Let’s conduct a thought experiment.

As one might do in experiments, imagine A/B testing. We’ll create an A group and a B group. The people in each group are identical in capabilities, backgrounds, experiences. Both groups are equally skilled and capable.

Now we are going to give people a test. It’s around some complex issues. Group A doesn’t have to study or prepare for the test. We’ve decided to given them the answers.

Group B has to study and prepare. We train them, we coach them. Some struggle a bit, but they learn.

Test day, 100% of the people in Group A pass the test as we would expect. In fact, we were a little worried that they wouldn’t remember the answers, so we gave them the answer keys to take into the test with them. All they had to do was copy the answers from the answer keys. In fact, all of them got all the answers right—no surprise.

Group B, 100% of the people pass, but some of them struggled, they didn’t get perfect scores, but they all passed.

Now you are a manager. You need to hire people that need to do the things the test was testing. Who are you going to hire? You can select anyone from Group A or B. Remember, they are all have similar backgrounds and experiences. But you want to hire the people you think can best execute the things on which the test was testing.

You know that the test didn’t cover everything that people will confront, but you want to hire the person who is more likely to have the capability of figuring out the right answer to address the situation.

Who are you going to hire?

My guess is 100% of you would choose someone from Group B, perhaps you’d look at the scores and hire those with the highest scores.

Why do you choose the people from Group B over group A? Probably because they have demonstrated they have the knowledge to do the things the test tested them on. If those are the tasks that are important to doing the job, you want the people who have the knowledge to do the job.

We all recognize that the people in Group A, while they provided the right answers, they didn’t have the knowledge to understand why those were the right answers. They just copied the answers that we gave them, without understanding why they were the right answers to the test. They did what we told them to do.

This is important. Being effective in any sales role (or any knowledge based job) is not just a matter of knowing the right answers. It’s about being able to figure things out, to be able to understand the situation, understand what’s going on, and to assess the best answer/response for a specific situation.

You are probably guessing where I’m going.

If we want to maximize the performance of our people, we know it’s important they have the knowledge to do the job. That’s why we invest billions in training. We also know, we won’t be able to give them all the answers, so the more knowledge and experience they have, the more likely they will be able to figure things out.

It’s also helping them learn through their experiences by coaching them and helping them develop the ability to figure things out.

The problem is, if we know all of this, why do we treat our sales people like the group A?

When, if we coach them, why do we have the tendency to say, “Just go do these things, come back and tell me what happens?”

Why do we spend millions on scripting conversations, rather than giving people the ability to engage the customers in a dialogue?

Why do we introduce tools with “screen pops” giving them the best answer to a specific conversation (not to mention the “distraction” effect)?

We will never be able to provide our people with all the answers. Each situation they encounter is unique to both the situation, customer (enterprise/individual), and a point in time.

If we are to maximize the performance of our teams, if we are to help them have the capabilities to be helpful, creating value with the customer, we have to help them learn how to learn. We have to help them figure out what the right answers might be and how to leverage that knowledge most impactfully with customers.

Sadly, it seems too many are going the opposite direction.

SOURCEPartners in Excellence
Dave Brock
Dave Brock is the founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a consulting and services company helping to improve the effectiveness of business professionals with strategy development, organizational planning, and implementation. Dave has spent his career working for and with high performance organizations, ranging from the Fortune 25 to startups, including companies such as IBM, HP, Nokia, AT&T, Microsoft, General Electric, and many, many more. The work Dave does with business strategies is closely tied to personal effectiveness of the people in the organization. As a result, Dave is deeply involved in the development of a number of training and coaching programs.