How to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster

November 15, 2014
teach-brain-learn-fasterThis post originally appeared on the Sales section of Inbound Hub. To read more content like this, subscribe to Sales.

Jill Konrath says it’s the number one competitive advantage for salespeople today. 

What is "it"? No, it's not having the firmest handshake, or the sharpest suit. You might have an extremely engaging phone persona, but that won’t ultimately set you apart in Jill’s book. Your social selling prowess? Nope, not that either.

To Jill, the one and only skill that can truly give you the edge is rapid learning. Much of sales today hinges on deep understanding of prospects’ industries and problems, and positioning your product or service around personal expertise and insight can do a lot to differentiate you to buyers.

Just one problem: There is an enormous amount of information salespeople have to master in order to reach trusted advisor status. How can a rep with only a limited amount of time available to read and research keep up? 

That’s where agile learning comes in. Jill is a master on the subject (she literally wrote the book on it) and in her opinion, it’s a skill that can be improved just like any other with some practice. Here are the six strategies she recommends to help salespeople learn to learn faster.

1) Chunking

There’s a reason why your eyes naturally gravitate to the numbered items in a blog post or bullet points in a news story. It’s because our brains are hard-wired to crave organization.

Due to our preference for structure, it’s far easier for us to remember information when it’s categorized into discrete buckets as opposed to random bits of unrelated data. With this in mind, sales reps should try to break down complex topics into more manageable mental categories, and seek to find patterns in the information they take in.

2) Sequencing

It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to read the last chapter of a physics book before the first. The order in which we learn things has an impact on how well we understand a subject. Sequencing is the practice of mentally prioritizing what is most important to learn first, and what can wait until later. Trying to take it in all at once is a recipe for recall disaster.

Jill recommends focusing on “need to knows” first, such as information about your company’s key product, the industry that presents the best opportunity, and the most influential person in the buying process.

3) Connecting

Finding commonalities between things you already know well and the subject you’re learning can help you get up to speed in your new field much faster. Does one buyer’s company remind you of another customer’s organization? Fantastic -- reinforce that connection in your mind to cut back your ramp time.

4) Dumping

No matter how fast you learn to learn, you physically can’t remember everything. Trying to will only serve to exhaust and confuse you.

That’s why dumping is such a necessary strategy. Documenting information in some way means you don’t have to memorize it -- you can simply look at or listen to your notes when the need arises. This tactic also frees up space in your memory to internalize content that you do need to keep continuously top of mind.

5) Practicing

Practice makes perfect is true in numerous professions, but especially so in sales. When a rep needs to learn about a new product, a new line of messaging, or a new approach, the best way, according to Jill, is through role-playing. Just like any other skill, learning needs to be practiced in order for it to stick.

6) Prioritizing

Sequencing is a way of mental prioritizing, but reps should also practice prioritization in their day-to-day work for maximum learning effectiveness. Multitasking takes a toll mentally, so make sure to only focus on one task at a time -- especially if that task is studying. 

What tricks do you use to learn faster?

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