Stage 2: The Awkward Stage

Stage 2: The Awkward Stage

My friend, Thomas was one of those people that everyone liked. He had a winning smile. He had a wife and a young baby that were beautiful. We played softball together and I really enjoyed our friendship. Thomas observed my sales career as my family and I went from living in a mobile home that was in such disrepair that the floor was literally falling through in spots – to consistently providing a strong income and an above average lifestyle.

One day Thomas came to me and said, “I would like to do what you do.” Then he put a big smile on his face and said, “I doesn’t look all that hard to me.” I smiled back and said, “I’ll be glad to bring you on board, if you promise me one thing: spare me your creativity for the first 90 days and do exactly what I ask and show you to do.” He agreed and I contracted him.

However, as we began to train on prospecting Thomas found that he was completely out of his comfort zone. It didn’t matter if our prospecting was cold calling face-to-face, telemarketing, or networking, Thomas just froze-up. The more it happened, the worse his call reluctance became. Finally, he left sales and went back to a salaried position.

If you’re not comfortable with some of your sales activities, have you ever wondered why that is happening to you? The answer is quite simple. We tend to learn everything in a four stage process. It doesn’t matter if it is a child learning to walk and talk, or a sales person learning to prospect and present. We all go through the same four stages.

  • Awareness – that stage in the learning process where you are first exposed to a skill that you want to mimic. Example: a crawling child notices that their older sibling moves around differently than they do. A sales person is exposed to a prospecting script.
  • Awkwardness – that stage in the learning process where you first attempt to mimic the skill you became aware of in the first stage. This is the most uncomfortable stage of learning. Example: A child attempts their first step and falls on their backside. Or a sales person makes their first prospecting call and does pretty much the same thing.
  • Skillfulness – That stage in the learning process in which you begin to master that which you are trying to learn. It is not totally comfortable yet, but you are succeeding. Example: a toddler who is walking, but still occasionally unstable. A sales person able to close sales but still having to think about their process a little too much – sometimes at the expense of focusing on what the prospect is saying.
  • Reflex Action – that stage in the learning process when you no longer have to think about what you are doing. It is an automatic response. Example: An adult who no longer has to think about how to walk or talk. Or a sales person who knows what they are doing so well that they can focus more on their prospect during the interaction.

As a general rule, sales people who fail usually get stuck in the Awkwardness stage. They quit because they never get comfortable with the activities they need to do.

Your goal: you want to get to the Skillfulness stage as quickly as possible with the Reflex Action stage being your ultimate goal.

The challenge: you have to move through the stages in order and there is no way to skip a stage.

The process: Repetition, repetition, repetition. Repetition imbeds the skill into the sub-conscious mind.

How many repetitions will it take to move you through the four stages? Nobody knows for you. But I can tell you a couple of key things about that number.

  1. Many repetitions in a short amount of time is more effective than the same number of repetitions spread out over a long period of time.
  2. All types of repetitions will help you move through the process;
    1. role-plays with someone who can hold you accountable for doing the activity correctly
    2. listening to recordings of you doing the activity correctly
    3. live selling situations

You’ve heard it said that “practice makes perfect”. Two of my degrees are actually in music, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that practice does not make you perfect. If you practice something imperfectly over and over, you learn to do it imperfectly. The saying should actually be “perfect practice makes perfect.” So, your assignment (Mr. Hunt) is to find ways to get as much perfect practice on your basic selling skills as you can.

Final thought: role-plays and recordings are great. But if you only execute “pretend” repetitions you also only earn “pretend” commissions.


What can you do to make sure that you are perfectly practicing your basic sales skills?

What activities will you do so frequently that you will naturally get enough repetitions in live selling situations to move through the four stages of learning?