Reflections on ASTD 2011: What Sales Trainers Can Learn from Marcus Buckingham

For those of you that were with us at ASTD 2011, I hope you made it to Marcus Buckingham’s keynote speaking session. One great point that Marcus made over and over again was that people grow most in their areas of strength; that the good will keep getting better, if properly directed. He argued that by focusing on developing your strengths, as opposed to trying to fix your weaknesses, the greatest progression and innovation can occur. He told a story of his young son’s artwork that goes something like this – Marcus and wife show up for a parent-teacher conference, see student artwork displayed and find their son’s noticeably different from the rest – no color, odd shapes, etc. Concerned, the teacher then leads them to the math wall, where they find their son’s entry – more complex in every way than the rest of the entries. The child’s strength is clearly in math, not art. And the teacher makes the comment, “If you want him to learn more, focus on what he learns best.” Marcus repeated it for effect, and I will too: If you want him to learn more, focus on what he learns best. Focus on the weaknesses, and you may see marginal improvements. Focus on the positives, and chances are, great things will happen. So, what are your positives? What are your strengths? Not just areas, but specific strengths. Imagine this scenario: You walk into a room filled with people and a problem to solve. What is your first thought? How do you approach the scenario? In his book, StandOut, Marcus identifies nine different strength roles: 1. Advisor – What is the best thing to do in this situation? 2. Connector – Who can I connect with whom? 3. Creator – What do I understand about this situation? 4. Equalizer – What is the morally right thing to do in this situation? 5. Influencer – How can I move him/her to act? 6. Pioneer – What’s next? What’s new? 7. Provider – Is everyone okay? 8. Stimulator – How do I raise the spirit of this room? 9. Teacher – How can I help this person to grow and develop? Which role do you most closely identify with? In a survey of the top sales people from 45 of the top sales organizations, can you guess which two strength roles were the most prevalent? If you guessed connector and influencer, you’re right on the mark. Connectors build selling value through their referral network. Influencerswell, that one’s pretty obvious. An influencer moves you to action. But, as Marcus points out, there is no perfect profile. Others surveyed were equalizers, some were stimulators. Marcus shared the example of Diana, a general manager at a hotel in Pennsylvania. Diana is a stimulator, always trying to raise the emotional trajectory of a group. She uses her ability to get people to feel in order to motivate and inspire. What works for Diana? What’s her method? Everyone needs a mascot! Like a turtle! A turtle? Yes, a turtle! Because turtle’s don’t get anywhere unless they put their neck out! Diana has an office full of plush turtles, her employees are dubbed ‘Turtle of the Month’, and she gives out turtles to guests that stay frequently at their hotel. And you know what? That works for her! But, what works so well for Diana might not work for you and your team. So, what can sales trainers learn from Marcus Buckingham? Simply put, do what works for you! Build on your individual strengths and use the positives that make you unique in order to create your own best practices. There is no magic button, no one trick that works for everyone, every time. Use your own ideas, or ideas that fit into your strength role, to accelerate creativity while retaining authenticity.

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