Teaching is a very important skill needed to advance your career. Do you offer a teaching lesson every week? Below is an excerpt from Agile Selling: Get Up to Speed Quickly in Today’s Ever-Changing Sales World by Jill Konrath.
Teach Someone a Lesson
Maybe it’s time you teach someone a lesson. Hey-I’m not talking about being vindictive or seeking revenge! There may be some people who elicit that feeling in you, but we’re not going to go there. Instead, we’re going to focus on a super simple but highly effective strategy with big payback for you: teaching others in order to solidify your own knowledge.
The first time I ever trained someone else was early in my first year of sales. My boss, Diane, instructed me to go on a sales can with Alice, a trainee who had uncovered a really good sales opportunity while prospecting. As a newbie, it was highly unlikely that she’d close the deal without assistance. Diane asked me to show Alice what to do and to make sure we got the business.
Aargh! I was not ready for that. I was still fairly new myself, plus I didn’t know much about the other vendors. But clearly coming in second was not an option. For the next two days, I immersed myself in learning everything I could about the other two competitors. I studied how they stacked up against us. I talked to experienced reps to find out about pricing. Finally, planned out how I’d engage the prospect in a conversation that made us the obvious choice.
Before we went to the meeting, I reviewed everything with Alice. I outlined competitive strengths and weaknesses. I overviewed our plan for the meeting. I answered her questions to the best of my knowledge. With that prep, Alice and I went to the prospect’s office. Two hours later, we walked out with a signed contract. I was never so relieved in my whole life.
Here’s what closed that deal: I took a crash course in two competitors and became an overnight expert. In order to teach Alice, I had to really think through my meeting strategy step-by-step. Then I had to figure out how to explain to her what I was going to do in the meeting and why. Because I wanted to look good in front of Alice, my boss, and the prospect, I actually leapfrogged in my own sales development.
It seems strange to recommend teaching others while you’re still learning yourself. After all, we so quickly defer to the experts. However, the upside can be huge. As the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote nearly two thousand years ago, “By teaching, we learn.”
Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart writes about a program at the University of Pennsylvania in which students are responsible for teaching a specific subject to a computerized character. She writes, ”As they prepare to teach, they organize their knowledge, improving their own understanding and recall.” Doing this helps them find gaps in their own learning too, and they’re more motivated to master the material.
That’s exactly what happened to me. Teaching really challenged me to learn quickly. I felt really good about it. Alice learned. I got better. Consequently, we got the order that day.
After Alice, I had a string of trainees at Xerox. Each one increased my skill level. I became a conscious competent about what I was doing. In other words, I knew what worked, but it wasn’t second nature to me yet. Doing it right required me to pay close attention to all the steps involved. By teaching, I accelerated my learning significantly.
To this day, I teach so I can learn. You might want to give it a try. Think about what you really want to (or need to) learn about in more depth right now. What is it? Who could you teach it to? It doesn’t have to be people in your own company. Get creative. But most of all start teaching so you learn faster.