Question: I agree with your position that sales people should set goals for improving themselves every month. As a sales manager, can you give me a more specific idea of what kind of goals I should be insisting that they develop?

Answer: Sure. This is one of my hot buttons. I believe that sales people should be continually focusing on personal development — continuously improving them-selves. That means that they should create specific goals, each month, to become better, more competent and more valuable people.

Just like I discussed with sales managers, individual sales reps need goals that articulate an improvement in skills, the acquisition of competencies, the addition of knowledge or the participation in learning events that you would like to achieve this year. Let me explain each.

Improvement in job-related skills. A sales manager may decide he needs to do a better at coaching his salespeople. That’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop and that helps you do better at your current job. It’s the same for salespeople.

There is a set of competencies that every salesperson needs to have in order to be competent at the job. There should be an assessment of what competencies they have and in which of those are they strong and weak. Out of this should come a commitment to improve in some job-related skill. For example, one of your salespeople may need to become more proficient at building relationships, becoming more organized, etc. These are all job-related skills.

Acquisition of collateral competencies. These are things you learn which improve your value to the company and qualify you to do something other than the job you have. For example, having sales reps improve their strategic planning skills won’t necessarily help with sales, but it could relate to a position or job duty down the line – like becoming CEO.

Addition of knowledge. This is learning things that you don’t now know. Knowledge is different than skills. For example, you can determine to improve your knowledge of a certain product line or a market segment. That’s knowledge. Improving your coaching ability is a skill. It requires you to do something. Improving your knowledge is information you acquire. Salespeople need both skills and knowledge to grow more valuable and competent in their jobs.

Participate in learning events. Sometimes, you can invest in a salespeoples’ own development by having them participate in a learning event, with only a vague end result in mind. Let’s say, for example, that you decide to send a few reps to a seminar on “Sales skills for the 21st century.” You’re not exactly sure what they’re going to learn, but you feel confident that they’ll come out of that event with something. In this case, your focus is not on the end result you want, you’re more open to the serendipity learning that you expect to happen as a result of their involvement in the event.

Any of these are legitimate ways to focus your sales people on the goal of “continuous improvement.”

Dave Kahle is a leading authority on distributor sales. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and eight countries, and has personally worked with over 287 companies, helping enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.