Changing “Sales Habits”


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We know how difficult it is to change our personal habits. For example, at the start of every new year, we make a resolution to lose weight and get fit. We may go so far as to join the gym, sign up for a class. It lasts for a few weeks, then we miss one session–we always have a good excuse, then the next session, again a good excuse. All of a sudden, we have forgotten that commitment and displacing it with something else.

Each of us has lists of these well intended habits that we want to change that we have never changed. We feel guilty about not doing those things, ironically, often we spend more time feeling guilty than it would take us just to change the habit.

It’s really tough to change habits. Great intentions are insufficient. There is some prevailing wisdom around activation triggers or other types of triggers. These are the little things, that somehow trigger a behavior, which, in turn, triggers the next thing, and the next—kind of like dominos.

For example, my morning routine sets me up for highly productive days. It’s pretty simple, I wake up, do 15 minutes of light exercise, meditate for 10-15 minutes, take a shower and shave. Somehow, that routine gets me moving and productive for the day–wherever I am, whatever I need to do during the day. If I miss/skip any part of it, some how my day seems a little off.

So all I focus on is that simple morning routine. If I get through it, I know I am setting myself up to be as productive as possible.

High performance selling is really the consistent execution of great selling habits. Whether it’s the sales process, how we engage our customers, how we create value in every interchange, how we manage our accounts, how we create healthy pipelines–all these things are simply good selling habit. But we struggle to implement and execute them consistently.

In our jobs as sales people and sales managers, we need to start identifying the activation triggers that cause us to do the things that consistently drive top performance, or to be as productive and focused in executing our jobs as possible.

Like my triggers, they may seem to be small things, things not entirely related to our jobs, but which cause us to do the next thing and the next and the next.

With each person or organization, these activation triggers may be different. One thing we’ve discovered is these activation triggers tend to be easier if the entire organization (or team) is doing them. Seeing our colleagues doing the same thing that we should be doing reinforces our need to do those things. We create positive feedback loops that reinforce both our and our colleagues good selling habits.

You and your team have to figure out what your “activation triggers.” They aren’t complicated, sometimes so deceptively simple, we discount them. Here are some we’ve found useful with our clients:

  1. Call planning with your manager: As a manager, I wanted to participate in lots of calls with my sales people–but only where they thought I could help them move deals forward or address issues they couldn’t address. I made customer calls one of my top 2 priorities. When my people wanted me to make a call, there was one “activation trigger.” I insisted that we spend 15-20 minutes before the call planning our goals and objectives. At the end of that meeting we would have a written outline for our meeting with the customer and an agenda we would present the customer. I did this for every call I made with my sales people, but left it voluntary for them to do it on their calls without me. Over time, call planning and written agendas became a “habit” with the entire team. The found they were accomplishing so much more by spending those 15-20 minutes, in advance, it became a habit for them. The simple trigger started with their calls with me, then became a habit for all their calls.
  2. One client has daily sales meetings at the start of the day. Each month they focus on developing one skill. They know on Mondays, they have to do this with the skill, Tuesdays, that, Wednesdays something else. Every day for 45 minutes they apply that formula to one skill. At the end of each month, the skill has become an ingrained habit. (Would You Spend 45 Minutes A Day Training Your Sales People)
  3. A client is doing weekly pipeline reviews You’re probably thinking, “We do weekly pipeline reviews, they’re a waste of time….” But these reviews are different. They have a goal of identifying the 2 most important things the sales person has to do over the next couple of weeks. For example, it might be to focus on a couple of specific deals, or it might be to identify a couple of accounts to prospect and identify new opportunities. The review takes only about 10 minutes, but it reinforces some good habits and helps the manager coach those habits. We’ve seen a couple of things in the 3 months we’ve created this “habit.” Pipelines are much “fuller,” win rates and velocity are increasing–across the team.
  4. Another client has just changed their “first call” habits. They had been implementing “Challenger.” They had great industry and market insights to deliver and were targeting Moblizers and key executives in making those calls. They had been having success, but weren’t connecting as effectively as they thought they could. The reaction from the customer was, “That’s interesting, but…..” They wanted to get the customer energized saying, “We have to move forward.” They discovered, if they called on a person lower in the organization (there was a specific persona), asking them roughly 3 questions, they could transform their call. They could present the insight adding, “and this is what how it might impact your organization….” Just the answer to a few questions enabled them to personalize the insights, getting much higher levels of interest. They had always prioritized the top executive as their first call, their new habit was this other individual buried pretty low in the organization.
  5. Prospecting is always a tough habit to trigger. Setting up “prospecting blocks” where everyone is doing nothing but prospecting during the same time, reinforces the habit for each person on the team, and the team as a whole. For example, saying, “Tuesdays, 9-12, we will do nothing but prospecting.” Keeping that sacred and not permitting anything (that proposal I’ve got to finish, the expense report… know all the excuses) starts driving good prospecting habits and discipline. Having the whole team to this creates great reinforcement and triggers the right behaviors.

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t get it, this is all normal stuff that we should be doing.” And that’s just the point, it is stuff that we should be doing, but we don’t, at least not consistently. But finding something that “triggers” the right behavior starts getting us to develop great habits.

We all know that we should have documented call plans, but we don’t do it. The simple trigger, outlined above, created the habit we needed to create. Or the prospecting block–we know we have to do it, but we find excuse not to do it. Doing it as a group, enforcing doing nothing but prospecting is a simple trigger just to get us to do what we know we need to do, creating a prospecting habit.

It’s tough to change behavior individually or organizationally. We know the things we should be doing, but somehow don’t do them. It’s human nature. Figure out the activation triggers, the simple things you do, that cause you to do what you know you should be doing, but don’t.

It may be as simple (and as disconnected) as my exercise, meditate, shower, shave routine. It may be the weekly pipeline review. Identify one sales habit you need to change. Take the time to figure out what your activation trigger is, and focus on doing that–everything else will fall into place.

Note To Managers and Sales Enablement: With every new training program or initiative, figure out what the activation trigger is and make sure you put it in place. Without this, it will be impossible for sustaining the change you want. It may be management coaching, it may be a certain activity people have to do every week/day, whatever it is, you are trying to create great new habits–so figure out what creates that habit.

Afterword: The science on creating habits isn’t clear. Some reports say that it takes 30 days to create a new habit, some say 90 days. Whatever you do, if you want to create new habits, think of the activation trigger and give yourself enough time for it to become second nature to how you sell.

After-afterword: There are a lot of good resources on “activation triggers.” Jame’s Clear’s Atomic Habits is a great resource on creating and sustaining great habits.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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