Why You’re Not An Expert… And Why That’s Killing Your Sales Success & Your Business

Achieving sales success is critical and in my last article I wrote about Why Being An Expert Will Boost Your Sales Results & Improve Your Business. We talked about the importance of being an expert for getting potential clients contacting you, making your sales based on value not price and building proper, partnership relationships with your clients. Remember the dictionary definition of expert?

Dictionary.com defines an expert as a person who has some special skill or knowledge in a particular field; specialist; authority.

Read it again and it is clear that not everyone can be an expert right out of the box. Not everyone can add the kind of value that an expert can add. Not everyone has the right skill set to call themselves an expert. Calling yourself an expert does not make you an expert nor does it help you to achieve sales success. And that’s because, not everyone is an expert. And the chances are that YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT right now.

I’m sorry if you don’t like that statement. To those of your who are experts, congratulations but, to the rest of you, I’m sorry, that’s just the way that it is. But if I don’t tell you this then you have literally no chance of being an expert. Delusion does not equal expertise. If you want to achieve sales success because of your expertise then self-awareness is often the first step.

Most people who think they are experts are not and that hampers their sales success.

  • I first encountered this phenomenon over two decades ago when I went on an NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming course). After 20 days of training (not in sales I might add), people with absolutely no background in selling whatsoever thought that they had the “expertise” to go out and teach experienced sales and business people how to achieve more sales success. Are you joking me?
  • I see it with people who do a couple of years in an industry and then decide to set themselves up as a consultant to that industry and they call themselves an expert and expect sales success. Are you kidding me?
  • I see people who teach courses in personal development, negotiation, management, leadership, communication, sales success, kettle drumming, archery and cookery and claim to be experts in all of the above. Seriously?
  • I see sales and business people who have been in their roles for a matter of minutes but who think that they are the second coming and have nothing left to learn. They think that their expertise will help them to achieve more sales success and win more clients. Really?
  • I see speakers who talk on topics that they knew nothing about last week (seriously!) and who say they are international experts. What?
  • I see sales and business people talking about stuff like they really know what they’re talking about but who invest literally zero time into doing the out-of-the-ordinary work required to become an expert…

I could go on but I am ranting! And, for the most part, this isn’t their fault. For years, many, many people have had a vested interest in telling you that you are an expert. Many, many people have been giving voice to the lie that everyone is an expert in something. This sounds nice and it sounds fair but it’s just not true. If everyone is an expert in something, many people I know are experts in watching the TV, playing Angry Birds and downing beer. They are most certainly not experts in anything that can help them to achieve more sales success or anything that helps them to add significantly more value for their clients than their competitors can.

But it is in the interests of some people to tell you that you are an expert and that you do have expertise because if they can convince you that all they have to do is help you to package and promote your expertise to achieve business and sales success then they can part you and your ego from your cash and sell you their latest book or programme. In many instance, the only “expert” in this equation is them at helping people to open their hard-filled wallets!

Everyone is an expert in something, they carp! Ludicrous! Ludicrous! Ludicrous! But they have to say this so that they can fill their programmes with thousands of fee paying clients and achieve sales success for themselves. What a wholly crass and utterly pathetic statement that is denigrating everyone who has put the time, the effort, the blood, sweat and tears in that is necessary to become an expert.

Look! If everyone was an expert then there would be no value in being an expert. Get it? Being an expert puts you in the minority not the majority. And that makes you a scarce commodity. And that’s where the value comes from. That’s why people call you and want to work with you.

Scarcity = value. Simple.

So the first step to becoming an expert may well be admitting that you’re not one. And that’s okay. Unless you made a conscious decision at some point in the past to become an expert and then dedicated time and effort to becoming one… chances are that you are not. Becoming an expert is not easy. As Roy Castle used to say, “If you want to be the best. If you want to beat the rest. Oh-oh dedication’s what you need!”

Experts by definition are not the norm. If they were the norm then their knowledge would not be specialist, would not add uncommon value, would not attract clients and would not be worth a premium. Experts are people who devote themselves to being the best they possibly can be at what they do. They are the people who can add incredible value for others. They are people who, simply put, invest more time and effort into their expertise than others do.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes these high achievers  and acknowledges that this expertise does not come from talent alone but from the 10,000+ hours these people put in.

Have you done your 10,000+ hours? Dedicated hard work, blood, sweat and tears?

“Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers.

So unless you made the decision, put the hard yards in and separated yourself from the pack, then I am sorry to say that you are not an expert. In fact, just because you were an expert once upon a time does not necessarily mean that you’re still one today. Time and tide wait for no person and unless you are still working on being an expert, chances are that you aren’t any more. Being an expert is not a static thing. It moves. It changes. And you have to keep working, changing and innovating to remain one. You have to work hard to achieve sales success in any business.

But don’t cry in your soup! If you have the self-awareness and honesty to admit to yourself now that you’re not an expert and commit to becoming one, then you are already well ahead of your competition because they are going to carry on, X-Factor style, saying that they are an expert but not ever becoming one. You are one step closer to using the power of expertise to help you to achieve more sales success,   create the business you want and get the life you desire.

In the next article I am going to be unpacking what you need to do to become an expert  and I am going to outline how you can use this to improve your sales success, your business and your life. Make sure that you’ve joined my success newsletter and you’ll be the first to get my articles, strategies and thoughts, straight to your inbox.

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  1. Jamie Panter says


    As always an interesting view.

    I agree with much of what you say.

    As always, the 10,000 hours rule is not so much a rule as a guide. Some people do get there quicker but whether it’s 5000 hours or 10,000, either way it’s a bucket load of time to get to a high level. And that is 10,000 hours of improvements…not simply regurgitating the same thing. Which is where many many people go wrong. Which actually ties in with your first example of your NLP course. Regurgitating the same thing without adding or expanding it has one massive pre-requisite: that what you learned is correct, is true and is ‘the way’. Always a danger.

    There is a huge problem of becoming an expert in sales and that is expectation. Companies demand instant results. The whole idea of a 3 month rebate period in sales is odd to me. If takes a minimum of 3 months to master a non-sales job (usually 6), so learning your market, your product and your buyers can take months and months. Which is why I am fervently against the ‘hire and fire’ approach. It is regressive.

    There is another danger to bear in mind. There is a very very thin line between one dimensionally experienced and expertise. An example would be a Manager who has always done things one way…and had success that one way. But are they truly an expert if they have never tried a different way to see if they can get even BETTER results? Expertise is refining, sifting, trying, failing and honing your approach. Protectionism and ego are the biggest barriers to true expertise.

    Good article.

    • Gavin Ingham says

      Jamie. Agreed. 10,000 hours is a benchmark mostly to drive home the fact that if you want to be great, really great at something, then you have to put the time in. Talent and ability help but without application they will be squandered.

      Becoming an expert in your business as a salesperson requires time and you are right that many companies do not support this. Sometimes this is because of “hire and fire” and other times it is due to other factors such as lack of training, lack of opportunity or lack of focus on even achieving this. I see plenty of companies that are not “hire and fire” but who still have people “hanging around” who are neither achieving nor looking like they ever will. In many of these there is no coherent plan to help the salesperson, merely a hope that they might improve with time.

      In my next article on this subject I am going to uncover some of the main keys to becoming an expert…

      • Jamie Panter says

        “I see plenty of companies that are not “hire and fire” but who still have people “hanging around” who are neither achieving nor looking like they ever will. In many of these there is no coherent plan to help the salesperson, merely a hope that they might improve with time.”

        Very true – to my mind this ties in with your whole point on expertise. What I would add is that a one dimensional approach is often taken to this problem e.g. more of the same old training that has not worked before. One of the things I passionately argue for is something called The Demand Shift – an approach where (as long as the sales person is demonstrating the activities required) then if results are still lacking, then the sales person has the right for ‘demand up’. To discuss freely what is missing, where support is needed, This requires a bipartisan approach – the onus cannot just be on the sales person. The company as a whole needs to seek expertise in sales too. Every department, from IT to accounts, needs to look at how they can learn and improve to boost sales. In my opinion, modern sales is a collaboration – the sales person is the public focus but his or her job is heavily influenced by the factors behind them – and that is where the company must seek expertise too.

  2. says

    Interesting article Gavin. Having worked with a number of ‘experts’ my eyes were opened to the duality of what is said and what is reality. That said, expertise can be a flighty creature. The expert sportsman who hits a rough patch… the sales star who finds deals suddenly elusive… the mindset genius whose business stumbles.
    It will be interesting to see your ‘criteria’ given the depth of exploration of who is not. Over my years in business and education ‘true’ experts spend no time talking about their expertise, rather they are in their particular field doing it!
    Perhaps a rant on ‘positioning’ might be in order….

    • Gavin Ingham says

      Dave. It was a bit of a double-hitting article this one as I was talking in general about positioning yourself as an expert to help you to achieve sales success… whatever your field. Not just about experts positioning themselves as experts to sell. That said, I totally agree with you. With the internet, Twitter etc there are plenty of people who Tweet and FB daily about how great their experience and expertise is when is is, in reality, thinner than a jam ration in a country with a sugar crisis and a strawberry thief at large.

      It’s true, expertise is “flighty” and I truly believe that being an expert is an ongoing thing. You cannot pronounce yourself an expert and sit back and reap the benefits as, when you do, you’re already on the slippery slope back down again. Expertise is a journey not a destination.

      As for who is not one… I barely got started :-). In the next article I will be talking about some of the steps to get people on the path to being an expert in their field.

      Have a great evening.

  3. says

    Fact is to be an expert you need to have walked the walk (as you and I have done, Gavin)
    When I hear Robbie Savage commenting on Giggs, Scholes, Ferguson et al I always think “Show us your medals”
    Too many speakers on sales haven’t actually done enough (and made enough mistakes) to be qualified to comment. It doesn’t need to add up to 10,000 hours but it needs to be close. And it’s about getting 10,000 hours work of experience. Not 100 hours 100 times……..

    • Gavin Ingham says

      David. If you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards. In an ever changing world, treading water is not an option :-).

  4. Joe Haffey says

    Gavin, Good stuff man. A real eye opener. I’ve become fed up with the whole corporate and job scene so i’m taking the plunge into self employment. You said 10,000 hours to master sales, I learned it was five to seven years to become an expert. Well, I’m ready to put in the time and do what I gotta do to make the sales but at least I have the proper framework and mindset I think. Many thanks for this article.

    • Gavin Ingham says

      Joe. Glad that you found it useful. I love your comment about it taking 5-7 years to master sales. I meet far too many people who have some success and think that they have learn all that there is to learn in under a year. Such a waste.

      Good luck with the self employment. With your mindset and focus, I am sure you will do well :-). Make sure that you join my newsletter http://www.gaviningham.com/gavins-success-newsletter/ for all the latest tips, strategies and tools.

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