Artistotle was quoted saying ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’. These good ‘habits’ form the processes by which we organise our life and in many instances we perform them unconsciously.
This is true. Take a healthy person for example – they aren’t inherently healthy. They are healthy because they have healthy eating habits, healthy exercise etc. They are healthy because they repeatedly do healthy things.
Sales is no different – our excellence in sales is often driven by the habits we have formed. These habits become our work processes and guide how we work on a daily basis. These habits can be physical like always answering the phone before it goes to voice mail and they can be mental like having a ‘glass half full’ mindset.
As a sales professional there are some important things to remember about habits:
Habits can be good, bad or indifferent.
We are viewed as ‘excellent’ simply because we have formed ‘excellence’ habits. Excellence is an important distinction as we can be excellent at our bad habits and, in fact, it is often our bad habits that we are the best at.
The example above about the ringing phone is a useful sales one. For every person who answers the phone on the first ring, there will be someone who never answers a call when their phone rings.
Seems like a small ‘habit’ and quite inconsequential. Though, I would guarantee the first person is less stressed. The habit of using voicemail to screen calls is a negative sales habit. You can find that when you try to ring that client back, they aren’t available as when they chose to ring you was the optimum time for them. That they had a crisis that couldn’t wait for you to ring back. Do it enough times and your clients will think you are uncontactable and unresponsive. Do it enough times and they may just start ringing your competitor instead.
Habits = Consistency
A habit isn’t something you do sporadically. A habit is something you do all the time – often unconsciously. Driving is a good example of this – how often do you get to where you were going with no memory of how you changed gears, how many lanes you changed or other cars you saw. You obviously did it well as you didn’t hit anything – yet did it unconsciously. You do this daily – without thinking like many of your habits.
Good sales habits should be the same – you shouldn’t have to think about asking for a referral – it should be a habit. You shouldn’t have to remember to schedule follow up – it should be a habit.
I find myself doubting myself on this last one only to be surprised. I don’t remember loading a follow up in to my CRM – but when I check, I have as I have made a habit of it on the back of completing my meeting notes (which is also a habit!).
But the same applies to our bad habits – we can deploy these both consistently and unconsciously also. These habits can be formed over years – so can be hard to be aware of, let alone change.
Habits can be changed <- For Sales Leaders
Habits can be changed – but it can be difficult, awkward and/or uncomfortable. It also requires an extended period of persistence until the new behaviour (or thought) becomes a habit. It will also often be even longer before you are good at it/it stops feeling awkward and even longer before you stop thinking about it consciously.
If you’ve ever played a sport for years and then got coaching, you will know this feeling. A coach changing a golf swing after years of swinging a certain way can be horrible. It feels un-natural and there is often a learning ‘j-curve’ where we go backwards before we improve. It is so easy to just revert to our old swing. Especially when the coach isn’t there. Habits form through persistant use, so changing them requires that same tenacity.
Here is the issue – we have many points in which to stop before the habit is formed. We can stop because it feels awkward – and usually do. We therefore stop before we give the habit a chance to improve our results. Like any change, we have to want to change or improve otherwise we aren’t trying to create new habits, we’re just setting ‘new years resolutions’.
As sales leaders, this is where we need to focus when working with our team before we focus on the outcome of the habit – getting your sales person to agree change is needed and get the habit to stick first. Telling someone to do something doesn’t form a habit – they have to see value in that change in order to make it a habit moving forward.
Bad habits limit us
Selling is a complex activity – success isn’t driven by a single habit. Marco Pierre White is famous for saying ‘perfection is lots of little things done well’. This sums up selling. It is the output of many tasks – many habits – many processes.
We all have bad habits. Areas where we aren’t as strong. Areas where we cut corners or avoid. It is these bad habits that limit our overall success. Performed badly enough and our bad habits can negate our good habits. Back to the example of the ‘voicemail screening’ sales person – despite all the other fantastic habits this person may have, for some clients not answering the phone will sound a death knell on their view of that sales person’s excellence.
Or like the car driving example – a single bad habit like not looking before changing lanes can ruin your day no matter how good the rest of your driving skills are.
Todays bad habits become tomorrows processes! A good example is great sales people who don’t set time aside for selling. All the skills in world are useless if you don’t have a habit of using them.
We often focus on that which we are good at as it is less confronting and we can be good at a lot of things – but it can only take one bad habit we choose to ignore or can’t see that prevents us being successful.
This is why asking for and being open to feedback is crucial to our success.
Our Environment Shapes Habits
Like the cultural habits we hold – such as ham on the bone at Christmas – our sales environment shapes our sales habits. This starts with the sales leader and people who train us when we start our sales career. Their habits become ours (much like I have inherited my Dad’s driving habits through his lessons). If they hate cold calling, so will we. Unfortunately, we usually find this out way to late and, sometimes, aren’t even aware of them until someone points them out.
Who you seek counsel from at work can shape your habits. Much like our habits shape how we are seen, their habits and therefore who they are can shape how you are seen by association. The habits of the sales teams we work in can shape our own habits. A great example of a sales culture bad habit is the statement ‘cold calling doesn’t work’ or ‘our customers won’t like that’. Habits by consensus form.
When looking to reshape sales habits, I have suggested to many people to remove themselves from their normal environment. Work from home or work from another office. Displace yourself otherwise little will change as you are in the same environment, with the same distractions and the same people. You will usually do the same things. This is often why people looking to smoke will avoid situations where they usually catch themselves smoking – by habit.
The reality with sales habits is that it is better to form good ones first as changing them is difficult – but thankfully not impossible. We often don’t think about them because they have become our processes. They have become the guiderails on which we operate on a daily basis without thinking. We can be consciously and unconsciously competent at both our good and bad sales habits.
Selling effectively is first about doing the right things (habits), then about doing them right (skill) for the right reason (purpose). In the words of Aristotle – what do you want to be? You drive it through what you do as this is what people see, and therefore who you are.
Source: Dan Symons, LinkedIn