Skills vs. Behaviors
     One of the big distinctions we make when developing sales training is the fact that behaviors and skills are two completely different yet interdependent constructs. Behavior is ultimately the thing we want to see changed in people when we are training them to do something. It really is our only manifestation of whether or not we believe they can do something in the future. In order to consistently demonstrate the right behaviors in all of the sales contexts a sales professional may encounter, he or she will need to possess certain skills. So the first question is, “How can you tell the difference between a skill and a behavior?” There are three operational considerations when trying to discern whether or not someone has gained a skill or is merely performing a behavior.
Skills transcends Context
     To distinguish between somebody knowing a skill versus just displaying the behavior, simply change the context. The skill will be transferable, while the behavior will not. For simplicity sake, let’s discuss the ability to play guitar. I have always been a singer; however, I don’t know how to play the guitar. During high school, I performed in a number of community theater productions. One particular role required me to sing a particular song while playing it on the guitar. I certainly didn’t have enough time to learn how to play the guitar (let alone become a guitar player), so someone taught me the mechanics of strumming and fingering the guitar chords for that particular song. Yet, if I needed to play another song, in a different key, with different lyrics, or even the same song with a different template, I certainly would not have been able to do so. Playing different songs, changing keys, etc. necessitates having the skill of guitar playing. What I did was merely demonstrate guitar playing behavior. I was playing the guitar (behavior) but was not a guitar player (skill).
     Closer to our interest, because of such great emphasis on behavior, many sales training programs focus on behavior modification and not skill attainment. Sales training programs provide the “10-step” process to conduct a particular sales call. The sales programs are contingent on the context of the sales call not changing. They are laced with assumptions for the program to be able to work. However, anybody that has been in sales for more than five minutes knows that nothing ever goes as expected. Many variables change within any given sales call, sales cycle or overall account management. Thus, to become a well-equipped sales rep, you must have the requisite skill that transcends behavior and context. One diagnosis might be to challenge your skills for behavior by changing the context. If your skill or behavior does not stand up to that change, then it is merely a behavior.
Behavior equals “What” while Skills equals “How”
     The second operational consideration when evaluating the differences between skill and behavior is that of the classification of each. In essence behaviors really describe what is going on while skills describe how it is happening. Again, many sales programs give you a lot of what and very little how. For example, how often have you heard “gain trust” or “build rapport” or even “find out what the customer wants.” These are all very valid outcomes for a sales rep to tackle; yet, these statements address what a sales rep needs to do (behavior), not how she needs to do it (skill). This is commonplace in our field because too often sales management truly do want to know what is going on in their rep’s accounts and are not too concerned about how the rep finds out. Arguably, there are multiple ways of achieving these behaviors; however, rarely are they addressed in a systemic way through skill development.
Behavior is a results of Skills
     The bottom line here is that we must have some kind of skill to be able to manifest the behavior consistently. We must ask when we observe behavior, “What are the skills that are truly being manifested in the behavior?” A budding sales professional, who is most likely mimicking what a more successful sales rep is doing is not developing the skill of the seasoned rep; rather, he is simply mimicking  another’s behavior, which ultimately fails as the context shifts. It is our experience that many successful sales reps utilize different skills and approaches to achieve similar results. What does distinguish one rep from another is their associated skills and approaches; thus, someone mimicking another’s behavior without understanding the underlying skill will most likely not lead to similar results. Ultimately, while we can’t say that a particular skill does always yield a particular behavior, we can argue that a particular set of behaviors likely stems from multiple diverse skills.
     What other constructs in learning and development need more clarity when it comes to their operational definitions in order to enhance training and learning effectiveness?

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