‘1% Better Every Day’: 18 professional development tips for salespeople

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Contributor, Sell to Win

Nutshell’s BOUNDLESS 2020 virtual event was chock-full of amazing sales, marketing, and customer success advice from some of the top minds in their fields.

One of those minds belonged to John Barrows, the CEO of JBarrows Sales Training as well as an in-demand speaker and author. John has helped mega-companies like Salesforce, Box, and LinkedIn drive results with proven techniques for filling the funnel and improving tactics throughout the sales cycle.

JB’s keynote session at BOUNDLESS 2020 focused on the concept of getting “1% better every day.” Here’s how he described it:

“Earlier in my career, what I was doing was setting very high and lofty goals for myself, and I would achieve those goals, and then I would set another huge mountain to climb. And what was happening was a lot of times I’d get very frustrated on reaching that next pinnacle that I set for myself.

“So, instead of doing that, I started trying to get 1% better every day. And it’s sunk in because my mentality was, ‘Look, if I told you to get 50% better in 50 days, you’d look at me sideways and say, ‘Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m working as hard as I can right now, that seems crazy.’ But if I said, ‘Hey, could you do 1% better tomorrow? Could you just do 1% better?
And 1% means make one extra cold call, do one extra push up in the morning. Whatever that might be, just try to do that 1% better. Because then, in 50 days, you’re 50% better.

John shared a lot of tips on how to actually put this into practice, starting with what he called his “personal guidelines to success.” Let’s run them down…

1. Work Hard and Smart

According to John, everybody says ‘work hard’ or ‘work smart.’ But I say, ‘no, you gotta work hard and smart.’”

If you’re working hard on the wrong things, you won’t find success. Similarly, if you work smart but don’t put in the necessary hustle to make your vision a reality, you won’t be able to accomplish your goals.

2. Earn Everything

One of John’s guiding principles for success in sales, business, and life is “earn everything—don’t expect anything to be given to you.”

This mentality will force you to take responsibility for your own actions (or lack thereof) and put in the work instead of waiting to catch a break.

3. Confidence, Not Ego

We can all agree with John when he says “ego is gross, but confidence will get you most places.”

Why is this? Because confidence is simply faith in one’s own abilities. Ego always seeks approval and self-validation—even at the expense of others. An ego-centric person will also resist feedback, which is a critical component of constant improvement.

4. Find Your Passion or Find Something Else to Do

Young people are often encouraged to follow their passions. John sees it differently. “I think that’s a fool’s errand. That’s terrible advice to give to a kid, because you have to find [your passion] first.”

It makes sense—you can’t pursue your life’s passion until you understand exactly what lights your fire and makes you tick. In John’s opinion, “I don’t think you really find what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at until your mid-to-late 20s, if not early 30s.”

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5. Always Ask For Feedback

“Constantly be asking for feedback on a regular basis” John says. “You always want to be getting better.”

It’s almost impossible to get better quickly without asking for feedback, especially when you’re new to a specific profession or activity. When it comes to you, a third-party can be more objective than you can ever be. So take advantage of other people’s perspectives and use them to improve your skills.

6. Set SMART Goals and Hold Yourself Accountable

John believes everyone should set SMART goals and hold themselves accountable to them. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

“You want to set goals on a regular basis,” John says. “If you’re not setting goals, then somebody else is in charge, somebody else is dictating your path. By setting your own goals, all of a sudden, you’re the one running the show.”

7. Be Honest With Everybody, Including Yourself

It’s especially important to be honest and open with yourself. John says, “be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself about where your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t think you’re better than anybody else but know nobody else is better than you.”

If you’re able to honestly evaluate your shortcomings, you’ll be able to improve so much faster. Most people don’t excel at this. With practice you can become a better self-evaluator and set yourself apart from others in your field.

8. What Goes Around Comes Around

This tip is huge for John. He says, I’ve had way too many experiences in my life of doing something and having it come back around in a positive way—or negative, in some cases. That’s why you always want to treat people right, you always want to do the right thing.”

We couldn’t agree more! The more you help others, the more they’ll want to help you. The better you treat people, the better they’ll treat you. It’s human nature. We’re nice to those we like and/or respect.

9. You Can Learn Something New in Every Situation

John learned early in his career, when he was selling power tools for DeWalt, that “you can learn something new from everyone in every situation.” He told a great story during his BOUNDLESS session of how he put that into practice:

“What most of the sales reps did who were on my team did is they went on to the construction site, they would go straight to the foreman and try to sell them our best, coolest, newest tools. I knew about the tools, DeWalt obviously educated us, but I didn’t know how to use them nearly as well as the workers did.

“So instead of going straight to the foreman, I would sit down with the workers and I would say, ‘Hey, you’re using that drill?’—it’s a Makita drill or whatever it is—‘have you ever tried the DeWalt drill? No? Okay, do me a favor. Could you use this for about a week and I’ll come back and ask you some questions about it?’

“So I’d come back in a week, I’d learn how they used it, I’d get their feedback. And then I would go to the foreman and I’d say, ‘Hey, I just talked to 5, 10, 20 of your workers and they said that the DeWalt drill is better, and this is why.’ And I sold way more than most of the other reps did because of that approach.”

John stresses the importance of learning from everyone. “You can learn a ton from secretaries, people at the quote-unquote ‘bottom rung,’ or bottom of the totem pole. You should learn from them so that you can have a better story to tell [at the top].”

10. Make Sure You Can Live With the Worst-Case Scenario

“Always have a plan B” is common advice, but John doesn’t agree with it. “I think your plan B distracts from your plan A,” he says. It actually gives you an out, so if you don’t succeed, then you have this buffer. I believe in going all in on your plan A.”

So instead of “always have a plan B,” John encourages people to “make sure you can live with the worst-case scenario.”

“When you make a decision, ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst-case scenario here?’ If you’re okay with that worst-case scenario, then do it.”

11. Get 1% Better Every Day

Lastly, John suggests everyone should aim to get 1% better each day. This is the tip he gets the most questions about on a regular basis and he spent a lot of time covering it for the BOUNDLESS 2020 audience.

John says, “I try to look at myself every day and I say, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday?’ Sometimes the answer is no and I know I need to get better the next day.”

The question is, how? How can you get 1% better every day? What are the rules you can follow to constantly improve? John offered a few ideas that have worked for him…

Know Your Goals

“I set goals every single day,” John says. “I have a whiteboard in front of my desk and I write down two or three of my top goals that day that I know I need to get accomplished.”

John says small daily goals build to a bigger goal, which is “Where do I want to be in my life?” This is an important question to ask yourself, because, as John says, “lifestyle drives everything”:

“Lifestyle is gonna drive work, it’s gonna drive your goals and everything else. So, if you say, ‘Alright, five years out, you know, house, wife, kids, husband,’ whatever it is, what does that look like for you? And then back into what it takes to get there. So, based on that lifestyle, what kind of job do I need to have? What kind of money do I need to be making? And then, from there, ‘Where am I now?’ 

“Because look, you could be doing the worst job ever, but as long as that job is gonna help you get to that next level in your career, then you should be able to stick it out. But if you don’t have a plan of where you wanna go, you’re just gonna be looking for slightly better worst jobs and keep bouncing all over the place. But if you have a plan, if you have goals, and you focus on getting 1% better, all of a sudden, you can put things into perspective and realize…I can do this as long as it’s gonna help me get there.”

Know Your Learning Style

“Everybody learns differently,” John says. “Some people learn by reading, some people learn by doing, some people learn by talking. I think learning your own learning style is really important.”

How do you learn best? Maybe you’re like John and you simply can’t stand reading. That’s okay, you just need to find another way to assimilate information into your brain.

John says he learns best by “talking to people who are smarter than me and asking them questions and being genuinely curious about what they do.” Are you the same? Take some time to investigate your personal learning style, then use it to build your brain every day.

Use the Right Tools

John is a big believer in a few different technologies to consume information more efficiently, including Feedly and Owler:

  • Feedly: Feedly is an RSS aggregator that can be used for free. You can use it to set up folders for your favorite blogs. Feedly will then display all the latest headlines from each blog, allowing you to easily pick and choose which articles to consume.
  • Owler: Owler is another free tool. If you’ve never heard of it, think of it as Google Alerts on steroids. You can use it to source important information from the web.

John also mentioned tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator during his BOUNDLESS 2020 talk. But you don’t have to use the same tools as John. The point is, find technology that works for your purposes and use it to constantly improve.

Boost Your Business Acumen

Business acumen is one of those things that is sorely missing in sales. I mean we teach technique, we teach structure, we teach process or product knowledge, but business acumen is something that is sorely lacking.”

How’s your business acumen? Does it need a refresh? Update yourself on your industry, the way your business works, the way your competitors do business. This information will benefit you as you attempt to sell more products and/or services.

John says that if he could go back in time, he would tell himself, “be way more proactive with your business acumen. Read the books that leaders read, follow the thought leaders in the space so you can hear what they’re talking about and be able to translate that in your conversations.”

Content vs. Context

John credits Gary Vee, world-famous entrepreneur and marketing guru, with saying, “if content is king, then context is god.” This is an incredibly important concept to understand.

According to John, “marketing is content, sales is context. If we, as sales professionals, are not putting any context around our content, then we’re no different than marketing and I have no idea why we’re getting paid to do what we do.”

When you create and publish content, whether you do it via blog post, YouTube video, or sales script, you need to add context. You need to position your content so that your target audience understands why it matters to them.

For example, instead of emailing a prospect a link to an article you think they might enjoy, tell them, “Hey, I think you’ll like this article. Paragraphs 7, 9, and 14 are especially helpful.” This extra bit of context will make all the difference.

Split-Test Everything

“I fundamentally believe that sales should be more of a science than an art, because the science lays the foundation for the art form to be that much more effective,” John says. With that in mind, the number one piece of advice John says he would give his younger self is, “A/B split test everything you do. I mean everything you do.”

For example, if you plan to email 50 different leads, create two different subject lines, send each one to 25 people, and see which performs best. By testing everything like this, you’ll learn how to get better results faster.

Learn Proper Objection Handling

Finally, John encourages all sales reps to learn proper objection handling.

“You all get the same objections on a regular basis, right? We’re not interested, it’s not a priority for us right now, we don’t have any budget, we already have a solution in place, whatever it is. Write them down. Everybody has a frequently-asked questions document, I have a frequent-objections document.”

John then goes on to explain some of the main objection handling techniques:

  1. Feel-Felt-Found: In this classic objection-handling technique, the seller delivers some variation of, “I totally understand how you feel about that, other people felt the same way, and what they found was…” John just recommends not using the actual words “feel, felt, found,” because savvy buyers will recognize them.
  2. Reprioritization: “Look, I understand cost is an issue, is it more important than what you told me earlier?”
  3. Clarification: In John’s opinion, this is the default approach you should use. All you do is answer an objection with a question. “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you give me an example?” or “Compared to what?”
  4. Justification: What do you do if a potential customer balks at price? Instead of backing off, you simply explain to them exactly why your product or service is worth it. You say, “Yes, the price is $$$, let me tell you exactly why…”
  5. Preemptive Strike: This tactic aims to address objections before a prospect has time to voice them. You say something like, “Look, I know you weren’t expecting my call, so I’ll be brief.” Then you carry on with your pitch.

John encourages sales professionals to write down an objection that they’re getting hammered on, and come up with two different ways of dealing with that objection. “The next 10 times it comes up, deal with it one way, the next 10 times, deal with it the other way,” John says. “See which one yields a higher response rate. By taking the split-test mentality, you will get better every single day.”

John closed his BOUNDLESS 2020 session with one small but critical piece of advice: “Ask yourself at the end of the day, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday? Did I do that one extra thing?’ And if you didn’t, don’t beat yourself up. Just try to get better the next day.”

For more expert insights from BOUNDLESS 2020, watch the full replay right here.

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