improve. Only something you can measure.

In my travels through the world of sales I’ve seen much the same divide in mindsets when it comes to sales skills. There are sales people and sales managers that believe sales skills can be improved and evolved then there are others that just want to find “naturally born sellers”. Their interest is not in developing their people’s sales skills but in measuring them. Their focus is in assessing the sales candidates they find and cherry-picking the rock stars.

In Drive, Pink makes the point that mastery is only attainable by those that believe that their skills can be improved, added to. Those that believe their skills are fixed, pre-ordained cannot obtain mastery as they do not believe improvement is possible. They believe they have what they have and that’s that. Pink says mastery is obtained through constant attempts to make small improvements. Through lots and lots (and lots) of repetition. Mastery is a ten-year journey at least. Anything less is not likely to lead to mastery.

But how many sales people and organizations believe in the development of sales skills this much? Do you try to improve your sales skills every day? Have you been trying for at least ten years? Does your sales manager coach you how to improve every month, every week, every day? Or do they just measure you? Do they just want to know what they’ve got? And if your score is too low get something (someone) else?

We’ve heard the sports stories of Michael Jordan making 500 free throws after practice or Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh hitting several hundred golf balls on the driving range. These are the examples of mastery we are familiar with but what about in the sales profession?

Do you make the extra calls last thing in the evening when everyone else has gone home? Do you try to improve your call/email scripts every day? Do search out new sales techniques from colleagues? Read sales books? Pay for sales training and sales training products out of your own pocket? Do you make the extra free throws after the work day is over? Hit the extra golf balls? Do your colleagues? Do your competitors?

So are you into mastery? What about your organization? What tips can you share for achieving mastery? What has worked for you? What can you tell others that are striving to master this profession of sales?

3 Responses to Are you into Mastery?

  1. Lynne Marmulstein April 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    In my experience mastery is attainable and you must decide if you are willing to take the necessary actions to accomplish the mastery that you seek. I have always enjoyed learning as much as I could about the sales process and mindset required to attain the goals I set for myself.
    I think it is extremely important to set goals and have to do lists that are challenging yet reasonable.

    A sales leader is making calls after everyone else has switched their light off!

    • Nigel Edelshain April 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm #


      That’s awesome. At least from my biased POV. I try to do the same.


  2. Mike Hotchkiss June 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Hi Nigel,

    I’m putting together a blog on a similar subject now myself based on some research I did for a sports psychology class during my masters’ studies back in 2006. My final paper for the course was on the linkage between learning/achievement motivations and their applicability to developing high-performing and continuously improving sales teams. There are a few dimensions discussed – learning/task orientations and performance/ego orientations. Ideally, the best performers will have a high degree on both dimensions, indicating that they work on a process of continuous improvement to maintain their position as the best. The best performers are highly adaptive in that their response to challenge is one of enhanced drive and competition. Given the inherent competition in sales environments and the traditionally performance-based decision making of leaders in that area, it’s natural to make a clear connection to sports teams and the role of the sales manager as “coach”.

    Due to the explosion in Sales 2.0, I’m linking the same thinking from that original paper to a new blog on developing environments conducive to goal setting and team building which enable the exchange of information and promote enhanced communication and shared reward in a Sales 2.0 environment.

    Really glad to see there is a paradigm shift going on to this type of mastery viewpoint as a component of developing a 21st century sales organization. While you can’t make everyone into an all-star, you can definitely work to improve what you have as a manager using such an approach.


Leave a Reply