02/22/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

I'm Great, How About You?

A study at Cornell University found that when it comes to self assessment, 75 percent of salespeople believe they are above average. They also found that the ignorant tend to be blissfully self assured. Researchers believe the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

For example, a few weeks back I was working with a sales team for a large company; one moderate performing sales guy was disengaged during the training. Not overtly disengaged, but having been in training the past 20 years, I can spot someone going through the motions. When it was time for each individual to present their part of the pre-training homework, the top performers demonstrated they had worked hard and their presentations were excellent. The disengaged individual was by far the worst of his team. In fact, his presentation did not come close to following directions laid out in the pre-training requirements. Was it due to his lack of effort? Or possibly thinking he knows a better way? Or was he taking the path of least resistance and doing what he always does (which is not leading to good business results for him)? The result was he was bad and everyone knew it including his manager.

When the manager proactively asked him his opinion of the training, his response was that it was just okay and believed it was better suited for those new to sales since he already understands the basics. This is an individual in his mid 20's who was significantly under-performing!

I can assure you the training I was providing was not basic selling skills but targeted for advanced skills for complex solutions. I have been in my business for what seems to be an eternity. Prior to training, I ran North American sales for a publicly traded company and before that was a top performing sales guy.

I am still learning; so why is it the people who need the training the most are often the ones that get so little from it?

Is it their self awareness? Do they understand that they are under-performing? Do they understand what they are good at and what they aren't regarding their job requirement? Do they just want to get by and take the path of least resistance? Or have they lost their fire for their job?

Accountability many times is the big culprit.

Each one of us owns our personal development and business results. In sales, there is always a scorecard. When this individual looks in the mirror, how does he explain away the poor results? Is it due, to a bad territory, no leads from Marketing, poor solutions to sell or just plain bad sales management (lack of support). I can guarantee they don't look in the mirror and say I am under-performing because of something I didn't do.

Roger Anderson (my Uncle) was a sales guy who decided at an early age to not only be the top sales guy but also own the company. He became an entrepreneur and started his own shipping company in Southern California. Unfortunately, when you own the company there really is no excuse for low results. You can't blame it on a bad territory, no leads from Marketing, poor products from R&D or just plain bad sales management. You own the business, you own the result.

Roger went out and built a business on understanding his customers, understanding his business, providing the best service, and being a professional that the customers can trust. He also took it upon himself to continue to learn so he could converse on a number of subjects with his customers.
Did his company have ups and downs over the years? Of course, but being a top performer he focused on what he could control like his effort selling new customers and over delivering to his existing base. He also understood what he had no control over like the economy or what the competition did.

In conclusion, why is it when top performers look into the mirror, they can always find areas that they can work on and improve while under-performers always feel they have all the answers. Unfortunately, I can predict the future for this individual who I recently trained and it isn't pretty (at least for the short term). He may eventually learn that business success is about continuing to learn and taking accountability for your results and personal development.

When top performers say their great, it is usually because they are from a business results perspective and they have paid the price for their "greatness".

Scott Anderson is a founder and a managing partner of Diamond Performance Group. He is co-author of Reignite- How To Rekindle Your Passion For Selling. He has worked with industry leading organizations including Cargill, Andersen Windows, The Hartford, Wells Fargo and UnitedHealth Group. He resides in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.