A college professor once posed the following question to our Secondary Education class:

“Which problem do you think plagues the American Education System more – ignorance or apathy?”

My roommate raised his hand and said, “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”

I think a similar debate can be had in the selling profession.  Are the best sales people just naturally talented – or are they the best because they work harder than everyone else?

The obvious answer is yes – yes they are. 🙂

Swedish psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson has written much on the subject of expert performance and expertise.  He basically puts forth the idea that expertise happens more often than not by the diligent practice that is put in by the person gaining that expertise.  In particular, he mentions the milestone of 10,000 hours of practice.

Dr. Ericsson explains that for someone to become truly expert at a skill or activity requires roughly 10,000 hours of practice.  The principle seems to apply pretty much across the board.  However, I see it more in sports, music, business skills and selling skills.

When you do the math – if you are working 40 hours per week, that would mean that it would take you 5 years to become an expert at what you are doing.

I think there very well may be some truth in that thought process.  However, I also believe that genetics and environment have some impact on the equation.

For example – in my music education background, I was normally able to memorize a reasonably short piece of music by simply reading it as I thought through the actual sound of the music in my head.  In essence, “imagining” myself playing the song was often enough for me to be able to then play the tune.  Not everyone that I knew was able to do this same process.  Some of my friends really struggled to memorize their music.

I am not sure why I had that ability and others did not.  Some had to practice more hours than I did in order to get the same results.  But make no mistake; they did get the same results – some even better.

So, it is my opinion that success in any venture – especially in sales, is actually a balance of natural abilities and hard work.

Some sales people seem to have the natural ability to be comfortable speaking to individuals or groups.  Some seem to be able to memorize concepts and scripting easily.  Yet others may struggle with those same processes.

So take heart!  If you struggle with any particular skill or activity – make up for the lower level of natural talent you possess by putting in more practice.  Then, just like my friends who had to work a little harder to memorize their music – you will still get the same results as those with a natural ability that you may not share.

But either way – to have the rewards of a great sales career you must think long term.  10,000 hours of practice cannot happen overnight.  Fortunately, you can still make a great living while you are being diligent in your practice.

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How much practice time do you get in each week?