How to Harness Shoshin to Improve Sales Effectiveness

George Brontén

Whenever someone tells me they have 10 years of experience, I always wonder: Do they really have ten years, or do they have one year of experience multiplied by ten?

Most people reach a level of competence in their jobs and then stop bothering to learn more. They may spend the first year on a job learning it, and then after that, they assume they already know everything they need to know, and they just keep getting more efficient at exactly the same activities and behaviors, without becoming more effective.

The ancient Japanese understood that to achieve truly great feats, one must always practice what they called “Shoshin” – the beginner’s mind. Modern salespeople can harness this Zen Buddhist concept to become high performers.

What Is Shoshin?

Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist concept that is also applied in many Japanese martial arts. It translates as the “beginner’s mind.” It refers to a state of openness to new information, as well as eagerness and willingness to learn that is the natural state of a beginner.

When we question our assumptions, we open ourselves to new ways of solving old problems.
George Brontén

While generally applied to meditation practice and martial arts, the beginner’s mind is a powerful concept for any activity, including sales.

Experience as a salesperson can be a really good thing. We develop skills, learn what works and what doesn’t work, and strengthen our sales muscles over time. But experience can also harden us to learning new ideas and more optimal behaviors. Some people never develop much beyond basic competence because they never learn to adopt Shoshin.

Here’s how you can foster Shoshin on your sales team:

1) Encourage Patience

One of the challenges of mastery is that once we reach a certain level of competence, most of the training and educational material we encounter will contain a lot of information we already know.

In order to glean new information, we often have to slog through a lot of old information.

Shoshin means adopting the curiosity and openness of the beginner, being willing to sit through old information while viewing it in a new way or with new eyes. When we do that, we will also be ready to grasp those moments when a new insight or idea enters the conversation for us to learn from.

2) But Optimize Learning

It’s important for even our top performers to be patient with training materials, but we can also optimize learning by serving up training in context.

Some of today’s sales enablement technologies (like Membrain) allow you to build dynamic, real-time training into your salesperson’s workflow in a way that allows them to access only what they need when they need it. Our software tracks what the salesperson has already consumed and serves up what is most relevant to them.

By streamlining and optimizing learning, you help your sales teams maintain their enthusiasm and eagerness for learning, so it’s easier for them to adopt Shoshin.

3) Encourage Questions

Teach your salespeople that questions are always welcome, and treat their questions with respect. When questions are routinely shut down as stupid or irrelevant, salespeople learn that in order to get respect, they have to pretend to know everything. This is the opposite of Shoshin.

Instead, welcome, encourage, and reward good questions from your team.

Likewise, teach them to ask customers good questions. A great salesperson will learn as much or more from each customer as they do from formal training. Make sure your salespeople know how to ask good questions–and then listen actively to the answers.

4) Foster an Iterative Mindset

Build a culture that values experimentation and optimization. Let your sales teams know that they are expected to update their skills regularly, that it’s okay to try something new, and that they should be learning from the latest optimization data on a continual basis.

It helps to have technology that identifies optimal behaviors and makes it easy to reinforce those behaviors across the sales force. Membrain provides detailed analytics to identify which behaviors are most effective and allows organizations to communicate and reinforce these best practices dynamically across their sales teams.

5) Question Assumptions

One of the biggest problems in sales today is the assumptions we make. We assume that salespeople know how to sell. We assume that salespeople are disciplined. We assume that buyers make logical decisions. We assume that the largest CRM on the market is the best CRM. We assume that what worked last year will still work this year. We assume that because we’re meeting quota, we can’t do better.

False assumptions are a major cause of stagnation and ineffectiveness on sales teams. The beginner’s mind starts at “empty,” seeing everything through fresh eyes, void of assumptions.

When we question our assumptions, we open ourselves to new ways of solving old problems. In the words of the Zen Buddist monk Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

To find out more about how Membrain can help you foster Shoshin on your sales team, schedule a call with us - we'd love to get to now you!

George Brontén
Published November 21, 2018, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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