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From Novice to Expert

A quick-start training program is just that - a start. The development of a key salesperson is a career-long quest that encompasses the continuous training, application, and refinement of a complete body of professional knowledge. The purpose of this ongoing training is the continuous improvement of a salesperson's ability to consistently operate the system, execute the skills, and adopt the disciplines of a professional. It's goal is improved closing rates, reduced proposal-to-close ratios, and the optimization of the sales process.

When salespeople successfully complete quick-start training, they have established a firm foundation for their careers. The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is a good way to understand and manage this foundation. Stuart and Richard Dreyfus, brothers and fellow professors at the University of California, created the model in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the support of the U.S. Air Force, they studied the process of skill acquisition among aircraft pilots, racecar drivers, and chess players. (Later, additional studies by other researchers extended their findings to the nursing profession.) [5]

The Dreyfus model describes five stages of professional development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.

Novices are the new hires who do not yet know anything about business or sales. Novices must approach their new profession with an attitude of acceptance. They don't have the previous experience necessary to evaluate what they are learning; thus, they must accept the information they are offered and apply it without a complete understanding of the context in which they are working.

Advanced beginners have attained enough professional experience to begin to use their skills in a situational context. That is, they are starting to recognize aspects of situations, but they are still reacting within the guidelines of the skills themselves. These learners are not yet ready to operate without supervision.

Competent sales professionals understand all of the elements of the professional body of knowledge and can judge their responses in terms of specific situations. Professionals at this level can solve problems and efficiently organize and plan their own time. This is the point at which our 12-Stage Success Plan leaves the learner, but in contrast to what many learning theories suggest, this is not the end point in professional development.

Proficient sales professionals understand the customer's problem and its solution as a holistic process. They are incorporating their experience into their performance, and they can smoothly adapt their responses to changing situations.

Expert sales professionals represent the zenith of professional development. A good example of this is the top performing salesperson who has a seemingly casual conversation with a customer and yet leaves the meeting with a complete picture of an until-now undiscovered problem, a solution that is most likely to solve it, and strategy for moving the customer through the complete sales process with relative ease. Experts create opportunities.

This is the greatest challenge in developing sales professionals for transformative sales—to move beyond competence and develop a salesforce of experts who create value for their customers and capture an ample share of that value for their companies and themselves.

[5]See Patricia Benner, From Novice to Expert (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1984).


The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.

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