Changing Behavior for Sales Performance

By Tom Caso Thursday, July 25, 2013

Table of Contents:

  1. Training Vs. Education
  2. The Man Behind the Curtain
  3. Hidden Determinants That Effect Sales Productivity
  4. Putting It All Together

Part I: Training Vs. Education

Have you ever invested in your sales people by sending them to expensive seminars where they are immersed in high-energy exercises and emotional atmospherics designed to convince them they can sell at a higher level -- only to find out after about three weeks that they‘ve retained almost nothing from the experience?  Or, have you concentrated on books and AV messages that fill the mind with facts and knowledge about selling with no commensurate increase in sales?  So why bother with sales training?  It’s no wonder that CEOs are reluctant to invest in sales training as their experience tells them that there is little measurable ROI.

“You Can’t Teach People To Sell By Teaching Them To Sell” says Ron Willingham, my mentor and the author of Integrity Solutions programs.  Sales success can only be achieved by behavior change, and behaviors change only by changing our beliefs.  So how we expand belief boundaries about our abilities and ourselves becomes the question.

If education is the acquisition of knowledge, then by definition it is primarily cerebral or intellectual.  Yet we believe selling is 15% logical and 85% emotional.  Knowledge is necessary and critical as far as it goes, but what about the other 85%?  Those emotion driven seminars we alluded to earlier surely don’t prepare us for the daily emotional grind of professional selling.

At this point, you may conclude that excellent sales people are born and not made.  While I cannot argue that natural talent and ability are prerequisites, we still have to mould the “clay”.  Despite our best efforts and even with a rigorous selection process to seek out sales talent, we fail as often as we succeed in this effort.  Even with experience, it’s still difficult to predict with accuracy and consistency those likely to succeed in selling for our organization. Occasionally we get lucky and hire that superstar, but those “finds” are often rare and not generally representative of our sales force whether it be five or five hundred in number.

Most frontline sales managers spend far too much time trying to save the bottom 25% of their sales people instead of spending time with the top group and those that make up the greatest percentage of the Bell Curve. This is where the greatest sales productivity can be realized. This is where real professional development can blossom.

Good sales managers are great coaches.  They coach to where people are at, challenge them and hold them accountable.  They have the tools to develop their people through solid principle-based selling skills.  Real training takes place when changing behaviors lead to greater sales productivity.  To get there you need an agreed upon and consistent sales process, commitment from senior management, self-discovery learning, repetition, reward and time-lapse.

Part II: The Man Behind the Curtain: The Place Where Beliefs Reside

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Virtually anyone who is familiar with American film culture recognizes that famous line from The Wizard of OZ. Regardless of whether we recognize it or not, we all have a “man behind the curtain” who pulls levers, turns dials and throws switches that affect our behaviors and how we act in any given situation. This “man” lives within the realm of our sub-conscious that we at Integrity Solutions Inc. call the “I AM” dimension.

Let’s back up here a moment and start with a simple model to gain some perspective. Think of a snowman made up of three circles built on top of one another decreasing in size.

The head of the snowman is the “I Think” dimension. Here we accrue knowledge, process thoughts and use logic to make decisions and solve problems. This cognitive dimension is at work during consciousness to negotiate our daily living based upon our experience and perceived needs. It is where the Will and the Intellect are housed. Most education and what we call training are aimed at this dimension.

The next dimension deals with the realm of our emotions which we call the “I Feel” dimension. Our emotions drive us far more than most of us care to admit.  The range of emotions one experiences each day can range from the sublime to the primitive. They can affect our will and achievement drive, especially evident in a selling context. We feel good, we feel bad, we feel happy, we feel sad--we just don’t feel like making those sales calls today.  Sometimes we are at a loss as to where these feelings are coming from or why we are experiencing them at a given time. William James, the famous 19th century Harvard psychologist, stated that where emotions and will come into conflict, emotions will win out 85% of the time. Test that statement with your own life experience and see if that is true for you. If you have ever gone on a restrictive calorie diet you can relate.

The third dimension, the snowman base, is what we call the “I Am” dimension. Here reside our values, ethics, attitudes and beliefs. This is where our actions and behaviors are determined by our beliefs about how we see ourselves. These tapes play 24/7 regardless of our awareness. Our belief boundaries are circumscribed in this sub-conscious dimension. In a sales context that translates to matters such as how much we are capable of selling and how much we deserve to earn and enjoy. This man behind the curtain is powerful and determines our success or failure, our excellence or mediocrity, our winning or losing.  Expose him, change him and use him in order to develop personally and professionally. Most so-called sales training fails because it does not recognize or handle this dimension. All three of these dimensions must be in harmony in order to maximize our full potential. 

Part III: Hidden determinants That Effect Sales Productivity

So far we have made a case for the fact that most so called sales training does not work because it is either solely a cognitive exercise to gain knowledge about selling or, worse yet, an emotional pep rally that wears off at the first sign of adversity.  Neither produces real or lasting behavior change that increase sales productivity.

We also have established that our beliefs drive behavior, and those beliefs live in a sub-conscious dimension we call the “I AM”.  In this dimension reside our beliefs about ourselves that have been formed over a lifetime of experience that include our parents, teachers, friends, rivals, coaches, bosses and colleagues.  The sum total of these beliefs make up our self-image and we behave accordingly.  They determine our actions, feelings and behaviors and even our abilities.  For the majority of sales people, unless and until we direct our training efforts toward changing our belief structure and expanding those boundaries that limit us, we will never achieve our full potential as sales professionals.

Here is an example that illustrates the point:

Sales person “A” has all the talent and personal gifts to become a super producer – solid knowledge and skills, outgoing and friendly personality, and lots of experience.  Sales person “B” has modest talent, only fair knowledge and skills, and much less experience but out produces sales person “A” by tenfold.  Why?  What are the hidden determinants that allow sales person “B” to become a champion producer?  We believe a key factor is “Achievement Drive”, which is released or triggered by our beliefs about our own abilities, our view of selling, belief in our product or service, and making a commitment to do the necessary tasks for success.  These beliefs must come into harmony or congruence with our ethics and values or they will sabotage our results.

Let’s look at the Integrity Solutions, Inc. Congruence Model ® from the perspective of its author, Ron Willingham:

Congruence Model

As you look at the model, consider the following points:

  1. Conflicts or low levels of sales result wherever gaps occur between the dimensions.
  2. The wider the gap, the more salespeople experience internal stress, and the likelihood of failure.
  3. Conflicts or stress cause mental and emotional blocks which inhibit sales success.
  4. As conflicts are reduced, sales, personal confidence and activities Increase.
  5. Bringing dimensions into congruence is a behavioral issue, not an Intellectual learning process.
  6. The dimensions only come together when positive actions, attitudes, and values are practiced in your everyday selling activities. As their dimensions come into congruence salespeople want to do result-producing activities. They develop an internal zest, confidence, and a deep feeling that what they’re doing is right and good.  As these key emotional factors come into congruence, people are unconsciously freed-up to sell on higher levels. *

These are the hidden determinants that have such a powerful effect on selling production.

Part IV: Putting It All Together

Above, we have endeavored to build a case that our beliefs must be in congruence with our ethics and values in order to reach our full potential as sales people.  Beliefs drive behaviors and behaviors drive results.  So, if you can’t learn these principles intellectually, how exactly do we put together a program to address these issues effectively?  How can we ensure that the change in productive behavior is lasting and consistent?

According to our mantra at Integrity Solutions, Inc., we transform people’s potential through an ethics driven process that aligns knowledge, skills and values.  In turn, we help our clients create value for their customers, which brings about customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is a key driver of business revenue.

Before we get into the process, let me state up front two critical requirements for success: First is a business culture that reflects a high degree of ethics and values in the organization’s dealings with customers or clients.  Second is an expressed commitment to the process by senior management of the organization.  With that said, let’s examine the process.

Adults best learn through “self-discovery” based upon their experience and what they feel is relevant to the task at hand.  This concept is practiced and reinforced throughout our initial seminars and follow-up sessions. Rather than by lecture from “the expert”, our programs are facilitated to guide and draw out meaningful experience from the participants based upon the principles and skills presented.  By establishing a safe environment to share, this is a very powerful learning tool for behavioral change.

Next, the process must be repeated and reinforced over time.  We know from our research, it takes three to four weeks of intentional practice to form a habit.  Over the eight weeks of follow-up sessions (typical for most of our programs), bonding with other participants and behavior change starts to take place between the third and fourth week of the program.  Here we start to observe real changes in attitudes and actions and we hold them accountable to continue to practice and report back on results.

These efforts must be rewarded.  Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.  Rewards can take the form of simple recognition of success by managers and peers, or they can be instructional, such a book award, or they can be tangible incentives.  Generally, increased sales production from the conscientious practice of the principles and skills can be its own reward in increased income.

Because the principles and skills are universal, the programs are self- leveling.  That means that whatever level of experience or sophistication of the participant, they learn and practice from that point of entry.  The corollary to this is that the programs are customizable to whatever the complexity of the selling cycle, product or service sold.   The principles and skills are applicable to all “B” to “B” consultative selling applications.

To make this all a lasting experience of improved performance and production with a high ratio of ROI, we need our managers to coach to the principles and skills covered. When this takes place, the organization has made a quantum leap to the next level.

*Disclaimer*: Harvard Business Services, Inc. is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm and, even in cases where the author is an attorney, or a tax professional, nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. This article provides general commentary on, and analysis of, the subject addressed. We strongly advise that you consult an attorney or tax professional to receive legal or tax guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Any action taken or not taken based on this article is at your own risk. If an article cites or provides a link to third-party sources or websites, Harvard Business Services, Inc. is not responsible for and makes no representations regarding such source’s content or accuracy. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Harvard Business Services, Inc.

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