Great Sales Performers Are Made Not Born - Part 6

In our last post in this series we looked at the S.P.A.C.E model more closely. We also examined some of the implications for continually growing sales by continually growing your salespeople. In this post we'll start by recapping S.P.A.C.E and consider how much you actually need to practice to sustainably improve your performance.  

To Recap S.P.A.C.E:

  • Simplify (and Sequence): develop mastery 5% at a time.

  • Practice: combine quality practice with massive repetitions.

  • Apply: develop conscious competence before, during, and after every real-­life experience.

  • Confirm: get continual feedback from an expert/coach/mentor on how to keep getting better.

  • Expand: push the envelope on how to get better at this skill.

So, how much do you have to practice?

The conventional wisdom states that to move from novice to best in the world takes 10-years, about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. What is now known as the “ten-­year rule” was first developed by Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon and William Chase while studying world-­class expertise in chess.

Subsequent research in a wide range of fields has substantiated the ten-­year rule everywhere the researchers have looked … no one, not even the most “talented” performers, became great without at least ten years of very hard preparation.

Does that sound like good news, bad news, or just news?

Whatever your reaction, here are some helpful reminders:

  1. That’s ten years from novice to best in the world. You realise and enjoy huge benefits as you move from a non-­performer to an OK performer, from an OK performer to a top performer, and from a top performer to a great performer. Remember, “moving the middle” from a 5 or 6 to a solid 7 can double sales performance.

  2. You may have already started. You may have already acquired skills that boost you up the ladder.

  3. You get to decide how great you want to be. Nothing will stop you if you are willing to practice. You can stop any time the rewards of improvement are no longer greater than the effort it takes.

Technology Accelerators

There are instances where the ten-­year rule is being compressed into a few years rather than the full ten. The number of quality repetitions hasn’t changed; it is just possible to accomplish those repetitions in less time.

Professional poker is one illustration. Doyle Brunson is an example of the ten-­year rule. Brunson was the first player to earn $1 million in poker tournaments. He went from novice to one of the best in the world.

Brunson is the first two-­time World Series of Poker main event champion to win consecutively, a Poker Hall of Fame inductee, and the author of several highly influential books on poker.

Brunson started off by playing in illegal games usually run by criminals who were often members of organised crime, so rules were not always enforced. Brunson has admitted to having a gun pulled on him several times and that he was robbed and beaten. Needless to say, getting his repetitions wasn’t always easy!

By the time Brunson won the World Series of Poker in 1976 and 1977 (while in his 40s) he could play poker legally in casinos. Life and deliberate practice were a lot easier, yet he still had to take his body to the casino and sit through many long hands and the only feedback was winning or losing - unless someone showed their cards.

Fast forward to more recent history

The World Series of Poker (WSoP) and other tournaments are being consistently won by young men in their early 20's. Did they start their professional careers and their “ten years” when they were in their teens? No - they took advantage of online poker. Some could play as many as 30 hands at a time.

Mark Vos, a 24-­year-­old professional, estimated he played 2 million hands of poker, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 years straight to prepare himself for the 2008 WSoP. Just think of how long it took Doyle Brunson to play 2 million hands.

With online poker, participants not only get massive repetitions, they get better feedback as to what happened on each hand. Additionally, they communicate in online communities that allow them to share, debate, and learn from their experiences. They get more S.P.A.C.E in less time.

Likewise, top sales performers of today and the future will be able to take advantage of online communities of other professionals who want to substantially raise the bar of their sales performance. If someone has designed the quality practice, salespeople have the opportunity to get massive repetitions by practicing with people around the world with diverse personalities and skill levels. They are no longer limited to engaging in deliberate practice with colleagues or practicing on customers.

Concluding thoughts on deliberate practice (S.P.A.C.E)

It is this willingness to practice (despite the fact that experts enjoy practicing no more than the rest of us) that distinguishes those who go on to become master surgeons, cellists, marksmen, award-­winning salespeople, or CEO’s.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.
It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

The Big Question

If the quality and quantity of deliberate practice is the largest determinant of improved performance, what determines whether people will practice? What either supports or sabotages the process? That question brings us to Step 4, which we'll be exploring in our next post. 


Throughout his long and distinguished career, Mahan Khalsa has been dedicated to helping people get significantly better at sales, and he continues to be instrumental in pushing the envelope on the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets that make getting better both real and never-ending, both for individuals and for organisations.

Mahan is co-­author of Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship. He is the founder of the Sales Performance Practice at FranklinCovey and the originator of the Helping Clients Succeed body of work, employed by many of the world's top companies and taught in more than 40 countries and 10 languages. Mahan has worked directly with clients to help create and capture billions of dollars of value - and to do so in ways that lead to greater trust, better relationships, and increased future value.

Mahan has three key beliefs that drive his passion - personally, and with colleagues and clients. The first, garnered from his extensive research in the science of expert performance, is that everything you need to know to be great at sales is learnable - you just have to be willing. Second, the amount you can learn and the degree to which you can improve is infinite. Third, what you learn to be great at sales contributes immensely to who you want to be as a human being.

Follow this link to learn more about FranklinCovey Sales Performance Solutions or contact Ian J Lowe via

Credits: Geoff Colvin, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-­Class Performers from Everybody Else (New York: Portfolio/Penguin Group, 2008).

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Dorothy Leonard, Walter C. Swap, Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom

Image Credit: Kill Bill: Vol 1 Movie, 2003, Miramax