Activity or Skill, Which is More Critical to Sales Success?

activity skill


Ask any sales professional, which is more important−activity or skill, and you’re likely to get a passionate, compelling answer for activity. That is until you ask the next person, where you will probably encounter an even stronger opinion in support of skill. In fact, I recently did just that…I posted the question on my social networks asking sales professionals their opinion on this question...

The response rate was very high and filled with many compelling arguments for each position. And by the way, the sides were split almost 50/50 right down the middle.

The Activity Argument. Those in the activity camp argue that nothing happens in sales until you pick up the phone or make a sales visit. They assert that all the knowledge and skill in the world does you no good if you don’t get out and make the calls. We’ve all heard the proverbial: “sales is a numbers game,” and to a large degree, this is widely viewed as a truism in selling.

The Skill Argument. Skill supporters make the case that while activity has a role, it is skill that takes you to the next level. The thought here is that the novice seller simply making call after call is aimlessly misusing his efforts and will probably run out of gas before the results come. Those of you who frequent social media sales groups, read sales articles, and other information, know that skills tend to dominate most of these discussions. And for obvious reasons, let’s face it, old-fashioned effort and hard work aren’t quite as sexy as talking about exotic skills and selling strategies. However, I've seen both sides of the coin work for salespeople; a "green" salesperson who seems to outwork what she doesn't know, and the experienced seller who barely seems to make two calls a week but still manages to sell at a high level.

And the Winner is?...

To answer, we must first recognize the question as being a bit of a flawed premise. That said, I'm not going to offer the easy, politically correct response of: “they’re both equally important.” Instead, I'm suggesting that they may not be equal with every salesperson, but having one without the other doesn’t generally produce long term results. In other words, if a salesperson is a high activity seller, he or she will still need to reach a minimum skill threshold to maintain success over time. Likewise, an experienced, skilled seller must still make enough calls each day, week, month in order to optimize his or her skill set and grow performance.

Another important factor worthy of this discussion is what I call, “the right things.” Along with activity and skill, sellers must do the right things consistently for success. Consider a salesperson that makes enough calls, and has the skills to be successful, but he calls on the wrong prospects or doesn't follow the company’s proven prescribed sales process. The result would be about the same as the person who lacked activity or skill.

How to Strike the Winning Balance Between Activity and Skill

Success is not a linear, black or white process. Instead, it’s a dynamic, integrated set of actions based on doing, with a high degree of effort, the right things−consistently well. Rather than viewing activity separate from skill, sales professionals should view every call as a learning opportunity to grow their skills.

The key to it all is the commitment to ongoing improvement and embracing change in order to reach new heights. Researchers widely define the three stages of learning a new skill as; (1) Cognitive - forming a picture of the overall skill (2) Associative - is about practicing the skill and correcting errors, and (3) Autonomous - the learner performs the skill automatically and with little effort. Many salespeople tend to remain in the autonomous stage, once the skill becomes easy to perform. But experts push the envelope and expand their ability by continuously refining and perfecting skills, thereby recycling back and forth through the associative and autonomous learning phases.

Activity + Skill + The Right Things = Sales Success

In sum, to cross the bar of expertise, you must continually grow performance capability through experiences (activity) and unique learning tasks (skill development). The journey begins with a self-assessment of activities, skills and the right things and applying them with the highest standards of performance.

Which do you think is more important based on your experiences? I'd love to hear your thoughts... please share your comments below.

About: Sedric Hill is the president and co-founder of Sales Development & Performance LLC, a training and consulting firm serving sales professionals and organizations by providing Expert-Based Training (XBT) and customized performance advisory services. Connect with Sedric

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