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Get sustainable sales results by using behavioural science

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MOST sales leaders I speak to talk about one key challenge they face — how to “clone” more of their top sales performers.

This is because many organisations have a few top performers, a big group of mid-level performers, followed by a few low performers — those who struggle to achieve their targets or those who are perhaps new to the job.

If you go on to study the behaviours of these performers, you will notice that the top performers do some things consistently every day, the mid-level performers do them some of the time, and the low performers, once in a while or not at all.

So what can sales leaders do about this situation? Using behavioural science principles, here are some suggestions:

Pinpoint

The first step is to pinpoint the high-impact critical behaviours that are key to achieving the results you want. Among the many things your sales people have to do each day, there are a few mission-critical behaviours that need to occur.

Your good sales people know this and are probably very good at it.  What is it that they do consistently that your mid-performers don’t do?

It could be actions like having five face-to-face meetings per week and getting four new referrals from customers every week.

Pinpointing needs to be specific and should cover the “ who, what, when, where and how” questions. Also bear in mind that behaviours are active things that people do, not targets or objectives. Many people get confused and, as a result, talk about objectives and not behaviours.

Measure

It is easy to set revenue targets; it is a little bit harder to set behavioural goals. Make sure that you do not set too many behaviour goals — ideally one or two are good to work with, and are easier to measure.

If you are targeting one key, high-impact behaviour, you will find that some of the other behaviours may cascade underneath it. This is why the first step of pinpointing the behaviour is critical. Set mini, achievable goals first — stretch goals can actually work against the behaviours you are trying to get in the long run.

Give feedback

There is a science to providing feedback — done correctly, it can reinforce the performer and impact them positively.

Be specific about the feedback you give. Positive reinforcement is not about “being nice” and patting someone on the back. When you give general feedback like “great job”, you haven’t really told the performer anything useful about what he has done and how he can do it again.

This is important if you want the good behaviour to occur again. If you said: “I like what you told the customer about how we measure the work we do for our clients. The customer connected with the information as it addressed a key concern of his. Please do that again. You always do a great job; I am impressed.”

By pairing specific feedback with general feedback, you increase your impact on the performer and get his attention. Most of all, you will influence him to repeat that behaviour.

Timing is very important in behavioural science. When you give feedback immediately, it has a greater impact that feedback that is given once a month or every fortnight at a sales meeting.

In the business of managing people, they are called “one-minute touch points”. Connect with your team often and give them feedback and positive reinforcement. It doesn’t take long.

Reinforce

There are two key sources of reinforcement — external and self-driven, or natural, reinforcement. Initially, when people start a new behaviour some external reinforcement is essential to get them to feel good about the progress they are making.

Many leaders, especially those in Asia, think that it is unnecessary to give positive reinforcement to employees who are exhibiting the right behaviours because these actions are part of the job they are hired to do. 

This thinking is flawed, because employees value recognition and praise, and when they get it, are motivated to continue performing well, which ultimately benefits the organisation.

Noticing and marking your employees’ right behaviours may take a little more effort in the beginning but it goes a long way towards achieving the goals you want to achieve as a sales leader.

The aim is to help your people move to the level of naturally occurring reinforcement, where they feel a sense of accomplishment from doing a good job.

You must also consider the role your environment plays with regard to the goals you are trying to achieve. For example, incentive systems are key drivers of behaviour and can work against your goals.

I had a client who complained about the last-minute “fire fighting” culture within his company. A closer look at this showed that the current remuneration scheme was, in fact, reinforcing this type of behaviour.

Evaluate

Finally, review your results based on the feedback you are getting. For example, look at what changes have taken place, what is working and what is not working. Then, consider how the process can be “tweaked” to get you the results you want. 

 

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