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From the outside, the mind of a grandmaster chess champion can seem superhuman. Playing against a seasoned chess player can feel like playing against a mind-reader. Your opponent across the table has an answer for every move you make, and they lay traps that can take several moves to evolve. A piece moved one turn becomes your undoing eight turns later. An expert’s vision for the board gives them calm, poise, and confidence as they move closer and closer to checkmate.

As it is with any skill, practice plays a huge role in moving a novice chess player up the competitive ranks. The more you play, the more scenarios you encounter, which means that a problem for a novice is a familiar situation for the expert.

Chess players call this being “on book.” The book is the chess equivalent of a sports playbook, a database of thousands of previously played chess games. Players can look up how other players addressed a particular board state and even study the strategies of their opponents, move for move. This intense study coupled with practice and a dose of natural talent is what gives top chess players a seemingly otherworldly ability to succeed in the game. 

Sales can feel a lot like a chess game — a careful consideration of the pieces on the board with a thoughtful approach to how you move and develop the engagement in your favor. You may recall your early days of sales as feeling chaotic and overwhelming as you encountered new problems and obstacles, but gradually, your conversations with prospects begin to feel less and less “off book” as you hone your skills and expand your experience.

The notion that practice is important for sales is not revolutionary, but as we approach sales mastery, we can forget how practice really works:

– Learning something new can be difficult and at times painful, making it difficult to see the long-term rewards of continuing an initiative long enough for it to bear fruit.

– Mastery of one skill can make us less likely to pursue opportunities where we might be less experienced because of our aversion to failure and fear of the unknown.

Our work in appointment settings gives us a view into both ends of this dynamic. We see MSP owners and salespeople come to us with a wealth of industry experience and a track record of success, but they struggle in the sales environment of a set appointment. They are experts in some aspects of their business, but set appointments are not a typical sales meeting. They have to evolve their sales skills to capitalize on the opportunity, which can mean not being good at them right away.

That can be frustrating, especially if they are used to running the board.

The beginning will always be difficult

When you pursue a new growth avenue for your business — whether it’s an appointment setting program, an ad campaign, or a business podcast — the beginning will always be difficult. That’s the nature of being a novice. Knowing this will not make the growing pains less challenging, but it can help you stick it out long enough to reap the rewards that made you consider that path in the first place.

If you are venturing into new territory, here are some suggestions that might help:

1. Work with an expert who can set realistic expectations so you know how long you need to persevere before deciding whether or not to change course. Your new marketing initiative might take 12-months to mature, for example.

2. Engage a coach to get feedback on your efforts, giving you a direct path to learning from your experience and improving your effectiveness.

3. Address the parallel support pieces that could make an individual initiative more effective. An ad campaign might perform as planned, but if your website is out of date, you will likely see a lower return than you would have if you looked at the whole picture from the start.

The early days of being off book as a beginner are uncomfortable and can test your resolve. If you endure, however, you can master the path and rack up the wins you need to grow your business.

Photo:  crazystocker / Shutterstock.

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Brad Stoller

Posted by Brad Stoller

Brad Stoller is the CEO/Founder of Creativity Counts, LLC. Brad’s in-depth understand of the frustrations that MSP owners and managers go through when trying to keep their businesses growing led him to create a new way. Brad formed Creativity Counts to help MSPs not only find targeted prospects, but also actually help them CLOSE new business through a combination of technology, human interaction, and positioning his clients as true experts in their communities. His company is all about disrupting the old way of costly sales programs and creating new and effective methods and strategies to really help MSP’s, not just giving them another lead generation program.

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