What’s the difference between top-performing companies and all the rest in terms of how they train their people to perform at the highest levels of sales and customer service? New research yields important insights that provide answers to that question.

Integrity Solutions and the Sales Management Association surveyed sales leaders in over 200 organizations and, among other questions, asked them to rate the impact on performance of a salesperson’s achievement drive – that is, their motivation, attitudes, beliefs and passions – compared to their product knowledge and selling skills.

The results were surprising: More than 80 percent of those surveyed valued achievement drive at equal or greater value over product knowledge and selling skills. What’s more, only a quarter of the respondents said they were effective in training around achievement drive – a huge gap between importance and effectiveness. And here’s the clincher: Those who said they were effective at focusing training on achievement drive report 20 percent stronger results than everyone else.

What about you? Is your sales and service training adequately emphasizing the so-called soft skills that ignite motivation and achievement drive?

Let’s stop a minute for a little self-diagnostic. When you think of your top-performing people, what percentage of their success is due to their technical skills and knowledge versus their attitudes, passions, values and achievement drive?

When I’ve asked that question in countless forums all around the world, most people say that 75 to 85 percent of their success is due to attitudes, passions and achievement drive. Their responses always beg the question: Why don’t more companies address those elements in training?

My guess is that part of the answer is this: The “soft stuff” is hard. Very often, it’s a lot easier to tell sales and service people what to do – to drill them on product information, techniques, what to say and when, and managing numbers and activities. It’s much tougher to get at attitudes and achievement drive – the critical skills and what some people call the intangibles. But, as our new research shows, doing so can be the turbocharger for your success.

Don’t get me wrong: Training for product knowledge and selling skills is very important. But it’s just one ingredient in the secret sauce.

Even with an excellent product or service, you’re under pressure all the time. The one constant is how well people perform – and the performance of your team is your best competitive differentiator. Your training needs to go beyond product knowledge and techniques, and get in their heads and hearts to change attitudes and ignite their achievement drive. Doing so could significantly contribute to your competitive edge.

Here are some ways your training can ignite achievement drive in sales and service teams:

Start with Goal Clarity

Results from more than 25,000 individual self-assessment surveys administered by Integrity Solutions, measuring how people perform on a list of 18 key success factors, consistently have goal clarity at the bottom.

We know that when people know what their goals are, and you build the belief that they can achieve them, you trigger a new level of energy and drive to achieve. Teach your sales force principles of goal achievement that work, such as:

  • Define objectives.
  • Plan a strategy.
  • Build belief.
  • Develop strengths.
  • Manage progress.

Create a supportive environment. Most people don’t shift behaviors or improve performance on their own. Encourage people to share their goals with people who they know are supportive. Then, have them find one or two people who are performing at a higher level and ask for their advice.

Focus on Defining Purpose

When people clearly understand the purpose of their job, passion increases, which leads to more productive activities. These questions are critical for everyone to answer: What is the purpose of the company? What is the team’s purpose? How do we create value for customers and colleagues? Help people write their individual purpose statements.

Go Beyond the Training Event

Just as learning to ride a bike, dance or play baseball takes practice, training must be more than just an event. Set up scenarios where concepts are applied in the real world with accountability to share progress.

Get managers coaching instead of primarily managing activities. Develop a mindset of seeing more in people than they see in themselves. Encourage salespeople to develop stretch goals and put in place a process to achieve them.

You will ignite new levels of achievement drive when people clearly understand the purpose of their job and have clear goals they believe in. What’s more, doing so will dramatically increase productive activity and drive better business results.