HBR: A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

Take time to reflect on the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Learning to write more clearly, improving meeting skills, or learning to manage your time more productively? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Marc Zao-Sanders.

A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

So much to learn, so little time.

The world is bursting with learning. There are several million business books, 3,000 TED talks, 10,000 MOOCs, hundreds of thousands of e-learning courses, and millions of self-published articles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. The article you’re reading right now is just one of thousands of articles on HBR.org. Picking the best and most relevant from all this is hard.

Yet it’s essential. The modern worker has very little time for learning — less than 1% of their time, according to Bersin, a division of Deloitte. And it’s more important than ever to learn continuously as the shelf life of skills shorten and career paths meander and lengthen.

So there’s a significant pressure on us all to learn the right stuff. How do we identify what that is?

One approach is to apply a time-utility analysis (similar in form to a cost-benefit) to the subjects you’re interested in learning. “Time” is time to learn. It’s effectively the opportunity cost to you of achieving competence. “Utility” is how much you’re likely to use the desired skill. For example, today’s manager spends a lot of time emailing, gathering data, running meetings, and making spreadsheets, so the utility for improving at these activities is especially high.

Combine time and utility, and you get a simple 2×2 matrix with four quadrants:

  • Learn it right away: high utility, low time-to-learn
  • Schedule a block of time for learning it, ideally in your calendar: high utility, high time-to-learn
  • Learn it as the chance arises — on a commute, lunch break, and so on: low utility, low time-to-learn
  • Decide whether you need to learn it: low utility, high time-to-learn

2x2 Learning.png

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, you can use this same framework to zero in on specific skills to focus on.

Let’s illustrate the method with a single workplace activity with high utility: spreadsheeting. Knowledge workers spend almost half an hour in a spreadsheet every day. And in major corporations, this is almost synonymous with using Excel: there are almost a billion users of Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, and more than four-fifths of businesses globally use Excel. A time-utility analysis might suggest you want to get better at it.

But Excel contains over 500 functions and many more features; that’s a lot to learn. Where would you even begin? For a time-utility analysis to be of any use, we need it to help us at this level, down here in the weeds. To get a sense of utility, we reviewed dozens of articles written by Excel experts about their preferred Excel features. We used this analysis to compile a list of the 100 most useful Excel functions, features, tips, tricks and hacks, ordered numerically by utility. We combined this with our own data on how long each of these features takes users to learn, and plotted the two against each other. (Yes, we got a little excited about this project. Don’t worry, you don’t have to delve into this level of detail when you’re prioritizing your own learning.)

Exel Learn.png

As you’d expect, there’s some correlation (r=0.3), so the more useful items take longer to learn in general. But the scattered effect gives rise to some useful, tangible pointers for prioritizing what to learn.

You’ll find the quickest wins in the bottom-right quadrant, which we’ve labeled “Learn it right away.” In here we have time-saving shortcuts that can be applied frequently, like Ctrl-Y (redo) and F2 (edit cell) and a nice combination formula that cleanses your spreadsheet of errors (IF(ISERROR)).

The quadrant “Schedule a block of time for learning it” hosts the highly useful but more complex features, such as conditional formatting and pivot tables — these were deemed the two most useful on the entire list.

Bottom-left is those less useful but quick-to-learn items like Ctrl-5 (strikethrough) and Show Formulas (Ctrl¬).

Finally, in the top-left quadrant are the theoretically least appealing items, such as Get External Data and Text to Columns.

But for all of these, you, the individual learner, will impose your own opinions and experience on an analysis like this: “Actually, I already know Ctrl-Y, and I’ll never need to get external data.” And that helps filter out even more items, leaving you with an even more manageable list.

How would you apply this to your working, learning life? You probably don’t want to learn only about spreadsheeting, and you’re unlikely to have the kind of data we’ve used above at your fingertips. But you may have an idea of some of the skills you’d like to acquire or develop.

Consider the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Finally being able to use Photoshop, getting a grip on Agile or Waterfall, learning to write more clearly? Are there meta-skills that would help you do all of these things better — like coming across the way you intend to in meetings, or learning to manage your time more productively? You could assign approximate scores for time (to learn) and utility for each of these and plot a scatter chart like the one above. Or you could just estimate: Classify the skills on your list as either low or high in utility and time to learn, and place them in the corresponding quadrant. Either way, what shows up in the bottom-right quadrant? You may discover some learning bargains.

You can use this approach just for yourself, or across a team, department, even your entire company. Since you probably don’t have much time to learn, learn to make the most of what you have.

 

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HBR: The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Are you multitasking? What do you do to stay focused on one task? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ron Friedman :

The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen—olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?

We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.

And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.

So what are we to do?

One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone.  It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.

The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.

Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.

In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.

 

HBR: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

How do you handle your low-value work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark.

3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

We’d all like to spend our time at work on high-value activities: setting strategy, fostering innovation, mentoring promising employees, and more. But every professional faces a relentless deluge of niggling tasks — the overflowing inbox, the introductions you promised to make, the stack of paperwork you have to file, or the articles you really ought to read.

This low-value work is particularly vexing in light of the Pareto Principle, the adage — now gospel in Silicon Valley and many business circles — that 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of the value you create. If you can jettison what’s least important, the thinking goes, you can double down on what’s driving your most important contributions.

Indeed, sometimes you can let go of these activities. But you have to recognize, and reconcile yourself to the fact, that there is a price. Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates this approach. After one extended trip abroad during which he avoided email, he wrote that he had missed a large number of critical messages, including a fulfillment center crisis that caused him to lose more than 20% of monthly orders for his business, media interview opportunities that had expired, and more than a dozen partnership offers. Rather than mourning these lost chances, however, he embraced them. “Oftentimes,” he wrote, “in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

Perhaps. Though if you work for someone else, rather than being self-employed, the tolerance level for these missed opportunities is a lot lower. If you can’t afford to ignore email or other low-value tasks entirely, and your options for delegating to others are limited, here are three techniques you can use to minimize the pain and get things done.

One possibility is to batch your less important tasks and accomplish them in one fell swoop, creating a sense of momentum. You can do this solo — I used to park myself at a local café and vow not to come home until I’d completed my to-do list for the day — or, in some cases, communally. New York filmmaker Jeremy Redleaf recently launched “Cave Day,” an event in which professionals pay a small fee to spend a Sunday at a coworking facility, plowing through tasks such as cleaning your inbox and writing thank you cards.

Another technique, for those who prefer an incremental approach, is the “small drip strategy.” This involves identifying small blocks of time in your schedule (typically 15–30 minutes per day) and matching them with low-value tasks that need to be accomplished. Yesterday I had to look up how much I had paid my virtual assistant last year in order to get the information to my accountant, so he could issue her tax forms in a timely fashion. That’s no one’s definition of “strategic” or “high value.” It’s a boring, but mandatory, task that would be easy to put off. But when I reviewed my calendar the night before and saw I had a 15-minute window between two calls, I slotted it in and accomplished it. You can look for these scheduling holes serendipitously, or deliberately schedule in a half-hour of grunt work every day, perhaps at the end of the workday, when most professionals’ energy is waning and your ability to do creative thinking has tapered off.

Finally, you could procrastinate strategically. This differs from simply ignoring all incoming email, Tim Ferriss–style. What you do is weigh the value of the opportunity and set your own timeline for handling it. If the timeline happens to work for the other person, it’s a happy coincidence; if it doesn’t, you’ve already reconciled yourself to the possibility of missing out. I’ll often take this approach when it comes to requests from miscellaneous bloggers. I respond quickly to inquiries from official journalists, but if someone is writing a post for their personal blog, I’d like to help them out, but don’t want to sacrifice an important task (such as finishing book edits) to do so. I always write back eventually, but it may take me a number of days, or even weeks. If they can still use my quote, fantastic; if they can’t, it’s only a minor loss.

 

No matter how productive we become, we’re never going to permanently rid ourselves of low-value work. By following these strategies, we can at least handle it more efficiently and leave more white space in our days for the projects that are truly meaningful.

HBR: Is Your Calendar Managing You?

How do you get more control over your time? Are you spending time on low-value activities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ron Ashkenas:

Is Your Calendar Managing You?

Not long ago, I was talking with a senior executive who was frustrated that some of her high priority initiatives were not moving fast enough. After exploring various reasons for the slow uptake, I asked her to look at her calendar and calculate the amount of time she personally spent on these initiatives. The answer shocked her: a grand total of two hours over the course of two months, and this was being generous.

In my years of consulting, I’ve found that this disconnect between stated priorities and the actual allocation of managerial time is extremely common, and often happens without the manager even realizing it. The only exception is during a crisis or in the face of an impending deadline — when somehow the use of time magically shifts to match the short-term priority. But in the absence of crisis, managers’ schedules fill up with all sorts of lower-value activities that water down the focus on high-priority projects, change efforts, or opportunities.

In fairness to managers, they probably shouldn’t be spending as much personal time on high-priority initiatives as their subordinates, to whom they may have delegated all or part of the responsibilities. But delegating is not an excuse for disappearing. If a manager like the one mentioned above wants to see progress, she needs to visibly demonstrate support for the initiative, run interference with other related groups in the company, coach the designated leaders, create a sense of urgency, and make decisions. These, and many other activities, take time. And although most managers know that they should make this commitment, they still don’t.

I’ve written previously about some of the psychological dynamics of why managers spend their time on low-value activities. Through the years I’ve found that there is a very tactical, but unconscious, trap that many managers fall into: They let their calendars manage them.

If you are a manager, think about how your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedule is constructed. First there are corporate or divisional meetings — essentially command performances — in addition to the standing and ad-hoc meetings called by your boss. Many of these are dictated by the rhythms of corporate processes such as strategic planning, budgeting, and performance management — and include countless other preparatory meetings. Of course if you are an operational manager or running a team, you also have to schedule your own meetings: staff meetings, one-on-ones, town meetings, visits to key locations, and more. Somewhere in this mix are interactions with customers, either external or internal, depending on your job. You may also be invited to staff meetings and various project review meetings which may or may not be about your own priorities. If this is not enough, many managers also attend industry conferences and briefings, leadership workshops, or other developmental events. On top of all this is the time required to actually accomplish your day-to-day job — reviewing reports, reading spreadsheets, preparing and modifying presentations, and the like. Finally — if you’re really well-organized — you might devote a little time to “thinking and planning” (although not much in the formal sense), your family, and other non-work pursuits.

Collectively, the demands we face at work are daunting and require constant juggling and trade-offs. For senior people much of this juggling is done by an executive assistant and/or chief of staff, while middle or junior managers do it themselves, often with the assistance of electronic scheduling that automatically puts meetings on the calendar. Unfortunately, neither method substitutes for thoughtful prioritization by the manager herself. Without such prioritization, the outcome is often a schedule that bounces managers from meeting to meeting, trip to trip, and requirement to requirement — without a sense of how to add the most value.

If you are concerned that your calendar is managing you, here’s how to start taking back control.

First, do a calendar analysis. Examine the events and activities described above that apply to you, and find out how much time you are really spending on the areas where your presence will make a difference. If that’s not enough, conduct a zero-based reconstruction of your calendar to reflect a better balance of value-adding time. To do this, start by designating specific times that you will devote to your highest priorities, even if you’re not sure how you will use those times. If you find later that you won’t need all of those slots, you can change them. But if you don’t save them now, you’ll lose that choice.

Next, build your calendar from the ground up. Add in the mandatory meetings that you have to attend that also add value, such as decision-making meetings or customer visits.

Finally, go through the calendar and create a list of recurring meetings and other activities that seem to create less (or no) value. For each of these, ask yourself:

 

  • Is the activity or meeting needed at all?

 

  • If needed, do I need to attend or can I designate someone else?

 

  • Can this be done less frequently?

 

  • Can it be done in a different way that will require less time?

 

These tough questions may be worth addressing with your boss, your team, or with a coach. But if you don’t address them, and continually try to zero-base your schedule, it will end up managing you (instead of the other way around).

How do you get more control over your time?

 

SMART Goals

The practice of goal-setting is helpful in the pursuit of happiness. Psychologists tell us that people who make consistent progress toward meaningful goals live happier, more satisfied lives.

If you don’t have written goals, I encourage you to make an appointment on your calendar to work on them. You can get a rough draft done in as little as an hour or two. Few things in life pay such rich dividends for such a modest investment.

A SMART goal is an acronym for achieving your commitments. Below are the five meanings:

  • Specific—Your goals must identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.
  • Measurable—If possible, try to quantify the result. You want to know absolutely, positively whether or not you hit the goal.
  • Actionable—Every goal should start with an action verb (accomplish, organize, increase, develop, budget, etc.) rather than a to-be verb (am, be, have, etc.)
  • Realistic—A good goal should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense. Go right up to the edge of your comfort zone and then step over it.
  • Time-bound—Every goal needs a date associated with Make sure that every goal ends with a “by when” date.[1]

Your next steps are as follows:

  1. Write them down. This is critical. There is huge power in writing down your goals.
  2. Review them frequently. Writing your goals down makes them real but the key is to review them on a regular basis and break them down into actionable tasks.
  3. Share them selectively. Sharing them with those that are important to you and someone to whom you can be accountable.

[1] Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, Living forward : a proven plan to stop drifting and get the life you want (Baker Books, 2016), 95

HBR: How Your Morning Mood Affects Your Whole Workday

How can you help your employees cope with stress and boost performance?  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Nancy Rothbard.

How Your Morning Mood Affects Your Whole Workday

Have you ever thought about what happens to your employees right before they get to work? Sometimes we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed and just find it hard to get our bearings. At other times, we might start out fine, but have a horrible commute or a screaming match with a teenager just before going to work. Paying attention to the morning moods of your employees can pay dividends. In my research with Steffanie Wilk, an associate professor at the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, we found that this start-of-the-day mood can last longer than you might think—and have an important effect on job performance.

In our study, “Waking Up On The Right Or Wrong Side Of The Bed: Start-Of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, And Performance,” we examined customer service representatives (CSRs) in an insurance company’s call center over several weeks. We sent CSRs periodic short surveys throughout the day. We studied their mood as they started the day, how they viewed work events such as customer interactions throughout the day, and their mood during the day after these customer interactions. We used the company’s detailed performance metrics to investigate how their mood at work related to their performance.

We found that CSRs varied from day to day in their start-of-day mood, but that those who started out each day happy or calm usually stayed that way throughout the day, and interacting with customers tended to further enhance their mood. By contrast, for the most part, people who started the day in a terrible mood didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day — even after interacting with positive customers.

One interesting (and counterintuitive) finding was something we called “misery loves company.” Some CSRs who felt badly as they started the day actually felt less badly after interacting with customers who were themselves in a bad mood. Perhaps this was because, by taking their customers’ perspectives, these CSRs realized their own lives were not so terrible.

Most importantly, we discovered strong performance effects when it came to quality of work and productivity. Employees who were in a positive mood provided higher-quality service: they were more articulate on the phone with fewer “ums” and verbal tics, and used more proper grammar. Employees who were in a negative mood tended to take more frequent breaks from their duties to cope with the stress and get themselves through the day. These small breaks piled up, leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.

How can managers use these findings to help employees cope with stress and boost performance? While it can be difficult, it is not impossible to hit the reset button and try to help employees shake a negative morning mood. For example, managers might send out morale-boosting messages in the morning, or hold a regular team huddle to help people transition and experience positive mood as they start their workday. Feeding people and celebrating accomplishments is always a morale booster as well. Alternatively, managers can allow employees a little space first thing in the morning, for example to chat with colleagues before an early meeting. People also need time to “recover” from the night before so managers may want to think twice before launching a late-night barrage of emails as this might set employees up for a bad start to the next day. And if an employee arrives a few minutes late, confronting him or her about it later on instead of immediately may yield a more productive conversation and a more productive workday.

Employees, for their part, may want to take steps to lose their own negativity before arriving at work, creating their own “intentional transition”. This might involve taking a different route to work, giving themselves a pep talk, stopping for coffee, or listening to inspiring music. Finally, the best thing they can do is take a deep breath before walking in the door, to focus on making the most of the new day.

 

HBR: A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson

Is your Salesperson overperforming? There are six key attributes to influence their success. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Steve W. Martin.

A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson

What are the personal attributes, attitudes, and actions that influence personal sales productivity? I recently conducted an extensive study of more than 1,000 salespeople and sales management leaders to determine the attributes of top sales professionals–those who achieved more than 125% of their assigned quota last year. This is a very select group as only 15% of the study participants met the criterion.

About one-third were field salespeople, one-third were inside salespeople, and the remainder were mid-level sales managers and top-level vice presidents of sales. They’ve been in sales an average of 16 years and have achieved the annual quota that was assigned to them 88% of the time over the course of their careers. This is 22% higher than the average of study participants who achieved less than 75% of their quota last year. Moreover, the study results help us understand the attributes in six key areas that influence their success.

Focus. It’s not surprising to find that top sales professionals are motivated by money. Sixty-six percent agreed with the statement “Money is extremely important to me and how I measure my personal success,” while only 10% disagreed. But they are also motivated by status and recognition. A staggering 84% of top sales professionals indicated that being respected and recognized as one of the best by peers at their company is very important to them.

When asked to select how they describe their personal focus, 42% believe they are a likable person who makes customers feel comfortable, and 32% consider themselves very dependable and good at prioritizing their time. Twenty-six percent believe that their knowledge is their most powerful attribute, and this group had the highest average quota attainment last year at 170%.

Career orientation. Top sales professionals think about work a lot. In fact, they find themselves thinking about their job over half of their free time on weeknights and weekends. In addition, they’re goal and outcome focused. Fifty percent said they were the type of person who keeps a written or mental list of goals they want to accomplish and 36% indicated they’re frequently thinking about what the future will be like in five, ten, or more years. Only 13% described themselves as the type of person who lives life one day at a time.

Their responses to the fundamental reason as to why they went into sales were fairly evenly split. Twenty-seven percent wanted to control their own destiny, and 27% indicated the harder they worked, the more money they could make. Twenty-six percent said sales suited their personality, and for 19%, a career in sales just happened naturally.

Personal attributes. Do childhood experiences influence sales success? The results indicate they do as 72% of top sales professionals remember their childhood fondly as a generally happy time while only 9% disagreed with that statement. When asked which school subject was their favorite, 29% selected history, 23% selected science, 23% selected math, 13% selected physical education, 9% selected language or composition, and only 3% selected art.

When asked how they make important decisions that impact their lives, 40% said their decisions are based on more logic than instinct, 30% use equal parts logic and instinct, and 30% use more instinct than logic. The average annual quota attainment for those who use more logic than instinct and those who use more instinct than logic was exactly the same, while quota attainment for those who use equal parts logic and instinct was 7% higher.

Seventy-two percent of top sales professionals prefer a wide variety of activities as opposed to daily routines. Only 8% prefer a daily routine, while 20% had no preference.

Customer interaction strategy. The top sales professionals ranked five different sales strategies based on their effectiveness. The top-ranked strategies were “Getting customers to emotionally connect with you” followed by “Tailoring your sales pitch to the customer’s needs” and then “Asking questions that show your expertise.” The two lowest ranked strategies were “Showing the value of your solution” and “Driving the topics of conversation.”

When surveyed about which customer interaction statement they agreed with most, 49% indicated that likability was an important differentiator between themselves and their competitors. Conversely, 45% agreed with the statement “Sometimes you have to point out that what customers are doing is wrong and proverbially tell them their baby is ugly.” In other words, sometimes you have to be provocative and confront the customer’s belief system. Only 6% concurred with the statement that challenging the customer’s point of view will make the customer feel too uncomfortable.

What type of relationship do they have with customers after the sale? Thirty-six percent responded they feel personally responsible and dedicate themselves to ensuring the client’s success, while 26% have less-personal but cordial relationships with their clients because they are both very busy. Twenty-two percent keep a general pulse on what’s happening with the customer after the sale. Contrary to what many people think of as a requirement for sales success, only 17% develop very close personal friendships with their clients.

Attitude. The study participants were also asked to complete word associations to allow a better understanding of their workplace attitudes. The written answers were then categorized as having a positive connotation, a negative connotation, or a neutral connotation, which was neither bad nor good. For example, 53% of the associations to the term “sales manager” were positive, and the top three answers were “coach,” “leader,” and “mentor.” Twenty-seven percent of the answers were negative, and the two most frequently mentioned were “pain” and “overhead.” Twenty-eight percent were neutral, and the most frequently cited words were “management” and “forecast.”

Forty-two percent of the answers for “sales process” were positive associations, with the most frequently mentioned term being “important.” Thirty-seven percent were neutral words, and the top answer was “methodology,” while 21% were negative, with the top-mentioned word being “long.”

Self-perception. When they selected from a list of qualities they thought prospective customers admired most about them, the top responses were trustworthiness, professionalism, follow-through, product knowledge, and enthusiasm. However, the definition of trustworthiness seems to be individually determined. For example, 7% agreed with the statement “If the customer’s best interest is served by slightly obscuring the facts that’s OK.” Twenty-one percent agreed with “Subtle manipulation is reasonable, so long as the truth is served.” Thirty-four percent agreed with “You don’t have to point out every blemish of your product” and 36% with “Nothing but the whole truth is acceptable.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study is the verbal perception of top sales professionals and how they described themselves when compared with those who achieved less than 75% of their quota. When presented with the same list of twenty choices, the most frequently selected answers for those under 75% of their quota were responsible, likable, confident, empathetic, smart, and humble. The answers for top sales professionals over 125% of their quota were confident, X-factor (a combination of all the traits listed), quick-witted, likable, responsible, and productive. Clearly, this shows that top sales professionals have a different level of self-confidence, personal certainty, and pride.