You might ask, “What’s new about habits? And how can habits help us sell better and reach flow states more often?” Dozens of books, podcasts, seminars and apps about habits are available, and it’s been more than 25 years since Stephen Covey dazzled us with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. What could be new?
Two things are new, both the result of recent brain research. They have revolutionized how sales leaders in the electrical industry should think about habits. They are:
- We now know that over 95% of what each of your salespeople do each day is controlled by habits.
- We now know how habits form and we can develop almost any habit we decide to.
Skeptical? Read on to learn how we are helping our team master the skill of developing new and better sales habits. Have you failed to lose weight and keep it off? Failed to follow-through on a New Year’s Resolution? Failed to implement even one great idea from the last NAED, NEMRA, IMARK or AD seminar? You are not alone. In fact, you’re in good company.
Instead of changing ourselves, most of us look for ways to avoid change by changing employers, spouses, pant sizes, medications, etc., to accommodate the way we are. Change makes us uncomfortable. It’s such a bother, and most of us do not believe we can change.
We avoid change because we fail to recognize how much of what we do is habitual. Recent brain research has revealed that over 95% of the activities we do in each sales work day is run by habit. In effect, our subconscious brain actually controls our daily sales activities based on learned patterns simply repeated to achieve predicted results.
So, if we try to change and don’t understand the power of habits and how to form new habits, we fail frequently and mostly stop trying to change at all. That does not serve us well in this dynamic sales environment.
Some have theorized that the evolutionary role of habits is to free the executive part of our brains to prioritize and focus on the most critical issues of survival such as danger, food and reproduction. Whatever the role, recognizing the power of habits is the first step in taking control of them.
The Wrong Habits
The right habits are what make a salesperson successful. And the most successful salespeople make the habit changes necessary to constantly refine their sales activities. They make the job look easy because to them it actually is easy. They have good sales habits and are good at developing even better ones. Many of your sales habits hold you back from achieving higher levels of productivity and flow. Common ones include:
Habitual time management. You start no earlier than your competitors do and end your day no later than your competitors do. Think about that.
Habitual perfectionism. You try to do too much, too well, too fast, to please too many.
Habitual sales calls. You spend too much time and too many meals with non-key people from non-key customers and suppliers, leaving too little time for the most important ones of all.
Habitual work practices. You do not take advantage of new tools and practices to increase your productivity.
Habitual communications styles. You do not ask enough questions or the right ones and you probably do not listen well. Most of us do not.
Imagine the salesperson who does not have these bad habits, but has the opposite good habits. He will beat you consistently and seemingly effortlessly.
Crowd out bad habits by starting good habits. By understanding how habits are formed and acting on that knowledge, new habits can be developed to crowd-out or overpower the less desirable ones. Habits have three components: “the cue,” “the routine” and “the reward.”
The “cue” is the stimulant that starts the habit. One example is when you get into your car to drive to work. The “routine” is what you do to respond to the cue. For instance, the route you take, speed you drive and so on, executed mostly without interruption by habit, by your subconscious mind. Your “reward” is arriving at work, just like you wanted. The habit is reinforced, to be repeated again tomorrow morning.
Developing a new habit requires four things:
Name it. In writing, with clarity and in detail name the habit you wish to develop.
Find the motivation. Whether this comes from sincere personal motivation to achieve the goal, from a desire to support the rest of the team or from embarrassment avoidance, it makes no difference. The key is to make sure motivation is there.
Get group support. Jenny Craig knew it, and so did Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. A support group with fast feedback is essential to forming new habits. Joining with your sales team and publicly announcing your intent to develop the new habit has a powerful emotional and psychological impact that cements your resolve.
Practice the new habit for a prolonged period. Depending on the complexity of the habit, researchers agree it takes between 21 and 120 days of practice before the new habit is formed and you begin performing it without “thinking “about the new habit.
Not All Habits are Equal
Some “Keystone Habits,” are more important than others, because mastery of them improves other critical behaviors. Sales examples include:
1. Making five outbound “warm” phone calls each day. Credit for this one goes to Amanda Wolfe from NW Electrical Supply. I learned it from her at a recent IMARK Sales Builders meeting.
2. Showing up on-time, ready to work, every day.
3. Doing what you say you will do, always.
4. Following through on all things you start.
5. Working on important things first, every single day.
6. Being in-person, eyeball-to-eyeball with your most important customers every working day.
To us, this final one is the most “keystone” of all sales habits – like playing your position on a sports team. My youth hockey coaches always told us, “It does not matter how @%$# tough you are, how good your backhand is or how fast you can skate if you are not out in front of the net. You must be in the right position when your teammates need you to score.”
In the same way, it does not matter how well you listen, how well you know the product, how well you ask questions or how organized or productive you are if you are not “playing your position” in the presence of the most influential people at the most important customers every single day.
This is a Keystone Habit because mastering it maximizes your time in the most demanding place. Your product knowledge, your listening skills, your ability to use questions effectively, your negotiating skills will be sharpened if you spend more time with the top customers and less time with others.
Keystone Habits are more important and they are also more difficult to develop. Our sales team at Associated of Los Angeles has struggled for over a year with Habit #6. This quarter, we’ve developed an app that helps us get almost instant feedback about how we are doing with the habit. We will let you know in the coming months if we finally make some progress on it. So, when it comes to choosing a Keystone Habit for your sales team to work on, follow the advice of the Old Knight to Indiana Jones. “You must choose, but choose wisely!”
Mike Rockwood, executive vice president and general manager, Associated of Los Angeles in Los Angeles and Lou Pontarelli, the company’s sales and marketing manager, are sales veterans with years of experience in the electrical market. You can email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org and Lou at email@example.com.