Learners or lookers: How to tell if sales reps will earn or burn!

by Kirk Wakefield – November 2013

How do you know the difference between a sales rep who’s going to make it and those who won’t?

Research tell us that one way is to look at whether they’re learners or lookers.

What do learners look like?

Learners  are the sales reps who focus on mastering new situations, exploring tasks, acquiring new skills, and learning from experience, all with an ultimate goal of self-improvement.

How do you know if you have a learner? When learners face a challenge they will:

  1. probe problems,
  2. persist,
  3. escalate effort,
  4. seek feedback, and
  5. seek solutions.

Obviously, you don’t have a learner if they avoid problems, give up, keep doing what they’ve been doing, don’t ask for help, and don’t solve problems.

What do lookers look like?

Some reps just want to look like they’re doing something instead of doing it. They are out to prove themselves to others instead of just improving.

Lookers  focus on appearing competent to others and gaining favorable evaluations. They run away from challenges that might pose the risk of making mistakes. Instead their ultimate goal is positive self-presentation and impression management.

How do you know if you have a looker? When lookers face a challenge they will:

  1. avoid challenging tasks,
  2. withdraw from the task,
  3. set low goals,
  4. make negative ability attributions, and
  5. demonstrate a helpless response.

In contrast, learners will embrace the challenge, set high goals, assume they have the ability to figure it out, and will even want to help others meet and beat the challenge.

What about your staff?

George Killebrew, Executive Vice President, Dallas Mavericks, breaks down the importance of learning and adapting:

George Killebrew
George Killebrew

“Our staff  includes those with us just a short time as well as those who’ve been with us 14 years and even 22 years.  They all realize that they must keep up with the ever changing world of sponsorship–from understanding digital, to mobile, to social media, to all the latest trends.  If they fail to adapt, they become dinosaurs.  This is a fairly young at heart business and you must have the stamina to keep up!  Not just physically working 50 home games each year, but mentally with all the new inventory that comes our way and the changing trends in our industry. Those that fail to adapt, unfortunately have to go.  It’s learn or leave!”

Look carefully at your sales team. Is everyone on board a true learner? What answers would you get if you showed them the five characteristics of learners and lookers and asked, “Which one are you?”

Take action

Do you have a bunch of learners or lookers? Can lookers learn to be learners? What can you do to challenge your group to keep learning?

Click the Twitter or LinkedIn buttons below to share with others and keep the conversation going. Tweet to us @kirkwakefield, @georgekillebrew, #learners!


Read the original research here: Chai, J., Zhao, G., & Babin, B. J. (2012). An Empirical Study on the Impact of Two Types of Goal Orientation and Salesperson Perceived Obsolescence on Adaptive Selling. Journal Of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 32(2), 261-274.

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