When a person starts out on their career they have more unused potential than performance track record. As they become more competent their performance should meet their potential, but it will never exceed it for any sustainable period. Potential limits performance.
Can you increase potential? Firstly there are two kinds of potential to work with – Raw Potential and Developed Potential.
Raw Potential is sometimes used as a proxy for talent. Evidence is increasingly showing this is wrong. See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or our book review of Talent Is Overrated for evidence that shows that all Raw Potential does is act as a kind of ‘permission to play’. You need only the minimum requirements to compete, perform and express yourself.
It seems Developed Potential is much more a significant factor. For a physical sport, age will act as an inhibitor, the body can only cheat time for so long. But in a (largely) non physical role like selling, age shouldn’t be a factor.
How does one maintain an upward curve of Developed Potential?
The first thing is the recognition of just that point. Potential is a wasting, not a growing asset. Unless it is managed, focused and worked on it will convert into the graveyard phrase of unsuccessful middle-aged salespeople ‘I have extensive experience’. Experience is the fuel for driving increased Developed Potential. But fuel that isn’t converted into energy becomes a dead weight. It’s what you do with experience that matters. Experience that increases your forward vision and momentum rather than just creating a larger rear view mirror is what we talking about. This is not down to the type of experiences you have but the way you leverage them.
A sales role is (or should be) a particularly experience rich environment, but only if a learning approach is adopted. If not, all the experiences do is confirm prejudices and pre-conceived views.
If you have the right mind-set you can focus on personal development objectives, not just connected to the narrow criterion of sales results but on broader factors linked to improving and extending your own capabilities.
The effort you put into constantly developing your potential will always pay you back. Never outsource the responsibility to your employer, or to leave it to chance, or think that as you gain experience you are developing your potential.
Turing potential into performance should be a conscious, focused activity.