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Mastering a Skill: How to Avoid The Karaoke Effect

Mastering a Skill: How to Avoid The Karaoke Effect
October 10, 2018

Mastering a skill takes a huge amount of time, effort and perseverance. But what does Mustang Sally have to teach us about skill mastery?

I'm getting to that bit.

If you want to be a successful salesperson, you’ll need to hone your selling skills. But Sandy, how is this to be done? Well, you’ll want to start by making as many sales calls as you can. And you’ll need to make a mess of quite a few. Then, you'll really start learning - you’ll try new things, you’ll watch your colleagues and you’ll find out what works - and what doesn’t. Most importantly, you’ll become comfortable with rejection when you're selling. And gradually, even become a master of your craft. 

So, how do you feel about late-night karaoke?

The Karaoke Effect

If you read my blog regularly, you might already know that I play in a rock band, made up of some ageing rockers like myself. We’ve been together for some 15 years now. My son was being quite unkind (but perhaps not wholly inaccurate) when he described our style of music as “Grandad Rock”.

We only play for enjoyment these days, but we used to tour the pubs of Tayside and beyond. 

It wasn’t unusual, on a Saturday night, for a young man or woman to approach the band (usually around 11pm) smiling and shouting something like,

“I want SING!”

You know the ones.

Almost always, these young people had only ever sung in the shower or at their local karaoke night (after a few helpings of Dutch courage).

On one memorable night, a young woman grabbed our guitarist, Willie, and began to shout in his ear,

“Hey, hey you! I want to sing!” 

“Oh, and what would you like to sing?” Willie replied.

She smiled and shouted, “Mustang Sally!”

Now, all of the members of the band had reached a certain age. The age, at which (generally), grumpiness kicks in. Of course, we could have given in and backed the young women’s rendition of a classic. 

But Willie was feeling extra grumpy that night. (When you’ve played a song some 5,000 times in your life - having an intoxicated songbird demand you play it again can have this effect on a person.)

So Willie turned to her and asked, 

“OK - what musical key do you sing in?” 

She looked blank. 

“Which version?” 

No answer. 

“Well -,” he said, exasperated, “- do you do the Wilson Picket version, the Commitments version, the Bruce Springsteen version, the Tom Jones version, the Al Green version? Which?!"

The poor young woman retreated and went back to her buddies.

A bit harsh I know. But I thought about that incident long after we’d packed up that night. And I think it illustrates a valid point about skills, learning, and what it takes to master a craft.

What Mustang Sally Taught Me About Mastering a New Skill

Today, we’re all looking for quick fixes. Gamers look for ‘cheats’ to get them to the next level. We want online shopping delivered to our doors the very next day. We expect our technology to be intuitive. We see ourselves as having authority, but sometimes, we don’t want the responsibility.

But learning skills doesn’t work like that. No matter how good your tech is or how many times you tell Alexa to “Make me a rockstar”

When Willie and I bought our first guitars, we were 11 or 12 years old. We were so keen to play that we played and played and played until our fingers bled. That’s usually when many beginners give up the guitar. But we both got through the pain and slowly, gradually, we began to explore the guitar. Decades later, we’re both still learning and exploring what the guitar can do. 

Whatever your craft - guitar playing, cooking, singing or selling - the investment you need to make to develop your skills is no different. To become a master, you have to learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice. (Or should that be ‘practice, practice, fail miserably, throw said instrument at wall, drown sorrows in pub?’) Willie and I are still practising.

I’m still reading selling skills books and blogs decades after I started my first sales job. So when 'Mustang Sally' approached Willie and me in the pub that night, she was demanding that we would be happy to offer our combined 90 years of musical dedication, experience and musical knowledge and yes - our skills - to back her karaoke warblings.

Being an accomplished musician takes time and commitment. So does learning to sell. Neither comes easy.

The 3 Keys to Sales Success

What are the 3 key elements of successful selling?

  1. Knowledge 
  2. Skills
  3. Processes

Knowledge is easy to come by. We’re lucky enough to live in an age in which everything we’ve ever wanted to know is just a click away. Amazing. And processes can be implemented anywhere if you have the knowledge to build the right ones - and the time to implement them. But by far the hardest part is mastering the skills. It takes directed coaching, hands-on experience, many sales calls, and plenty of rejection before a salesperson feels comfortable walking into a cold call.


So why expect your sales team to jump into a sales call and perform like they’ve grown up in the Royal Albert Hall? 

Just like any skills, learning to sell effectively takes investment and practice. Yes, we live in the age of ‘free information’ but we don’t appear to (yet) have a substitute for in-person training. I think that’s why I’ve been asked to coach so many teams of young people this year. And I’m not saying for one moment that our intoxicated-songbird had no place on the stage. Given time, and practice, she may well have been lighting up the stage on Broadway. 

But to learn any skill, you have to take action and persevere. Nothing worth doing is easy. Success is always in reach - it’s just on the other side of failure.

Are your salespeople singing in the wrong key? Get them owning the stage with my two-part group sales training workshops. We start with practical selling skills and then follow up with a second session, to hone their skills and teach them how to overcome sales challenges, in practice. Get in touch with me today to book your session. 

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